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Remarks at Crafts Council of Ireland Showcase 2014

Ireland, Trade, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, Speech, Ireland, 2014

 

Address by the Tánaiste at the Crafts Council of Ireland Showcase 2014

RDS, Dublin

Sunday 19 January 2014 

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I would like to thank Laura Magahy and Karen Hennessy, of the Crafts Council of Ireland, for inviting me here today to officially open ‘Showcase 2014’. It is a pleasure to join you at the beginning of what will no doubt be a very busy and successful four days.

I would also like to offer a warm welcome, on behalf of the Government, to those of you who have travelled from overseas to attend this Showcase. Guests will join us during the next four days from no fewer than 26 countries, keen to explore the diverse range of quality products produced by the Irish crafts sector. I know that this Showcase will give our guests a real appreciation of the unmatched quality of craftsmanship, innovation and creativity that Ireland has to offer.

Ireland is immensely proud of its crafts sector. The work of Irish craftspeople reflects some of the best characteristics of our society – a commitment to quality, patient creative endeavour and an understanding of the cultural and artistic influences that shape who we are as a nation. The Government is grateful to the Crafts Council of Ireland for the excellent work done in championing the industry in Ireland, communicating its unique identity and ensuring that Irish craft is recognised worldwide for its excellence and innovation in design and production. 

It is particularly appropriate that the “Creative Ireland” space forms the centrepiece of Showcase 2014. The displays we see around us illustrate very well the diversity, quality and creativity of products developed in Ireland. This spirit of creativity, embodied in the crafts sector, is an important part of Ireland’s unique national culture and has an influence far wider than the crafts sector itself.  The skills and understanding of materials that have been developed by generations of craftspeople form the basis for a great deal of modern manufacturing and the presentation of Ireland’s tradition of creativity is of great value to our tourism industry.

The work of the crafts sector reflects very well on Ireland. During our Presidency of the European Union, in the first half of 2013, the Crafts Council curated a very impressive selection of contemporary Irish furniture, for display in the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels, where the Council of Ministers meets. The pieces selected highlighted the best of Irish materials and design and created quite an impression on my EU colleagues. It was a source of great pride to me, and my Ministerial colleagues, to be able to showcase Irish design and craft in this way. I would like to thank the Crafts Council for its collaboration and its contribution to our Presidency.   

The crafts sector is also, of course, a significant part of our economy, and the small and medium-sized enterprises represented at this showcase sustain more than 5,700 jobs across the country. Overall, the sector contributes almost €500 million to the Irish economy each year through sales to domestic and export markets.

A strong export performance is vital to the health of our economy and this has been particularly important in the last few years when exports have been at the heart of our economic recovery. Despite the significant challenges that Ireland has faced in recent years, our indigenous producers, including those in the crafts sector, have maintained a strong export trade and continued to demonstrate to the world our innovation and creativity. Overall, our level of exports has reached historic highs – the value of our exports has risen to a level 16 per cent higher than the peak reached before the economic crisis hit in 2007. This export performance is one of the main factors driving our economic recovery and creating jobs.

In this context, I would like to note the contribution of Enterprise Ireland to the international promotion of this Showcase event, as well as to our overall export performance. Enterprise Ireland had a very successful year in 2013, with the companies it supported creating more than 18,000 new jobs and recording the highest net gain in employment in a decade. It has worked in a very effective and strategic way, in cooperation with our Embassy network overseas, to promote exports of quality Irish products to key markets across the globe. This work has made a huge contribution to the progress we have made towards economic recovery.  

While much remains to be done to achieve our national objective of rebuilding the economy and returning to a path of sustainable, job-creating growth, recent developments allow us to be optimistic about our prospects. Companies across Ireland, including enterprises represented here today, have created 58,000 jobs in the past twelve months. We have moved from a situation where we were losing 1,600 jobs a week during the crisis to one where we are now creating 1,200 a week. This performance is shoring up the economic conditions which allowed our exit from the EU/IMF Programme in December, and creating the confidence in our recovery which led to our very successful engagement with the international bond markets earlier this month. Much of this is due to the resilience of small and medium enterprises across Ireland, including craft producers, who have faced the difficult economic conditions of the past few years with great resolve and determination.

As well as discussing the role of this Showcase in promoting Irish products overseas and providing export opportunities for Irish craft-makers, I feel it is also important to recognise the contribution that the craft sector makes domestically. Craft generates local, sustainable employment all over the country, often in rural and remote locations where communities risk becoming isolated. For each master milliner who creates a beautiful and cutting edge headpiece, there are many more suppliers, supporters and collaborators who work behind the scenes. These networks and structures crisscross this island fostering creativity and innovation to keep the industry vibrant.

The work done by the Crafts Council of Ireland is of great benefit to the sector. The Council recently signed a three-year agreement with Enterprise Ireland which outlines the services it is undertaking to support and promote Irish craft and design. The agreement sets out the Council’s sectoral remit as the national development organisation for craft and design in Ireland.  

I am delighted to announce today that the Crafts Council of Ireland will in future operate under the title of the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland.  This important strategic development allows the organisation to more accurately reflect and formally acknowledge its existing remit which includes supporting and promoting Irish craft and product-related design enterprises in growing sales both domestically and internationally.

Last October, my Department hosted the third Global Irish Economic Forum. The Forum brought together over 150 overseas-based Irish business and cultural leaders to explore how the Irish at home and abroad, and those with a strong interest in Ireland, could work together and contribute to Ireland's economic recovery. One very interesting recommendation which emerged from the discussions was to designate a year to celebrate Irish Design. This idea was among the final recommendations which I brought forward to the Government and we committed ourselves to taking the idea forward. Looking around today, it is evident that there is enough talent, creativity and imagination in Ireland to fill a decade of Irish design so I am confident that we can realise this objective.

I would like to thank you once again for the opportunity to participate today and to wish you well for this event. I have no doubt that the international buyers who have made the trip will not be disappointed and that they, like me, will be hugely impressed with the products on offer here. I hope that the upcoming year is an exciting and rewarding year for both the Crafts Council and its member organisations. I would like to congratulate the winners of the Showcase awards on their achievement, and I look forward to meeting them and other producers and to seeing more of the exhibition.

Thank you.