I second the motion and I am delighted to welcome representatives from the Irish Deaf Society to the Chamber.
As Senator Conway stated, my involvement on this issue with Brian Crean, Dr. John Bosco Conama and the Irish Deaf Society goes back a long way. It was important to me that I used my maiden Adjournment motion in the Seanad two years ago to raise the issue. I am afraid not much has happened since then, and I am delighted Senator Conway has put it on the agenda as a Fine Gael Private Members’ motion. It is only by keeping it on the agenda at every opportunity we will see advances. I have a lot of trust in the Minister of State that she will ensure it moves forward.
Senator Conway mentioned the Good Friday Agreement. I raised the matter at the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly which meant I had to have 15 signatures, including five each from various member Governments. Some of the Unionists initially confused Irish Sign Language with the Irish language but they were delighted to sign it and we got it through. I am awaiting a report from the three Governments to which it was sent, and the Welsh Government is preparing a Bill.
I welcome this Labour Private Members Motion to the House on SMEs in Rural towns. The present economic climate has made life for small and medium sized businesses in rural towns very challenging and has resulted in the closure of many of them unfortunately. There are undoubtedly some more disadvantages for SMEs in rural towns compared with those I more urban areas in terms of survival in this environment and there is a need for Government to assist them in every way possible.
The majority of people employed in Ireland work in SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises). Exact numbers of SMEs in Ireland are not available, though estimates in excess of 200,000 (or 98% of all businesses in Ireland) are accepted. SMEs do not have it easy, with many struggling to survive in today’s disastrous economic climate. SMEs need a new way of working to ensure continuity of trading and where a small amount of highly focused effort could produce a spectacular increase in wealth generation and new jobs, especially in rural Ireland.
SMEs have the volume and potential to create real additional wealth and jobs. We can think of it as the ‘U2 Principle’, where to get rich, one must strive to take a small amount of money from a large number of people, rather than a large amount of money from a small number of people. Translate this principle to jobs and, the potential to create jobs must be far greater among the larger volume of small companies (i.e. SMEs).