'No one should be in doubt that the recession is over'
Top businessmen tell Ronald Quinlan how they are confident that the Irish economy has finally turned the corner
WHILE there's no easy way to take €2.5bn from the pockets of a people already groaning under the weight of five years of austerity, those who gathered at the Global Cork Economic Forum last Thursday believe the Irish economy is well on the road to recovery .
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, several of the country's foremost business leaders expressed their confidence that the signs of recovery now being seen in Dublin would spread to Cork and beyond as the confidence that had been "fragile" up to now, took hold.
Asked for his views on the Budget, INM Chairman Leslie Buckley said: "From a business perspective, it's been a good Budget. It's great to see the tax on tourism and on publications has remained at 9 per cent and not gone back to the 13.5 per cent. It's very important for anybody in the publications sector. It's great to see the travel tax go back to zero. If Michael O'Leary does what he said he would do, there'll be jobs and they are seriously important in today's economy."
Commenting on the decision to bring Budget Day forward from its usual date in December and the benefit that might deliver for the retail sector in the lead-in to Christmas, Mr Buckley said: "I think it will have a very positive effect, certainly in the publishing business that I'm involved in. We've seen a fairly healthy growth since last year and that appears to be continuing. Now with the Budget behind us, that will have a very positive impact over the next couple of months and over Christmas."
On the prospects for his native Cork and his reasons for attending the forum, he added: "I suppose what happens in Ireland [and its economy] is about six-to-12 months behind what happens in the US, and what happens in Cork is about six-to-12 months behind what happens in Dublin. But it will happen. Cork has shown absolutely fantastic resilience down through the years. What I would hope to get from today is about a half a dozen really good initiatives and then to follow them through."
CEO and Chairman of Glen Dimplex Sean O'Driscoll is also firmly of the view that Cork will be following hot on Dublin's heels when it comes to economic recovery.
"Capital cities have a natural tendency to be the first to come back. Confidence then tends to spread out to the second city, the third city and then the fourth city. You can see from the capital that we're on the move again and it's only a question of time, a relatively short period of time before you begin to see that in Cork, in Limerick and in Waterford.
"In a year from now, Ireland will be a very, very different place from where it is today," he said.
The Glen Dimplex chief added: "Ireland is a very different place than it was last year. Nobody should be in any doubt that the recession is over and the recession is over generally across the world.
"The Irish economy is growing much, much quicker than has been reported and I think that will be reflected in the figures in about a month from now," he said.
Mr O'Driscoll argued that while the Budget had been "balanced", the Government could have gone further in the area of social welfare.
"But overall, I think that the acid test for the people in this country is that when they woke up the next morning, while they were worse off than the previous day, they said, 'well it could have been worse'," he said.
Greencore CEO Patrick Coveney, meanwhile, said that while there were a lot of "tangible, good things happening," he cautioned against any "bogus optimism" taking hold.
"There are a lot of tangible, good things happening and I think in time they'll act together and it'll be the substance of those things that will change things rather than a bunch of CEOs telling people to be happy because they should be," he said.
Giving his own view of the economy, Mr Coveney said: "I think we're slowly getting better. Obviously it's not easy and I think the Irish economy is the sum of a number of different economies.
"You've got the export trading economy, which is doing extremely well, and the food industry, which is doing extremely well. What I would be encouraged about is that some of the more domestically focused parts of the economy are starting to recover. The fact that for the first time in 65 months construction activity picked up, that's encouraging. There's a lot more employment, there's a lot more economic activity."