Inspirefest 2019: Taoiseach reveals vision to make Ireland the tech capital of Europe

16 May 2019

From left: Susan Cooney, Symantec; An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, TD; Ann O’Dea, founder of Inspirefest; and Cat Oyler, Johnson & Johnson. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Varadkar reveals vision for an inclusive Ireland that will be at the centre of a connected, globalised world, but also took a veiled swipe at how Brexit will bring the UK backwards through misguided nostalgia for an imaginary past.

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, TD, opened Inspirefest 2019 by revealing his ambition for the future of the country as inclusive, innovative and enterprising.

He said that the strength of Inspirefest is how it brings together people from different backgrounds, from art to science, exploring new ideas and opportunities fuelled by diversity.

‘Those values of inclusivity, creativity and innovation championed here at Inspirefest are the values that we aspire to in Ireland as well. What was a closed past has become an open present’

Varadkar said that not that long ago – perhaps 10 or 20 years ago – Ireland was an inward-looking country, “an island behind an island on the edge of Europe”. He said there was a fear of things that were different and an aversion to things that were modern.

“All of that has changed with a speed that has taken many people by surprise.”

Building the next Ireland

Varadkar said that the Ireland of 2019 is very much a multicultural, globalised country that has become a melting pot of different nationalities; a nation that is confident of engaging with the world.

This is underpinned by forward-thinking economic policies, strong support for EU membership and a view that the only way to solve the challenges of the world is through international action.

“As Taoiseach, I am proud that our country is one of the most diverse in the world. One in six people living in Ireland weren’t born here. That diversity has become one of our strengths – it makes our economy stronger.” He added that you only have to go to any of the tech firms to see how much of the workforce is international.

“Those values of inclusivity, creativity and innovation championed here at Inspirefest are the values that we aspire to in Ireland as well. What was a closed past has become an open present.”

Varadkar said: “Above all, we want to enable ideas and people to flow freely around our economy, strengthening and deepening Ireland as a technology hub. We have the ambition to make Ireland the tech capital of Europe, and central to this vision is our position as one of the most globalised and open economies in the world.

“Ireland is open to investment, to capital, to trade, to talent and to creativity, and our philosophy is to be a leader and an early adopter when it comes to emerging economic, social and technological developments.”

The Taoiseach mentioned the publication of the Global Ireland strategy last year, which set out the impact of Ireland’s global footprint between now and 2025. He described it as an ambitious plan to double Ireland’s impact around the world.

“It involves things like our commitment to overseas development aid. For example, we increased the budget for that by €100m this year and we are determined to meet the 0.7pc target by 2030.”

This is underpinned by the establishment of new consulates and missions in locations such as LA, Mumbai, Wellington, Santiago, Bogotá, Cardiff and Frankfurt, as well as agencies from the IDA to Enterprise Ireland and Bord Bia all working together to promote Ireland all around the world.

“Our ambition is also to promote Irish culture and values around the world. For many people outside the English-speaking world, our culture, our unique music, dance and literature, is the window through which people see Ireland for the first time.

“We see the challenges that we face as ones that require a multilateral response. If you look at the enormous challenges we face internationally – whether it is climate change, international terrorism, taxation or trimming the power of massive global companies in the new digital world, or migration – these are all problems and challenges that are much bigger than any one country – not just small countries but big countries as well – and we have to work together.”

Ahead of the curve

Critically, Varadkar said that Ireland needs to be ahead of the curve when it comes to the future of technology, industry and work.

“We all know that in the next few decades, technologies like AI, robotics, autonomous vehicles are likely to change our world in the next 20 years as much as the internet and mobile phones did in the last 20 years. So, we need to be ready to benefit from the new jobs and the new wealth that will inevitably be created.

“If you look back historically, in every century there is some form of economic or social revolution. There was the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution, most recently the digital revolution, and on every occasion there were doomsayers, people that predicted that hundreds of thousands of jobs would be wiped out, that wealth would be destroyed and that nations would even fall.

“And yet the optimists were proved right. New jobs replaced old jobs, new wealth and much greater wealth replaced the old wealth, and the countries that got ahead of the curve did the best. What we are heading into now … in this century is a climate and technological revolution, and I’m determined that Ireland should be ahead of the curve on that, too.

“What we want to build is a low-carbon, high-productivity, high-tech, family-friendly, globally traded and competitive country, and we need to create the environment now where that becomes possible.

“Every generation needs to shake up its enterprise and jobs model, otherwise it stagnates. So, we are working to change the way we work, particularly preparing for future jobs as well as jobs of today. We are also working to build more places that can foster enterprise and innovation, and attract investment and talent.

“The modern world, particularly for the younger generation, is about so much more than salaries and remuneration; it is also about the kind of the workplace you operate in and the extent to which you provide and cater for family time and work-life balance.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event celebrating the point where science, technology and the arts collide. 

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years