Ireland must be ‘realistic but not alarmist’ about Trump

American Chamber of Commerce’s James O’Connor says State must stay competitive

New American Chamber of Commerce president James O’Connor (centre), with chief executive Mark Redmond (left) and Barry O’Sullivan, chamber vice-president. Photograph: Maxwells

New American Chamber of Commerce president James O’Connor (centre), with chief executive Mark Redmond (left) and Barry O’Sullivan, chamber vice-president. Photograph: Maxwells

 

The Republic must be “realistic but not alarmist” about the threat posed by US president Donald Trump to a sector responsible for 250,000 jobs here, the new head of the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland, James O’Connor, believes.

Mr Trump has named the Republic as one of those jurisdictions where he claims US companies are going at the expense of their home country’s economy and has pledged to cut US corporation tax to counter this.

US companies employ 150,000 people in the Republic and generate a further 100,000 jobs in businesses that supply and service them, according to the American Chamber, the sector’s main lobby group.

Its newly appointed president, James O’Connor, Microsoft’s managing director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, acknowledged on Friday that Mr Trump’s election has changed the environment for this inward investment.

“We have to be realistic about that but not alarmist,” he said. “We do not know at this stage what his detailed policies are going to be, but there is no question that we have to remain very engaged.

“A lot of that is not within our control, what is in our control is what we have today and the big area that is in our control is competitiveness,” he said. He added that while the Republic had advantages over countries with which it competed for investment, it could not afford to be complacent.

Housing crisis

Mr O’Connor warned that tackling the housing crisis, ensuring the availability of school places and developing infrastructure to make the regions more attractive to foreign capital were central to keeping that advantage.

His organisation also sees Brexit as one of the challenges that its members and the Republic face this year. Mr O’Connor suggested that being the only English-speaking country left in the EU after the UK’s departure could be an advantage, but said that it raised significant issues for the State as well.

More than 700 US companies have subsidiaries based in the Republic. The 150,000 people they employ is a record. Their Irish businesses make four out of every five medical stents used in the world, one out of two hospital ventilators and two out of three contact lenses.

However, Mr O’Connor stressed that it was not a one-way street. Irish companies now employ 120,000 people in the US and generate $90 billion (€84 billion) in sales. He argued that this relationship fitted the “sensible trade” criterion given by Mr Trump’s commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, to the US Senate this week.

In terms of maintaining the relationship into the future, Mr O’Connor said that the chamber was “heartened” by the Government’s commitment on education. This emphasises science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the skills sought by multinationals.

The American Chamber said that, along with low corporate tax, the availability of skilled workers is a key draw for US companies. Its president said that education and continued training through people’s working lives is central to that.

Mr O’Connor is a 24-year veteran of Microsoft and has worked for the organisation in a number of positions in IT and operations.