Check Against Delivery
Ambassador, Dame Colette, distinguished guests, friends, old and new.
I am delighted to be in London and to be with you here at our Embassy this evening. I am a regular visitor to this city and to this country, and it is good to be back.
Tonight marks the 14th year of this annual financial services and Fintech dinner and I am delighted to see it go from strength to strength.
It underlines the connections that exist between our two islands, and our industries.
Seeing so many leaders from the financial services industry gathered here tonight reflects the close connection and strong relations we enjoy.
Thank you for the work that you are doing, and the contribution you are making. You are a key part of the dynamic relationship between our two countries.
I also want to pay tribute to the work of Enterprise Ireland with so many of you and your companies in developing and growing these links.
For generations, Irish people have come to the UK to work, to study and in so many cases to live.
My own family is a good example of the types of connections that exist between our two countries. I have lived here for a number of years, my wife is from this country, and many of my closest family live here.
My family connections are not unique in this regard, in fact they are replicated across these islands.
These personal and family ties have been woven over many generations, in turn, supporting countless business, cultural, academic, and sporting ties.
Indeed, it is no surprise that Dublin-London is the busiest international air route in Europe and the second busiest in the world.
We are at a position of mutual trust and esteem.
And we are co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement and the important and ongoing work of peace and reconciliation on our island.
And in the important area of finance and the economy, there is a strong and dynamic two-way trading relationship.
Last year, the combined value of two-way trade between Ireland and the UK was worth €72 billion. That is almost €1.4 billion every week.
Britain is Ireland’s third largest market, accounting for 15% of our exports of goods and services.
And we are the UK’s fifth largest export destination.
Our businesses support 200,000 jobs in each of our countries.
The strong ties that you and your companies have built up are an integral part of this two-way economic relationship.
As is the contribution made by the wider Irish community in Britain. In so many ways, both large and small, the Irish in Britain are playing an indispensable role in making the relationship so strong and vibrant, and this is something I am enormously proud of.
I know that Brexit and how it will affect the island of Ireland and the Irish-British relationship is a subject on your mind.
As there is an election campaign underway here in the UK at the moment, I will say only a few words.
While Brexit is not a good outcome for Ireland, we respect the decision of the British people and Parliament to choose their own destiny.
We believe the draft Withdrawal Agreement recently concluded between the UK and the EU27 provides a satisfactory basis for the beginning of the next phase.
I hope that after the election it will be possible to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement, and move to the next phase, to begin the important work of negotiation the future relationship between the EU and the UK.
These negotiations will be complex and challenging. We will approach them as part of the EU27, and I look forward to working with Michel Barnier and Phil Hogan, who will play a leading role.
Ireland wants to see the closest possible future relationship with the UK. But this will depend in part on the wishes of the next British Government.
And whatever form the future relationship takes, Brexit will represent a shift in the political and economic environment in which the European Union, the United Kingdom and Ireland will co-exist.
I don’t need to make this point to a gathering such as this, as I am sure you are all aware of the changes that Brexit will bring to your industry.
One thing that will not change is the deep and rich relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom, or the warm and close friendship that exists between the Irish and British people.
This is a relationship which the Irish Government, and I personally, am committed to further growing and strengthening.
But we must be prepared for this change. And we are preparing.
Economic and Trade relationship
We are starting from a strong position economically. We are ranked the 7th most competitive economy in the world and the 2nd most competitive economy in the euro area. Our economy and the public finances are being managed carefully.
I mentioned the strong two-way trade relationship.
Last year, exports of financial services and fintech to the UK increased by a staggering 15%, reaching €248 million and are projected to increase further in 2019 reflecting the strength of both the service delivery, quality of solution and innovative capacity of Irish companies.
Ireland has a continued success in the international financial sector and is home to 250 of the world’s leading financial services firms. We have become a global hub for fintech with over 200 indigenous Irish fintech companies.
Due to a consistent welcoming policy and operating environment, and the talent of the Irish workforce, Ireland enjoys a reputation as one of the most attractive places for FDI.
Some 17 of the top 20 global banks, 14 of the top 15 global aircraft lessors, and 8 of the top 10 global insurance providers have operations in Ireland.
Alongside the financial services, 9 of the top global software and US tech companies including the top 10 ‘Born on the Internet’ companies are operating in Ireland.
Among the many reasons why companies are choosing to locate in Ireland is the quality, and diversity, of our workforce.
I agree entirely with Dame Colette about the importance of diversity of thought, diversity of opinion, diversity of gender and of background. These are our values and an expression of who we are.
Ensuring they are reflected across our industries and our companies will help us attract and retain the talented staff that are so important for success in today’s competitive market. And I know that this is something that you are doing.
I also wish to convey to Dame Colette my sincere appreciation for her invaluable support and expertise on the recent establishment of the Irish Banking Culture Board and I am delighted that its first Chairman, Mr Justice John Hedigan, is with us this evening.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As I look around the room, I see companies representing a broad range of technologies and services. It is a sign of the ongoing opportunities in this sector, and that even in times of political uncertainty, companies continue to innovate and the industry continues to evolve.
So I would like to reinforce the importance of the collaboration between larger financial services companies and the nimble and innovative firms who can step in and provide lean solutions.
This is an area where Ireland has seen a great deal of success with seven Irish companies included in the latest Global Regtech 100 list, placing us above other financial powerhouses like Hong Kong and Singapore.
I know the work that Enterprise Ireland are doing, especially in relation to payments and regtech, will bear fruit.
They are also increasing awareness of fintech activities in Ireland and engaging with overseas fintech accelerators and hubs to increase awareness and to consider Ireland as a location for such activity.
And Insurance Ireland continues to build on its "Ireland for InsurTech" strategy through promotional activity, exploration of an industry sandbox, and regular engagement with research centres such as ADAPT, Insight, and CeADAR resulting in the dissemination of technology and innovation across the industry.
Action Plan 2020
Looking forward, we are now working on the 2020 Action Plan under our Ireland for Finance strategy. Adopted earlier this year, this strategy builds on the previous IFS 2020 strategy and charts a path to further grow Ireland’s international financial services sector to 2025.
Technology, innovation and talent will form the building blocks of the new Action Plan to ensure we can meet the goals we have set ourselves in Ireland for Finance.
Climate Action & Finance
There are also opportunities for the financial services sector to contribute to efforts to achieve the goals we have set ourselves to address climate change and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
As part of this journey, we need to identify ways to finance our sustainable future via green finance and public and private partnerships. This industry can set an example in sustainability and contributing to the benefit and success of the wider society we live in.
So, there is much that is going on, and many opportunities, in the financial services sector.
Some of the issues I have mentioned this evening will be part of the discussion and debate at next year’s European Financial Forum in Dublin, on 12 February.
This event has gone from strength to strength since its launch in 2016, and is now a flagship event of the international financial services calendar. I hope to see many of you there.
Ladies and Gentlemen.
The New Year will undoubtedly bring challenges, for governments and for business.
We must be hopeful about finding solutions to the various tasks ahead, energetic in preparing for the contingencies that might happen, and determined to protect peace in Northern Ireland, a thriving all-island economy and a continuing partnership of mutual benefit across the Irish Sea.
The strength and diversity of the ties between Ireland and the United Kingdom, and the contribution that all of you are making, makes me confident that, as we chart a way forward, relations between our two countries will continue to flourish.