Things were never as bad as they seemed and Ireland is well positioned to go forward. That was the surprisingly upbeat message from ICT Ireland yesterday when a panel of industry leaders offered a snapshot on where the country is at and where it should be going as far as the technology sector is concerned.
The industry lobby group offered assurances that the current government would maintain its 12.5pc corporation tax despite mounting pressure from EU States seeking harmonisation that could curtail Ireland’s attractiveness to overseas investment. “We’re constantly focused on the corporation tax issue. It is very important and the Irish position should not be relaxed,” said ICT Ireland’s director Brendan Butler.
It also welcomed the introduction of tax credits for research and development (R&D) investment with the proviso that even more needed to be done in this area. “It’s the starting point for more generous R&D incentives,” said Intel’s general manager and ICT Ireland chairman Jim O’Hara (pictured). “We will be pressing hard to expand it in various forms over the coming years.” R&D is perceived as a vital rung in the ladder that will help Ireland step up the value chain.
Even the downturn that saw the sector lose some of its shine was discussed in a more positive light. “We had three pretty artificial market forces,” explained Microsoft’s general manager Joe Macri. “Y2k [preparing for the ‘millennium bug’], increased application development because of the Euro and then the dotcom bubble. Take them out and there’s still been long term growth in the sector.”
As for the recent spate of job losses, the panel contended that failed ventures that resulted in redundancies were largely replaced with newcomers coming in creating new employment opportunities. It was portrayed as a natural process in a period of transition.
Even the growing education crisis, the fall-off in science-related courses, was a problem of perception according to Jim O’Hara. He put a rather strange spin on the issue, pointing the finger at an unlikely double act that had cast doubts in the minds of students who might otherwise have chosen an IT career. “Mothers and the media are influencing them in some shape or form,” he said. “Our contention is that the perception doesn’t match the reality.”
The subjective analysis was bolstered by a roll call of hard facts that painted the picture of a country that is well positioned to retain its special relationship with the technology sector. The industry employs almost 91,000 people in Ireland and generates sales of €51bn annually according to ICT Ireland figures, with seven of the world’s top 10 tech companies maintaining a substantial base in the country.
As an environment for future investment it was claimed that Ireland still offers some of the most attractive incentives, further enhanced by its first place ranking in terms of its openness for global trading (MD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2003).
Though the messages were largely positive, no one was getting carried away. “We can’t be complacent,” warned Brendan Butler. “We constantly have to challenge ourselves.”
By Ian Campbell