Ireland’s industrial policy for 21st century an urgent issue – HP’s Murphy

24 Jul 2009

The general manager of HP in Ireland has warned that shaping Ireland’s industrial and educational policies for the 21st century is just as important as resolving the problems with the banks and other problems in the economy.

Addressing the McGill Summer School 2009 in Glenties, Co Donegal this week, Martin Murphy (pictured) said that with all the recent traumas related to rising unemployment, the property crash and the nation’s shrinking wealth, understandably there hasn’t been too much room to focus on industrial policy.

“But our vision of the industrial policy that will shape a new prosperous Ireland for the 21st century is just as great a priority as anything else.”

Murphy urged the creation of a ‘Brand Ireland’ where enterprise culture is dedicated to exploiting unmet global needs across a broad variety of economic activities.

“First, Ireland is always going to be export driven; we’re too small to be anything else. The dynamism of the global market drove the success of Ireland’s industrial model and our economic growth from the mid-Nineties. It will drive it again. But it will only drive it again if our national strategy and vision capitalise on both new, as well as traditional, global opportunities for enterprise, expertise and international trade.

“Second, the good news is the great global recession will end. That is the only certainty. It may not end this year, or next, or even for a further two or three years. But it will end.  And when it does, the world will have changed. Those infamous green shoots that politicians and macroeconomists and financial analysts scurry around looking for in the undergrowth may be found in quite different places to where economic convention dictates they should appear.

“Third, we know the key elements of our national survival strategy – fixing the banks, fixing the public finances and fixing our economic competitiveness problem. Not easy. Definitely not painless. In a little less than 18 months we’ve gone from full employment to 12pc unemployment and rising,” he said.

Murphy said Ireland’s future wealth rests on becoming an export-driven centre for the global economy.

“What we have to do is to integrate a new enterprise culture into our national strategy for recovery and put the elements in place now that will make it work. The short-term solutions and the longer-term game plan for our economy must be welded together in one piece. Unless we locate our vision for wealth creation and job creation within our national strategy for survival we risk leaving our future to chance,” Murphy warned.

He said Ireland’s options are few. The level of mobile investment doing the rounds where investors are looking for access to a European market are not the same as they were in the Nineties.

Ireland, he said, needs to be more ambitious in its thinking, in its approach and of what it can create in the 21st century. We are, he said, a small open economy on the periphery of Europe and excellence needs to be our trademark.

“Across a range of economic high value-added trading activities, Ireland already has a proven strength and an international track record of achievement – from agri-business and food to the creative arts to pharmachem to IT. We must build on what we have already to generate new export-oriented companies that will create wealth, and create jobs, for Ireland. 

“The capacity for innovation is not restricted to the IT sector. Innovation is a business and opportunities for enterprise arise across a broad range of disciplines and not just limited to science and technology. We need to widen the net for innovation investment,” Murphy said.

He pointed out that if he spoke 10 years ago of a future where young people don’t watch TV anymore and could pick and choose what they wanted via a tiny little device or that people would take pictures and print them at home, he would have been dismissed as a fantasist.

“But it happened. The information revolution of the late 20th century has forever changed the way we live, communicate and influence one another. It has changed the marketplace for the goods and services we produce. And it will keep changing.

Policy-makers and leaders of industry, he warned, should be looking at building an Ireland where wealth-creating enterprises are built around:

  • high value-added exports in goods and services that create wealth and jobs
  • an education system that fosters ICT literacy at all levels, particularly primary and secondary education
  • an industrial support infrastructure that fits; in particular a next-generation network that will provide a competitive advantage to our internationally trading businesses
  • an uncompromising commitment to maintaining national economic competitiveness

“It is about fostering a dynamic enterprise culture that is alert to changing market needs and trends and, as I mentioned earlier, an education system that fosters IT literacy across the entire population.

“Thus the Ireland that will emerge from this Great Recession is not the Ireland of the Fifties, or the Thirties, or even the Eighties, or anything remotely approximating the past. The progress we have made in many areas over the past 15 years is testament to our capabilities and we have come a long way.”

According to Murphy, Ireland will need to define its future enterprise culture, refining it as we go along, and apply ruthless selections and decision-making. This, he said, will touch on sensitive areas of public policy, infrastructure support and public services “in which many other vested interests have a stake”.

“The criteria for selecting winners and deselecting losers must be sustainability of any enterprise and its long-term growth prospects. That way, we create wealth to create jobs and build a future for all our citizens in a thriving economy and country. That’s what our vision must be about because that’s the only way forward for us,” Murphy concluded.

By John Kennedy