An interview with Kevin O'Malley, newly appointed US Ambassador to Ireland
Declan Black (DB): Congratulations on your appointment as US Ambassador to Ireland. This has been a homecoming of sorts for you, as your own grandparents emigrated to America almost 100 years ago. Can you give us your view on the Ireland of today, given the country's reputation as one of the best places in the world to do business?
Kevin O'Malley (KOM): I was greatly honoured that President Obama asked me to represent the United States in a country I hold so dear. Ireland's journey, in the 100 years since my grandparents emigrated from Co. Mayo, has been an extraordinary story. Since arriving in Ireland in October as Ambassador, I have seen the incredible dynamism of the US-Irish business relationship. The speed of technological development in the last twenty-five years is stunning. Modern Ireland has created a new generation of companies - start-ups, and small and medium-sized entities - that are innovative, globally competitive, and well-connected to the US market. That is a very healthy sign for the future of our relationship.
(DB): You have taken up your position at a time of renewed growth for Ireland's economy. What do you see as key factors for sustaining this growth?
KOM: Ireland's story of economic recovery is compelling. I know it has been a challenging few years, but it is wonderful to see that the economy is growing, unemployment is falling, and optimism is returning. Of course I want to highlight the important role that over 700 US companies here, employing 115,000 Irish, have had in helping the Irish economy get going again.
Ireland is an attractive country for companies to invest in as it is English-speaking with a skilled workforce and is a gateway to Europe with a sound regulatory environment. It is on this basis that Ireland can best compete for investment. Continued investment in Ireland by US corporations will bring new jobs and opportunities, particularly for young people. But don't take my word for it, just look at our investors. Over the five-year period starting in 2008 and ending in 2012, US firms invested more capital in Ireland ($129.5 billion) than in the previous 58 years combined.
(DB): Can you share with us your own outlook for the future of Ireland's business and cultural relationship with the US?
KOM: I am determined to do what I can to strengthen the trade and investment ties between our two countries to continue the shared prosperity. That means harnessing our common enthusiasm in support of an ambitious Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement. It means building on our strengths in innovation and entrepreneurship. And it means working together with our international partners to find opportunity in common challenges, from data privacy to tax policy, from climate change to protecting our marine environment. President Obama's strategy to boost American innovation is linked closely to economic policies that support entrepreneurship, energy, and basic scientific research. There is much we can do together in these areas, and I look forward to finding ways of capitalising on our common strengths to deepen the amazing economic relationship that our two nations already share.
Today's Ireland is poised to further unlock the potential of human science, technology, arts and culture. Ireland has established a reputation for excellence in pharmaceuticals, information technology, medical devices, and sustainable agriculture, just as Irish arts and culture continue to fascinate and attract visitors. Cultural exchange between Irish and American musicians, writers and artists is stronger than ever and I'm eager to encourage the many creative collaborations taking place between our artistic communities.
(DB): Increasingly, Irish companies are looking to the US to expand their global footprint. What assistance does your Embassy provide in assisting these companies as they explore investment opportunities in the US?
KOM: Ireland is the 8th largest investor in the US. This is an incredible fact for a country of Ireland's size. Successful Irish multinationals have led the way for Irish start-ups that are looking to the US as a first step in their path towards internationalisation. Many Irish companies choose to locate in the US to be close to their customers, to access the market of 317 million consumers, to develop R&D links with universities or to use their US operations as an export base for North and South America.
President Obama created the SelectUSA program in 2011 to highlight the many advantages the United States offers as a location for business and investment. From a vast domestic market, to a transparent legal system, to the most innovative companies in the world, America is a great place for business. Under the SelectUSA program, our Embassy team in Ireland assists Irish companies to gather the information each needs.
Our embassy staff can help develop a network of contacts to assist companies in making their investment decisions leading to the support of jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. More information is available at selectusa.gov
(DB): You have predicted that the US and Europe will sign a new Transatlantic Trade and Investment Treaty in the future. Can you give us some insight into what you think that would mean for business growth between the two?
KOM: The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is an ambitious, comprehensive and high-standard trade and investment agreement. As President Obama has said, the agreement's completion is critical to supporting jobs and boosting exports in both the United States and in Europe. The United States is a world leader when it comes to protecting worker rights and the environment. The United States and Europe already maintain high levels of protection for labour and for the environment. TTIP should reflect this shared commitment, which may become a model for others to follow, and encourage even greater transatlantic cooperation.
President Obama has made clear that he would not sign an agreement that weakens protections, including safeguards for consumers and the environment. Now more than ever, it is important that we stand and work together. The United States is committed to moving forward with TTIP, not only because it has the potential to expand growth and investment on both sides of the Atlantic, but it also opens the way for us to set global standards and to renew our strong partnership across the ocean.
(DB): What's your view on the classic question of Irish foreign policy: should we face Boston or Berlin?
KOM: Actually, I think that is a false choice. Ireland is a key part of America's strategic partnership with the European Union which is more necessary than ever to find solutions to the challenges we face. And the strong ties between Ireland and the United States are part of a larger context of transatlantic relations. Demographically, Ireland is one of the youngest countries in Europe and that is a tremendous source of dynamic potential. Ireland played a significant role during its presidency of the EU Council in stewarding the launch of the TTIP negotiations and getting both sides to agree on a starting point for these crucial talks. As Ambassador, I intend to broaden and strengthen the unique bonds between our two great countries which form a crucial role in the transatlantic community.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.