Keynote Address by Pat Breen TD, Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, to the Irish-India Business Association

December 6th, 2013 - Pat Breen

Your excellency (Mrs Radhika Lal Lokesh, Ambassador of India to Ireland), ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to have been invited to the annual lunch of the Ireland India Business Association and I am honoured to have been requested to make this keynote address.
On this sad day for all of us, I would first of all, like to pay tribute to the man dubbed “ The Unofficial President of the World”, Nelson Mandela who died last night, an icon of the 20th Century who changed the world and holds an extraordinary place in the hearts of Irish and Indian people. His legacy will never be forgotten. May he rest in peace.

I am here, of course, as the Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade. The current Government, following the general election of 2011, re-assigned trade to the responsibility of the Minister of Foreign Affairs in recognition of the important role played by Irish embassies and consulates in fostering business links with different countries. Indeed, this aspect of the Oireachtas Committee’s responsibilities is also acknowledged by the fact that the Committee will shortly finalise and publish a report on trade.

Over the years, Ireland and India have had a close political relationship, based on links built between the countries during the period of our respective independent movements and there were warm relations between political figures from both countries during that period. As a Clareman, I was honoured that a fellow clareman and Former President of Ireland, Dr. Patrick Hillery, made the first high level official visit to India back in 1978. He was there during India’s Independence Day, met with his counterpart, President Sanjeev Reddy, and during a visit to the State of Tamil Nadu, he was presented with a very special silver vase by the Governor and that ornament is on public display in the Clare County Museum in Ennis.

I understand, also, that elements of the Indian Constitution are based on its Irish equivalent Bunreacht na hÉireann.

Irish people played a central role in the development of second level education in India, with many of the country’s elite secondary schools having been established by Irish missionaries. While the number of Irish actually engaged with the schools has dwindled over the years, to this day many of these schools display pride in their links to Ireland. Only last week, I was in Aras an Uachtarain to attend the Presidential Distinguished Service Awards 2013, one of those awards went to an Irish Loretto Nun, Sr. Cyril Mooney. She went to India in 1956 to work in education, she is the only Irish citizen to receive the PADMA SHRI award, this is India’s Highest award (the only other non national to receive this achievement was Mother Teresa).
Diplomatic relations between Ireland and India were established in 1949 and embassies were opened in Dublin and New Delhi in 1951 and 1964 respectively. In addition, Ireland now has four honourary consulates in India: in Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata and Chennai.

The crucial importance of the policy of successive Irish governments, particularly over the past 30 years, in investing heavily in education and training, has been, in large measure, responsible for attracting foreign direct investment and – of equal significance – the development of native Irish enterprise and the emergence of a vigorous, ambitious and dynamic entrepreneurial culture

Recent Policies:
More recently, the Government here has adopted a number of policies in response to the economic crisis. Included in these strategies is the aforementioned conferring on the Department of Foreign Affairs of the trade promotion function, the establishment of the Export Trade Council, the programme of trade missions, the establishment of the Global Irish Network, as well as the Global Irish Economic Forum and a more focused approach to activities that take place around St. Patrick’s Day.

Here in Ireland we want to promote and protect abroad the values, interests and economic well-being of Ireland and its people. The administration in New Delhi and the people of India, I am quite certain, have similar aspirations. Working in conjunction with each other, we can both work to grow the level of trade, both in terms of goods and in terms of services to the mutual benefit of both our nations.
In relation to mutual benefits, the foundation stones, in a lot of cases, have already been laid. A double taxation treaty dates from November 2000. An air services agreement has been in place for more than 20 years and a memorandum of understanding which provides for necessary amendments to the agreement has been finalised. Agreements on scientific and technological cooperation and on cultural cooperation are in place since 2006 while some of you will also be aware that India has proposed the conclusion of a social security agreement which is still under consideration within our Department of Social Protection. Consequently, while the foundation stones are in place, I believe that the approach to be adopted by both countries should be one of education, information sharing and relationship building with a view to developing political, trade and investment ties over a number of years. In addition, I know that EU has in place various partnership cooperation agreements with India.

When it comes to differences between our two countries, there are some stark contrasts to be taken into account. India has a relatively closed economy to that extent it has not been as adversely affected by the global recession as other countries have, including Ireland . During the global recession, India’s annual growth has continued at a rate in excess of 5%. Another difference is that the Republic of Ireland has a population of about 4.5 million, while India’s population of more than 1.2 billion makes it the second most populous country, after China, on the globe, and the world’s 10th largest economy.

