In my working life (25 years since graduating from engineering school in Trinity College) I have never before experienced the challenges now seen in Ireland. At the time I commenced my training contract in KPMG (then SKC) in 1984 I recall many recently qualified accountants being very concerned for their future. In 2000/2001 – three years into running our own consulting company (www.ciall.com) we faced real challenges in the post ‘.com’ dip. Today’s challenges are on a different scale.
During those 25 years Irish people have been to the fore in international affairs – be it commerce, arts, politics, education, charity. And by Irish people I refer to the 70 million or so who make up the global Irish population – including the 5 million or so on this island.
There must be a temptation within the international community to look at us – on the island of Ireland – as having had the benefit of major inward investment and squandered it. Part of facing our challenge now is to continue to take our place on the world stage. Those of us living and operating within the island of Ireland need to continue to play our part. There is a quid pro quo for looking to the greater diaspora and to Europe for further assistance and investment – we must play our part. We cannot simply get out the begging bowl. We are an established country and we’ve made some major mistakes, much of them rooted in greed. The most recent budget was the first step in convincing the international community that we are going to address our issues. The next budget must show real conviction about getting our cost base sorted.
Dan O’Brien’s article in the Irish Times is pretty hard hitting. He questions the calibre of the people representing Ireland in international affairs. He questions the effort made by the main political parties in the run up to the first referendum and their current effort in the runup to the second referendum. It does not make for pretty reading – but is deserving of reflection.
The next few years are going to witness more largescale emigration of talent from Ireland – without a doubt. Just for now the emigration options look limited – but given the changes we are beginning to see in overseas locations those opportunities will arise again. Many young talented Irish will choose to work and live overseas – not interested in staying to pay high taxes to pay off the sins of the past. A political system which is unwilling to cut overhead to match income will not provide the economic and social opportunites for many of our young talented people. Depressing though this may be, it will happen.
So let us at least recognise that this will happen – and that we need to play our part. Let’s make an effort to make it easier for international companies and individuals to interact with us. I had recent experience of an overseas student (seond generation Irish – US based) relocating here for 1 term of his undergraduate degree. He contacted the university – they advised him to come 4 weeks early and sort out his own accomodation. Given the level of fees we charge overseas students for this privilege I think this is a simple example of what’s wrong with this country at present.
Let’s make sure that the talent that goes abroad wants to continue to be part of Ireland – although they may never actually relocate to live here again. Let’s figure out a way to have them continue to be involved in the development of this country. Some of them may never contribute to our income tax revenues – but some of them may, down the line, bring the next Dell, Intel or Boston Scientific to Ireland. I, for one, would like to have them continue to have a direct role in electing our government.
I would not underestimate the challenges faced by our political leaders at present. (Nor should they underestimate the challenges faced by those of us trying to drive the economy forward). It’s not an easy time to be striding the world stage and advising the rest of the world how to do it. Nevertheless we must have a voice, have a view and play ourt part. The future for Irish business is the world stage – building international and global businesses out of Ireland, building products and delivering services to the global business community. Our innovators and our future business leaders need Irish political leadership which participates and contributes on an international level.
The first step – ensure Lisbon success.