The Next Economy: Maeve Kneafsey, IiA

1 Jan 2008

Key business leaders in Ireland’s technology and science industries look back on 2007 and highlight what’s needed for Ireland’s emerging knowledge economy in 2008. Maeve Kneafsey (pictured) is chair of the Irish Internet Association.

What in your opinion have been the key developments of 2007 in terms of industrial and infrastructural progress in Ireland?
Most of the key industrial and infrastructural developments in Ireland in 2007 have not been driven by visionary government policy but by business growing and the increase in start-ups driven by entrepreneurs.

Although we have seen major developments in terms of our roads and public transport network, there is a lack of joined-up thinking. As a result the major benefits we should be seeing from the new transport infrastructure are not realised. Instead we see a huge migration of cars and passengers to the new service, which just ends up clogging up that system.

All and any transport and passenger initiatives need to be part of one centralised strategy that can view the impacts as a whole and the ripples it will create and plan how to respond to those in advance.

For example, the Luas, which is close to where I live, made me rethink using my car to get to work. In the first year of the Luas I used it to drop my kids to school and then travel on myself to work.

However, because it cannot handle the volume of passengers I can no longer get a seat or even standing room in the morning and have returned to travelling by car. Surely more strategic joined-up thinking could have foreseen and managed this problem, before it hit.

Changing the car driver’s habit to make the move to use public transport and all the benefits it can bring has been reversed.

What issues have not been addressed and you believe should be a priority if we are to create genuine knowledge-based industries as we go into 2008?
Lack of access to broadband. Why not do something really revolutionary and invest in creating free Wi-Fi access throughout the entire nation? A fast response to a real crisis. We will never keep up with technology and opportunities for business provided by the web if we can’t access and experience it at the same rate as the most advanced countries.

In its endeavour to create a knowledge-based economy, where do you think Ireland stands in relation to other nations with a similar agenda?
Irish business and the Government does understand that it needs to develop policy to encourage the development of a knowledge-based economy. However, our economic success may have softened us up, as there does not seem to be a sense of urgency to make real bold policy to encourage rapid progress.

If we do not put in place ways of attracting the best brains in the world to work in Ireland and help us develop as a true knowledge-based economy we will miss the boat and spend years trying to claw back up to the top. We have a strong economic foundation now, so better to put in the investment and effort at this stage, rather than when we are under economic pressure and may not have the financial flexibility to spend what is needed to secure the future success of our economy.

It has been suggested that as we march towards 2020, Ireland will need to field another one million workers. How urgent is this and can this be achieved?
We are currently struggling to find people to work with us in the area of research, project management and sales and I know we are not alone.

What about taking on the Australian immigration policy and drawing up a list of the most desired skills needed in Ireland, and providing incentives to workers with those particular skills and qualifications to encourage them to move to Ireland?

In addition, if we develop broadband access and transport infrastructure throughout the country, then those workers could choose to live in locations in Ireland where the quality of life is better than our overcrowded cities. Perhaps we should be focusing on locations that are served by airports outside those of Dublin, Cork and Galway.

Communications and PC penetration are central to Ireland’s industrial development. Yet league tables suggest we are not at the races. How can these deficits be best addressed?
To repeat myself, why not Wi-Fi the entire country and set a deadline for rollout county by county? Maybe even take the countdown approach we had to switching over to the euro!

By John Kennedy