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The future of International Financial Services in Ireland

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FG junior minister Simon Harris

FG junior minister Simon Harris

FG junior minister Simon Harris

Yesterday, together with the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, I launched a new Strategy for Ireland's International Financial Services' Sector. This sector has grown at an astonishing rate since the late '80, which then boasted an industry comprising three companies supporting 55 jobs.

That was 1989. A little over 25 years later and today's sector now supports over 26,500 high-value and highly skilled jobs in over 200 multi-national companies.

More recently, this is a sector which has seen a 71pc increase in employment in the decade to 2014.

Many of these companies, such as Citi, JP Morgan StateStreet, MetLife, and Zurich, are household names and leaders in their field. Their long-established presence here has seen Ireland become a global hub for funds' management, aviation financing, and re-insurance to name a few.

Less well known are the 200-plus Irish-owned financial services companies that have grown over the last number of years to now employ over 8,500 people in this State.

We no longer occupy a peripheral place in the European community. We are now a leading European financial centre at the core of the Eurozone.

We can look to our deep cultural and commercial ties with the powerhouse west across the Atlantic, while across the Irish channel some 50,000 UK company directorships held by native Irish illustrate our close economic bonds. Couple this with our recently expanded consular and embassy network into emerging markets, and the potential for further growth and job creation is apparent.

Ireland's success in this truly international industry is proof that we have business in our blood. The success of our International Financial Services sector through years of boom and bust demonstrates the value of this sector to the Government priority to secure our recovery and further enhance our standing on the world stage.

Some might say given the above, why a new Strategy, if it ain't broke etc etc. We need a new Strategy because complacency is an unwelcome bedfellow for a Government intent on learning from the past, and leaning into the future with a renewed and hard-won optimism. Hard won, I would add, in terms of our need to continually adapt to a radically upgraded regulatory landscape, and a burgeoning spirit of innovation which I have seen first-hand at last November's Web Summit, at Citibank's Innovation centre, and more recently in my meetings with the tech giants on our doorstep.

Just as the markets never sleep, neither does the rate of technological change relent, particularly insofar as this will alter our understanding of not only banking and commerce but the idea of 'currency' itself. Against this backdrop, more public sector co-ordination and joined-up thinking is essential. Likewise, a more co-ordinated public and private sector approach to promote Ireland provides an opportunity to achieve what was frittered away during the Tiger years - a sustainable economy to support a maturing and equitable democracy.

Yes, we have been successful in retaining jobs in this sector during the worst of the crisis - which in fact added 6,000 net new jobs since 2008. Yes, we top the table in terms of winning US investment into Ireland, and yes, as my colleagues, the Ministers for Finance and Jobs have frequently stated, we have and will continue to have a highly competitive tax and business-friendly operating environment that supports over 150,000 FDI-related jobs. That said, in this sector the need to remain competitive is paramount. In this respect promoting indigenous enterprise and access to talent figure prominently in this Strategy.

On the one hand, we are well positioned to benefit from the increasing convergence between the tech and financial services sectors, while on the other, we top the international league table for the availability of skilled people. A key competitive advantage is to leverage these advantages by way of a well-resourced eco-system to support Irish startups and SME upscaling.

This is an area I believe wholly compatible with the wider Government focus on regional job growth and, when combined with the objective to foster 'clusters' of Irish companies in the fields of payments and regulatory compliance, will serve to attract foreign companies to locate in Ireland. For my part I will continue to work with our SME and Start-up communities, our educational institutions, and look forward to exploring with the Strategic Banking Corporation and Strategic Investment Fund how best to source the funding and expertise required to open the next chapter in the development of this sector.

So what happens next? I look forward to more of the same, to build on the significant progress heretofore but now armed with clearer view of our objectives and means to attain them. Since kick-starting the Strategy development process into life last September, I have become acutely aware of the added-value and opportunities that flow from bringing diverse public and private sector stakeholders together under a common banner and imbued with shared purpose.

The thrust of this new Strategy is to harness this momentum, and to now focus on delivering actions that will create jobs, and provide job security and greater prosperity in equal measure. For these reasons I have chosen to adopt the Action Plan for Jobs' model, and will rejuvenate the governance and consultative mechanisms to be more accountable and responsive to Government and to industry needs respectively.

I am confident that concerted action will not only bring a further 10,000 net new jobs within the lifetime of this Strategy, but will further elevate Ireland in the vanguard of International Financial Services Centres.

Simon Harris is junior minister at the Departments of Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach

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