Speech at the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown Chamber County Business Awards Thursday 28 September

Cathaoirleach, Pat Neill, fellow TDs, Senators and Councillors, ladies and gentlemen: good evening! I am so thrilled to be here at the inaugural County Business Awards in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown.

It’s recognition of the huge contribution business makes to the vibrancy of the county and the well-being of those who live in it. The categories of award cover almost every conceivable type of business: from start up to green business. From international trade to small retailer.  And of course a top award to the Business Leader of the year.

The eclectic mix is eye catching. It reflects the wide range of business in the County.  Whether it is global multinationals in the Sandyford Business District, restaurants and pubs in Monkstown and Dalkey, or retailing in Dundrum and Dun Laoghaire the blend is alluring and attractive.

You all make a valuable contribution:

– fulfilling consumers’ expectations,

– creating worthwhile jobs and wealth,

– paying taxes,

– being good corporate citizens.

You are building a better Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown.


At Government level we are working to build a better Ireland in which the businesses, families and citizens of this County can flourish and prosper.

Look at jobs. There are now 2,063,000 people at work in Ireland. The unemployment rate has fallen to 6.1 per cent; the lowest it has been since 2008. All those people at work in our County are supporting local businesses, large and small.

Most of you here are in business. As you know, my colleague Paschal Donohoe will announce Budget 2018 in twelve days. His first principle is to balance our books to keep Ireland secure in a risky world. That means paying our way and cutting borrowing, so that we can be better prepared for the uncertain future we face.

Brexit is the greatest economic challenge ahead and brings huge levels of risk and uncertainty. The challenge for the Government is to respond to uncertainty by bringing as much certainty as we can. Paschal is fond of quoting the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle who said “Doubt, of whatever kind, can be ended by action alone”. And so we need to take action. Action to prepare for the likely and unlikely outcomes of Brexit negotiations.

We need to continue to invest in and support the work of Enterprise Ireland, the IDA and our Local Enterprise Offices. We need to protect our 12.5% corporate tax rate from the renewed pressure at European level.  (That’s a red line issue for anyone who is serious about Ireland’s future on the international stage.)And we need to invest to ensure that our transport links to mainland Europe are fit for purpose for a post Brexit landscape.

On the supply side, we have to agree on how to use our recovery to invest in the change and the supports we need for better opportunities for all. That means investing taxpayers’ money carefully and with continued reform to deliver the best capital projects, services and targeted income supports. Budget 2018 will be fair and prudent. Never again will be gamble on the nation’s future.

Our challenge is to deliver more for vital infrastructure: housing, roads, energy and water. In Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, an example is upgrading the nearly 150 year old reservoir in Stillorgan which serves 200,000 people.

Or to deliver better health services, faster broadband and a more efficient public transport system. Locally, an example is more orbital bus routes around Dun Laoghaire, and more DART trains running. 

And to deliver on our promise of more housing, both social and private. That’s more affordable housing for people who want to settle down. People who want to raise families, work or return to Ireland. This week a major planning application was lodged for the new town soon to emerge at Cherrywood with 8,000 homes for 30,000 people.

As Minister for Higher Education, I am particularly focused on capital investment. Budget 2018 will allocate an additional €4.1 billion for capital investment over the next four years. The Government will be publishing a ten year capital plan for Ireland soon after the Budget. That has implications for Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown and the entire country.

Locally, I am confident that the Chamber, its members and the Council will play their part in delivering a better life for all.

In particular, I want to finish by once more saluting our winners here this evening. You will play a special role in realising locally what our long-term national vision will aspire to. I congratulate you and wish you continued success.

Thank you.

Returners: Our Workforce Needs You

Minister of State, Mary Mitchell O’Connor hosted a “Returners” event in the LexIcon Library, in Dun Laoghaire on Monday 25th of September.

Speakers were invited to give advice to over 100 attendees on how to make the job market work for them.

The panel included Margot Slattery, Margot is Country President of the Irish operations of food and facilities management company Sodexo. Globally Sodexo employs 430,000 people and has a work force of 3,800 in Ireland of which 59% are female. Margot is an industry leader in diversity, inclusion and flexible work practices.

Emer Kirk from Harvest Financials covered the subject of women and their pensions and how to prepare for retirement having taken time out of the work force to rear children, care for elderly relatives or due to illness.

Alan McGrath from the Higher Education Authority spoke on the courses and opportunities available to everyone to up-skill and re-skill and cited Springboard+ as being an invaluable resource to help you re-enter the work place fully skilled and equipped to face all the modern day challenges.

Alan was followed by Elaine Russell who has recently set up the Irish division of a UK franchise called Women Returners.ie. A website packed full of invaluable information on companies and industry who are keen to recruit females who want to return to work.

Paula King psychologist and coach, and CEO of Kingstown College challenged the audience to overcome confidence issues and how not to allow personal barriers stop you from challenging yourself to embark on a new career or return to a previous one.

Finally the last speaker was Ailish McGlew who returned to work after taking some time out to rear her three small children. Ailish spoke from the heart on how to make returning to the work force work for you and your family.

On the night the Minister said “As we reach full employment at a faster pace than envisioned in the programme of Government and Enterprise we have to ensure there is sufficient labour force with the right skills”

The Minister challenged her guest speakers to illuminate the route back to work for many of the attendees who had a desire to return to the work place after various extended breaks in their CVs.

Most of the local colleges and Institutes had sent representatives and a number of recruitment companies attended hoping to meet potential candidates.