Education Links:
India’s youthful and increasingly educated population is seen as one of its greatest assets, particularly in view of the fact that about two thirds of the population is aged between 15 and 65, the world’s largest working age population pool. According to the IMF (and we have some experience of them here!) this democratic dividend could add about two percentage points per annum to India’s per capita gross domestic product growth in the next twenty years. In addition, India’s growing middle class has a desire to improve its own prospects and those of its families. Investment in education of its young people is therefore of paramount importance to people in India. This can be seen by the fact that India has 18 state universities supplemented by hundreds of public and private universities and colleges. While the standards in, for example engineering and business, are world renowned, India could probably learn from Ireland in relation to the standardisation of qualifications. Also, due to the fierce competition for entry into the top institutions, increasingly, Indian students are looking abroad for educational opportunities. To that end, I note that in the past fortnight, three education institutions, namely, University College Dublin, University of Limerick and Waterford Institute of Technology, announced new alliances and programmes with third level education partners in India. I know also that it is hoped to grow the number of Indian students in Ireland to more than 5,000 in the next five years.

Ireland’s development as a knowledge economy, in particular the building up of our research capacity and capability has contributed to and, in fact, underpinned our success as an international education service provider . By establishing new universities and institutes of technology, by transforming the curricula to better suit a modern knowledge economy and by driving for higher standards of education, Ireland and I believe India can reap the benefits.

India and Ireland can build on the strong tradition of collaboration between the third level education sector and companies here. Ireland’s long tradition as a provider of quality education is backed by the high standards of our education services, internationally recognised qualifications and the worldwide reputation of its training. Ireland, therefore, is an attractive location for students in terms of openness, cost and career advancement opportunities.

In terms of Global Activities, India, which has traditionally pursued a policy of non-alignment has, as you know, emerged as an influential member of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) group of countries – regarded as the leading emerging economies – and has become increasingly assertive in multilateral fora. This is also a feature that has been increasingly noticed in Ireland. I know, for example, that our Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton TD, following the same trade mission referred to by me earlier in relation to alliances between third level institutions, led a mission that resulted in three Irish companies announcing contracts and business growth of more than ■15 million and two Indian companies announced plans to set up operations here and create 75 jobs. Further contract announcements and investments are, I understand, expected in the coming months.
In relation to business links, partnership agreements between Irish firms and their counterparts in India can be developed for mutual gain. Irish companies can provide Indian firms across the spectrum access to learning technologies/certification, product software, smart scalable international services and high end medical devices and products. In a country of dynamic change and growth, as India has been for years, it is no surprise that many challenges cannot be met the way they may been before – they must now be embraced with innovation. I see Ireland as an innovation island, a country that is an attractive home for multinationals and world class entrepreneurs.

Thus, I can see that Ireland and India can align themselves in business partnerships and individuals and companies in both countries can benefit. More than 1,000 overseas companies have made Ireland their location of choice. These include some of the top ICT corporations and 13 of the top 15 pharmaceutical companies have substantial operations here. Ireland, as a member of the EU with access to 500 million people, with a well-educated and skilled workforce and a favourable tax regime, the only English speaking country in the Eurozone, is ideally located for companies from India who wish to get a foothold in Europe. Yesterday’s good news by Forbes Magazine that Ireland ranks the best country in the World to do business is a ringing endorsement of my Government’s determination to rebuild and enhance our reputation abroad. I want to Commend the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny TD, and the Government for this considerable achievement, given our small size.

I will turn briefly now to tourism. As I mentioned earlier there is a huge contrast in the size of our respective countries. I mentioned also the work done by missionaries from Ireland in establishing schools in India. As India’s economy continues to grow and more of India’s growing middle classes seek to travel abroad I can suggest Ireland as an ideal destination for holidays. We know that there are substantial benefits to be gained for Ireland if even a small percentage of people from India who travel abroad decide to visit here. I refer, in particular, to those who wish to escape the busy bustling city life; I can personally recommend our west coast which, for your convenience, is well served by international airports.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the good work being carried out by Sumit Mullick and his colleagues at the Ireland India Business Association. I am a firm believer that the greater the level of dialogue between different parties the better level of understanding that will develop. A better level of understanding between the peoples of Ireland and India can and will lead to more trade between our two countries which in turn will have benefits for us all.

Thank you.