Eoghan Murphy: Ireland can be financial rock of certainty for those investing in the single market
At tomorrow's European Financial Forum in Dublin Castle, international leaders from both public and private sectors will meet to assess the challenges and opportunities facing the global economy in the coming year. A key issue will be the UK leaving the EU.
Talk of a hard or soft Brexit is now meaningless. Brexit means Brexit, which means an intention to exit both the single market and the EU's customs union, as indicated by British Prime Minister Theresa May last week.
What will actually be the outcome of the negotiations and the shape of the new relationship in the years to come, we cannot know. But nor can financial service firms operating across Europe wait to find out.
This is not the outcome we in Ireland had hoped for, but the task for Government, businesses and indeed citizens now is to prepare for the new reality.
Government departments began planning for all Brexit scenarios before last June's referendum. This planning naturally extended to financial services and to preparation of the 2017 Action Plan for International Financial Services (under our IFS2020 strategy).
The action plan was published this week and part of my job, as Minister for International Financial Services, is its delivery.
IFS2020 was launched in March 2015 with the aim of boosting the number of people working in our financial services sector from 35,000 to 45,000 by the end of 2019. Two years into this five-year plan, at 40,000 currently employed, we are well on track to achieving this.
While the UK's forthcoming departure from the EU has thrown a whole array of economic variables into the equation, it has also created considerable opportunities in terms of financial services companies needing to relocate if they are to continue to access the single market, and looking to Ireland to do so.
The IFS2020 Action Plan for 2017 aims to build on this and will make this English-speaking EU country, with a highly educated workforce, pro-business environment and well-developed commercial and social infrastructure, even more attractive to investors, including companies currently based in Britain and operating in areas such as banking, insurance, asset management, FinTech, payments and business services.
Among the measures already taken to prepare for Brexit, 'IFS Ireland' has stepped up its marketing of Ireland as an investment location and has launched an intensified programme of international trade missions.
I have undertaken a series of high-profile visits to the UK, North America and the Far East, all the while promoting the 'IFS Ireland' brand, a brand that stands for innovation and specialisation in financial services.
All public sector stakeholders - including the Departments of Finance, Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Foreign Affairs and Trade, will continue an international outreach programme this year to promote the benefits of Ireland as an investment location and this will be backed up by ministerial visits where appropriate.
The role of the Central Bank is an important one and in order to ensure that applications from companies are dealt with speedily and transparently, a review of staffing requirements in this area has been undertaken.
The innovation and specialisation emphasis of previous IFS2020 Action Plans will be intensified this year. Drawing on cutting-edge research undertaken in partnership with the FinTech and Payments Association of Ireland, over a quarter of this year's actions will focus on leveraging Ireland's strengths in the ICT and financial services sectors.
These will include Enterprise Ireland making investment capital of up to €500,000 available for FinTech start-ups, tying in with our ongoing emphasis on Ireland leading the way in terms of research and development. Similarly, we will undertake a review of R&D into Blockchain and Payments being conducted in our third-level institutions.
Businesses do not operate in either a commercial or social vacuum. This Government has committed to a massive expansion of the housing stock, while a significant stock of commercial office space will be available to meet any additional capacity requirements.
Meanwhile, the Finuas Networks Programme is to develop and deliver a range of IFS-specific postgraduate programmes and associated qualifications this year.
As the minister responsible for International Financial Services, one of my key priorities has been to ensure that the creation of new jobs in financial services benefits regions the length and breadth of our country. Already, around one-third of IFS jobs are outside the greater Dublin region in areas such as Donegal, Kerry, Cork, Galway, Limerick, Waterford, Wexford, Kilkenny and Louth, among others.
This year, we will continue our engagement with regionally based IFS companies: in Q2 this year, an event will be held in Dublin to showcase the competitive and operational advantages of IFS investment in the regions.
While we are facing into a period of uncertainty until the Brexit process reaches its end (which is itself an unknown date), Ireland can be a rock of certainty for those seeking to continue and expand their investment in to the single market.
This Government will leave no stone unturned in working with businesses and stakeholders in the financial services sector to ensure that their interests are both protected and advanced in the coming months and years.
This is the prudent course of action to take, and is very much in line with protecting Ireland's economic interests, as well as the interests of all who work directly in the financial services sector or who are employed or gain indirectly from it.
Eoghan Murphy is Minister for International Financial Services and chair of the IFS2020 Joint Committee