Tuesday 12 December 2017

Big hitters unite to convince America we're open for business

Maeve Dineen

VISITORS to the New York Stock Exchange are greeted with a 22-foot stone figure representing integrity and surrounded by smaller statues portraying themes such as agriculture, science, industry and other sources of American prosperity.

Yesterday, it sometimes felt as if a sculpture of Ireland's 12.5pc corporation tax should be added to this tableau to convince America that the low tax rate is written in stone as well.

Outside the stock exchange, the rest of Manhattan was awash with plastic shamrocks and T-shirts promoting the "luck of the Irish", but inside the headquarters of global capitalism some of the captains of American industry were looking for something more than a plastic shillelagh.

The captains of industry were attending the 219-year-old New York Stock Exchange's first ever "Ireland Day" where some of Ireland's biggest hitters tried to convince their American counterparts that there is more to Ireland than green beer and an economy going down in flames.

More than 350 executives from America's biggest companies along with venture capitalists and market makers arrived to listen to the message.

Denis O'Brien, Tony O'Reilly, Gary McGann, of Smurfit Kappa, IDA chief executive Barry O'Leary and Dermot Byrne, of Eirgrid, were just a few of the businessmen who took to the podium to press home to US investors the message that Ireland is still open for business.

But despite their best efforts, the row going on across the Atlantic over our corporation tax rate dominated the debate. More than anything this American audience needed to be told that our corporation tax rate of 12.5pc is safe.

Speaker after speaker used the opportunity to plead with the new Government to hold firm and under no circumstances give any ground to Europe on what is the key attraction when it comes to attracting foreign direct investment from the US.

And then they got it -- in the form of John Bruton, who said our low corporation tax rate is older than Nicolas Sarkozy and neither he nor Angela Merkel were going to change it.

In contrast with the doom and gloom at home, the event portrayed Ireland as a country that is full of confidence that will rise again having experienced much tougher times in the past.

The day kicked off with a session on Reinventing Ireland -- a topic close to the hearts of the Irish business leaders as well as the new Government which has placed restoring Ireland's reputation at the heart of the Programme for Government.

Energy and the potential offered by alternative energy in particular was a key plank of the midday session while the country's bombed out financial services sector was the main theme of the evening session with former Taoiseach and present-day IFSC czar John Bruton hammering home the point that Ireland is still home to many of the world's biggest financial services companies as well as a vibrant funds industry.

In a show of unity, some of Ireland's key business figures, such as Providence Resources' Tony O Reilly Jnr, Digicel's Denis O'Brien, Irish Stock Exchange CEO Deirdre Somers and IDA CEO Barry O'Leary rang the stock exchange's closing bell.

Another Irish visitor, dancer Michael Flatley, will ring the bell today as America continues the week-long celebrations that will end on Thursday evening with a reception in the White House for Enda Kenny.

Irish Independent

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