At the end of the event the Minister thanked her guest speakers and the audience who took part in a lively and entertaining Q&A and said “I think we also need to encourage and facilitate employers to view ‘returners’ in a positive light. They have the ability to strengthen their skills base and have the ability to address their talent constraints”

Speech on the Launch of QQI cycle of reviews

Good afternoon.

 Francis Bacon wrote in the Advancement of Learning, Book 1,

 …if we begin with certainties, we shall end in doubts; but if we begin with doubts, and are patient in them, we shall end in certainties”

With that in mind I am delighted to be here today to launch this first review cycle for higher education institutions, the CINNTE review cycle.

 QQI have a crucial role to play in our national higher education infrastructure. They are the national regulator for quality and quality assurance. The organisation has now been in existence for 5 years. During that time it has evolved from an organisation that inherited policies and procedures from its 4 predecessor bodies into a forward looking organisation with its own way of doing things based on its own ethos.  That has been no mean feat and I would like to take the opportunity of thanking everyone in QQI for their efforts in this regard.

 This is a challenging time for the higher education sector. We have seen funding decline since 2008 at a time when student numbers have risen considerably. These demographic trends are set to continue well into the future. This has led to concerns about the impact of quality in higher education. QQI itself recently suggested that quality was at a tipping point and that investment in the sector was urgently required. This was the same conclusion that was reached by the expert group on future funding which reported in 2016.

As Minister for Higher Education I am pleased that the Government signaled its intent in this regard in the last budget. The Department secured an additional €36.5m in Budget 2017 for higher education. That was the first increase in higher education expenditure in almost a decade. I would like to invest further in higher education through Budget 2018. Those discussions are ongoing.

The review cycle that is being launched today has a crucial role to play in contributing to quality in higher education. It is our window into what happens inside our higher education institutions. It allows us to see in a very transparent way the manner in which quality assurance is supported and enhanced in the sector.

 I am particularly interested in enhancement. We need to support and maintain quality. But it is equally if not more important to strive to improve quality.That is the challenge that QQI are setting for our higher education institutions. Institutions have an opportunity, through the review process, to showcase their examples of quality enhancement. These examples can then be shared as best practice through the publication and dissemination of the review reports. The review process is underpinned by some very important principles that are at the heart of QQI’s approach to quality assurance. I would like to highlight five in particular:


  • Institutional autonomy:

 Quality is the responsibility of each higher education institution in the first instance. This is an important principle and it means that everyone in an institution has a responsibility to make quality their business.

 The second one I want to highlight is

  • Transparency:

The fact that the review reports are published is an important means of promoting transparency. It also allows my Department, students, and the wider public to have confidence in the public investment that is being made in our institutions.


  • Student involvement:

 QQI have been very active in ensuring that the student voice is recognized and reflected in their work. The involvement of student representatives in the review process is a very welcome development. Students should be at the centre of everything we are trying to achieve in higher education.


  • International context:

 The fact that the review teams will be appointed to conduct reviews will comprise international experts is very important. We can learn a lot from our international peers as well as sharing our best practice with them. This international dimension also provides added assurances about the independence of the review process.

And finally:

Administrative impact: I know that QQI are very conscious about the potential administrative impact of their work on institutions.

The potential for ‘review fatigue’ was a clear message that emerged from the ‘review of reviews’ that was conducted by QQI in 2014. QQI are working closely with the HEA in particular to ensure that their regulatory activities are planned to complement one another so that the impact on institutions is minimized as much as possible.

I think that ensuring that these principles are at the heart of the new review process      will contribute in a significant way to its future success.

I would just like to finish by acknowledging that my Department is working closely     with QQI in drafting the new Qualifications and Quality Assurance Bill. This new Bill will provide QQI with new regulatory powers and will facilitate the introduction of the International Education Mark.

These future legislative developments will complement the work that QQI is       currently doing in relation to its new cycle of reviews and in other important areas.

 I would like to thank QQI and Dr Pádraig Walsh for the opportunity to be here today to launch CINNTE and I wish you every success for the future.

Returners: Our Workforce Needs You


If you are currently out of work, at home or on an extended career break – and you are feeling intimidated at the prospect of returning to work or your career, then this event is for you.

I invite you to meet some of our country’s brightest and inspiring experts: You will garner important information on how to prepare yourself for this, sometimes daunting, step.

Speakers include:

Margot Slattery, Country President, Sodexo Ireland – Describing herself as a ‘worker’, Margot has quietly championed inclusion and equality in the workplace and made Sodexo an industry leader in, their term, ‘quality of life services’ – Leading the way in new and flexible work practices.

Emer Kirk, Head of Development and Marketing, Harvest Financial – Emer specialises in the area of advice on pensions and retirement planning. She is an associate of the Institute of Taxation and co-founder of Connect Women in Pensions, a network that supoprts the importance of retirement planning for women.

Elaine Russell, Head of Women Returners in Ireland. Having spent over 20 years leading commercial teams in large multinationals. Elaine specialises in career coaching and supports women to rebuild their professional confidence, play to their strengths and successfully integrate work into their lives.

Our panel also includes industry experts in higher education, retraining, upskilling as well as actual returners, who have successfully navigated their way back to work.

Tickets for the event are free but limited, so please take a moment to book your place asap. Tickets can be booked here

Please share the event with any friends and family you think might benefit from attending.


Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD
Minister of State for Higher Education