Thanks to George Young, your Chairperson, and Tommy McCabe, your convenor, for inviting me here today to partake in your Christmas Lunch.
It is a relatively short-lived tradition for the Minister with responsibility for Communications policy generally to say a few words to the industry on this occasion each year.
I know you've had a busy morning and that you are all looking forward to lunch so I'll be as brief as I can.
Firstly, I am glad to report that your industry has the privilege of operating in one of Europe's fastest growing economies once more in 2005.
I am also glad to see that in 2005 the general economic performance has been, once more, reflected again, in the growth of the sector in terms of
- The number of operators
- The profitability of those operators, and
- The general level of activity, including share sales, in the sector.
The excellent general performance of the economy is a result of policies designed to encourage competitiveness and growth being pursued by Government throughout the economy.
These include sustained programmes of investment in people and infrastructure. The industry can expect that Government focus on investment adequacy, in particular when it comes to regional development, to be sustained in the medium term.
It will not be possible to maintain that economic performance unless Ireland continuously invests for higher productivity. The recent Government announcement regarding investment in transport infrastructure is a prime example of the scale of vision demanded by the economic conditions we find ourselves in
Equally, the Government's commitment to national competitiveness will be critical to sustaining our economic position internationally.
This requires Government to continue to benchmark Irish sectoral performance against relevant international comparators and to make policy adjustments in a timely fashion where this is required.
The members of the Government generally have an awareness of the importance of our ICT infrastructure to the task of moving Ireland up the value chain. At a time when so many resources are being focussed on physical infrastructure capabilities across the productive sectors of the economy, it would be a grave error to ignore the importance of infrastructure in ICT. That's why I am looking forward to this organisation's policy statement in relation to ICT infrastructure which I understand you hope to release in the New Year.
I know a number of your CEOs met the Taoiseach a couple of years ago in relation to this issue. While I am aware of how challenging it is to get a group of interests as diverse as those in this room to speak as a single voice, it is important that the sector speaks to Government on the big macro issues as well as those that typically make up our agendas.
I have a very crowded agenda in the sector for 2006 which I will be happy to deal with on a Q and A basis in the limited time available after George and Gerry have said a word. These items include:-
- Telecoms legislation dealing with enforcement
- Comprehensive broadcasting legislation
- A third phase of the Group Broadband Scheme
- Further development of the MANs and MSE concept
- A review of broadband demand policy
- The conclusion of the Schools Broadband Programme, and
- A pilot infrastructure project in the area of Digital Terrestrial Television
Finally, I'd like to say a ward of thanks to George, Gerry and Tommy for their work on your behalf this year. I know that my Department has collaborated with IBEC on a number of very important projects this year including conferences and infrastructure programme, especially on the schools-side. Best wishes to you and your families for Christmas and I wish you all a healthy and happy New Year.