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Column Ireland can be a centre of international investment AND indigenous innovation

Yes, we try to attract multinational companies to Ireland – but never at the cost of failing to support Irish entrepreneurs trying to grow more jobs at home, writes Damien English TD.

WRITING FOR last week, Paul Allen suggested that the Irish psyche and entrepreneurial endeavours are incompatible. He referenced our supposed ‘appetite for begrudgery’ and made the assertion that ‘in Ireland success is often treated with suspicion.’

Allen’s general point seemed to be that multinational companies – which he likened to various ‘imperialist’ masters – are being attracted to these shores, while indigenous enterprises are being neglected. Not only do I not agree with this assertion, his misinterpretation of the facts warrants a clarification.

Let’s ask ourselves two simple questions. Does the Government want to continue to attract big name multinationals to these shores, where they already employ more than 160,000 people? Yes, it certainly does. Does the Government also want to support Irish businesses which are determined to capitalise on our improving economic situation? Yes, without question.

A range of supports and initiatives

The Government cannot afford to focus on any one sector of the economy as it aims to turn our jobs market around. While we continue to attract major international companies to Ireland, we have also introduced a range of supports and initiatives through the Action Plan for Jobs, being led by Minister Richard Bruton TD, to support small and medium Irish businesses, which employ more than 600,000 people in the local economy.

A closer look at last week’s extremely encouraging CSO figures – which show 58,000 people have been added to the workforce in the last year – show some interesting trends. Employment in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors is up by almost a third, while employment in tourism-related services is up by 12 per cent. These are indigenous Irish businesses, many of them small in scale, which are steadily expanding their workforces.

This isn’t happening by accident. The Government has systematically introduced a range of initiatives over the last two years or so to specifically target these sectors, and many others. For example, the scrapping of the air travel tax and the retention of the lower VAT rate for tourism services in the recent Budget was widely welcomed by industry figures, who are keen to sustain the major recovery in visitor numbers.

Three principles

The Government’s approach to indigenous Irish companies is primarily based on three principles; encouraging start-ups, supporting existing businesses in the domestic economy, and helping Irish enterprises to expand into export markets.

Recent evidence shows that more than two-thirds of jobs growth comes from enterprises in their first five years of existence; that’s why the Government is placing such a big emphasis on start-ups, and it’s why we’ve asked Dragon’s Den star Sean O’Sullivan to review our strategy for entrepreneurship. There are a huge range of schemes to help those thinking of starting their own businesses; such as tax reliefs for entrepreneurs, multiple initiatives to help with access to credit and direct funding for early stage high potential start-ups.

Sometimes the range of supports available can seem daunting or confusing for an aspiring entrepreneur, and that’s where the new Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) will come in. LEOs will act as a one stop shop for all enterprise supports in every county, offering direct access to mentoring, microfinance and grants, while also providing access to the wide range of Enterprise Ireland supports for indigenous companies.

Access to credit

The Government recognises that access to credit has been a significant challenge for domestic businesses. That’s why we’ve introduced a series of schemes to provide options if the banks aren’t playing ball. More than €2 billion in credit is being made available to small businesses through a suite of measures including the Credit Guarantee Scheme and the Micro-enterprise loan fund. In this way, the Government is providing direct financial assistance to local Irish businesses.

The Government has listened to businesses when they said they wanted to take on extra employees, but they couldn’t afford to do so. Through the JobsPlus scheme, which has been up and running since the middle of the year, the Government covers one in every four euro it costs to hire someone off the Live Register. Helping Irish companies to expand into overseas markets is also hugely important; that’s why a new Potential Exports Division has been set up in Enterprise Ireland, providing a range of initiatives to help companies export more.

We will continue to aggressively target multinational companies and, encouraging, an increasing number of emerging international firms, as well as major corporations, are choosing to set up their European and Middle East Headquarters in Ireland because we have a well established reputation as being a hub for innovation and investment. But in tandem with this approach, the Government will also continue to support Irish entrepreneurs to grow more jobs at home and win more investments overseas. This twin approach will allow Ireland to become both a centre of international investment and indigenous innovation.

Damien English is Fine Gael TD for Meath West and Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation.

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