Milestone to be passed in 2016 unless current trend checked - Oxfam
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Pictured (L–R): Former EU Parliament president Pat Cox; Ambassador Tom Hanney, deputy permanent representative of Ireland to the EU; Dana Strong, CEO, UPC Ireland; and Gerard O'Neill, chairman, Amárach Research
Digital technologies have the potential to drive economic recovery in Ireland and Europe through jobs creation and societal inclusion, UPC Ireland CEO Dana Strong told over 100 senior telecommunications industry delegates at a meeting in Brussels.
Strong was addressing a gathering of EU policymakers and leading industry participants.
"We are confident of seeing this impact in Ireland where the Government and the industry are making significant strides towards the achievement of the EU's Digital Agenda 2020 targets," she said.
"Ireland today is still a stronger Ireland because of sustained educational, infrastructural and economic investments of past decades. The challenge in Ireland and across Europe is to convert investments made to date into an instrument of recovery for the future."
Looking to the role of industry, Strong noted that telecommunications investments in Ireland over the past decade also provide a solid foundation for economic recovery.
"The industry in Ireland has invested €2.5bn over the last five years into Ireland's telecommunications infrastructure. This has facilitated some € 54bn of foreign direct investment projects as well as expansion projects for indigenous Irish firms."
Citing European Commission figures, Strong said that European SMEs account for some 67pc of total employment and 58pc of goods and services produced. With more than 87 million people employed, SMEs continue to be the backbone of the EU economy.
"Over 90pc of all businesses in Ireland are SMEs. Faster adoption of digital technologies needs to be promoted among these businesses to ensure they can maximise the benefits of digital competitiveness.
"Throughout the downturn in Europe, SMEs have retained their position as the backbone of the European economy, with some 20.7 million firms accounting for more than 98pc all businesses. The lion's share - just over 92pc - are firms with fewer than 10 employees and this is the same for Ireland. However, the difficult economic environment continues to pose severe challenges to SMEs across all countries.
"All of us are challenged to be leaders, not laggards, and that is an opportunity that Ireland and Europe - working together - must grasp in terms of our digital future. If we all get it right then that will be a very positive legacy for future generations in Europe."