'Tough decisions' taken on economy


IRELAND HAD taken the necessary hard decisions to deal with the economic crisis, Taoiseach Brian Cowen told a group of Irish-American business and community leaders in Chicago last night, at the start of his latest US visit.

He said his Government had stabilised the public finances, repaired the banking system and was pursuing a strategy for economic recovery through investing in science and research, renewable energy and green technologies.

Mr Cowen was addressing the St Patrick’s week dinner of the Irish Fellowship Club of Chicago, on matters of national interest, including the Hillsborough Agreement.

Recalling his previous visit to Chicago three years before, Mr Cowen said that “a lot has changed since I stood here in 2007. We have all been rocked by financial shockwaves that are truly global in scale. Ireland, as a small and very open economy, was very susceptible to these very destructive influences.

“Even though we have had the benefit of the strength and stability of the euro and membership of the European Union, we have had to make tough decisions to ensure our future prosperity.”

As well as repairing the banking system, the Government had “cut costs to improve competitiveness and boost exports and tourism, thereby fostering sustainable employment. Last year, Irish labour costs improved relative to the euro area as a whole”.

The Government was pursuing “a detailed and well-planned strategy” to ensure recovery by investing heavily in science and research and building “an environment where people turn smart ideas into world-class goods and services.

“Already, world business leaders like Microsoft, Google, Intel and Facebook recognise Ireland as the pre-eminent location for fresh thinking and a global hub for innovation.”

Turning to Northern Ireland, he said the Hillsborough pact was a further step for the North on the path of stability and normalisation: “With the Hillsborough Agreement of February 5th, the framework is now in place to complete the devolution process with the transfer of policing and justice powers and to reinvigorate the powersharing Executive and Assembly to build on the enormous progress made over the last decade. These are important steps for Northern Ireland as it continues on the path of stability and normalisation.

“In Northern Ireland, we continue to build upon the historic achievement of the peace sustained in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday agreement.

“The last two years have seen the longest continuous period of devolved powersharing government since 1998.”

He concluded: “St  Patrick’s Day is a truly worldwide celebration of all that is best in the Irish identity, heritage and culture. I am delighted to be able to join so many friends of Ireland in this celebration.”

Mr Cowen will be taking part in the annual St Patrick’s parade in Chicago this afternoon before travelling to California to visit high-tech industries in Silicon Valley tomorrow and Monday. He will then fly to Washington DC for various functions including a meeting on Wednesday with President Barack Obama at the White House.