Bringing in the green
By Enda Kenny
I am delighted to be paying a first visit as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland to the city of Atlanta. St. Patrick’s Day is a time of year when we celebrate with our global family of Irish people and people of Irish descent all over the world. And we know this constituency to be strong and vibrant in Georgia, where almost a million residents claim Irish or Scots-Irish ancestry.
We share more than great-grandparents in common, however. We share a language, a love of music and a rich literary heritage. We share an attachment to the land, to farming, to families and to community. We share a sense of the value of civil and human rights; in the north of Ireland, the fight for those rights was inspired by Atlanta leaders like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis. And, happily, we share a disposition to stretch out a hand to the world, to engage with global partners and global business, in all our interests.
We know, in Ireland, how successfully this has been pursued in Atlanta, where your Democratic mayor cooperates with a Republican governor to deliver a great place to work and thrive. This city — with the busiest passenger airport in the world — has been a superb base for Irish businesses looking to grow. Oldcastle, the largest Irish company in the U.S., employs more than 35,000 workers across every state. But when it came time to choose a U.S. headquarters, it chose Atlanta. And it never looked back.
Offering an excellent place to do business is another trait we share. We talk in Ireland about four Ts: taxes, talent, technology and track record. In Ireland, we have had low business taxes since the late 1950s. Our corporation tax rate of 12.5 percent enjoys overwhelming popular and political support.
We have talent, too — English-speaking young people who ensure Ireland ranks first in the world for availability of skilled labour. It has helped technology companies – household names like Facebook, Twitter and Google – make easy decisions to locate their European headquarters in Ireland. Ireland is home to 9 of the top 10 software companies in the world and 15 of the top 20 medical technology companies. They all invest safe in the knowledge this is a country with a track record, which knows great businesses deliver great jobs – and for the Irish government, it is all about great jobs.
In fostering this climate, Atlanta giants like Coca-Cola and UPS have been hugely valued partners, sharing their expertise while growing their operations from Ireland. And happily, Ireland is catching the eye of innovative new Atlanta companies, too, like N3 and Neo-Med, which recognize the value of a European base without linguistic complications or unnecessary red tape — all reasons why Forbes magazine recognizes Ireland as the best country in the Eurozone for business.
Investors and entrepreneurs want a growing economy, too, and companies are now finding that again in Ireland. After a severe contraction in the final years of the previous government, Ireland in 2014 had the fastest-growing economy in the European Union. We expect to retain this lead position in 2015. Unemployment continues to fall every month. Export levels are higher than before the crisis, while our deficit this year will fall below 3 percent of GDP, the EU target.
Our rejuvenated economy offers great sights and experiences for tourists, too; 2014 was our best year ever for visitors from the U.S., with numbers up by more than 13 percent over 2013. We are aiming for growth of an additional 6 percent this year. And whether you are visiting in 2015 for one of many events to celebrate the 150th birthday of our greatest poet W.B. Yeats; to improve your golf or trace your ancestors; or simply to discover the beautiful, rugged scenery of the Wild Atlantic Way at your own pace, we know you won’t return home disappointed. You shouldn’t return home tired, either; direct daily flights between Atlanta and Dublin, courtesy of Delta Air Lines, resume a full service from the end of this month.
When companies, tourists or students cross the Atlantic, horizons are transformed. And when you think of the phenomenal transatlantic ties that were forged by the Irish and Scots-Irish in times past — in an era before jet travel or Skype or email or anything which makes our world today so small — the onus on us all to work together to deliver for the people of Atlanta and Ireland is laid bare.
I’m excited to be able to assess where we can deepen our ties with Atlanta this St. Patrick’s Day, in ways that would make our shared ancestors proud.
Enda Kenny is Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland.