Let’s make Ireland a ‘European Silicon Valley’ – Taoiseach

20 Sep 2009

The fact that Ireland is already the European headquarters for some of the world’s biggest technology companies and because of the talent and ingenuity of the Irish people, there is no reason why Ireland can’t become the Silicon Valley of Europe.

That’s according to the Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD who was addressing the Global Irish Economic Forum at Farmleigh, which was attended by senior executives of Irish origin from some of the world’s biggest multinationals, including Quantas chief executive Alan Joyce, retired Intel chief executive Craig Barrett and Coca Cola executive vice-president Irial Finan.

In a talk which addressed the current economic predicament Ireland has found itself in, Cowen said the best way to weather the economic storm was for a country to restructure its economy to target the next wave of economic growth.

We must reposition the Irish economy for the upturn. Ireland is one of the most open economies in the world. The future of our economy will depend on exports. The Ireland we envisage for the future is a smart, high-value, export-led economy. It will have some of the world’s leading research-intensive multinationals, a number of which will be Irish-owned.

“It will have thousands of innovative small and medium enterprises. These companies will be creating the products and services of tomorrow and providing high quality employment for our people.

“The country will have smart, efficient and citizen-oriented public services. It will be energy independent and have high-quality living environments with smart transport solutions. That is the future that I want us to achieve,” Cowen said.

Cowen said that central to the vision of Ireland’s future is that of ‘Ireland as an Innovation Island’ – a country that is an attractive home for innovative multinationals as well as being an incubation environment for the best entrepreneurs at home, from Europe and further afield.

“For centuries, Ireland has had a proud tradition of cultural innovation. We are known for our literature, our theatre, our art. But we are also now known for our innovation in science, technology and business. We must harness the best asset Ireland has to offer – the talent and ingenuity of our people.”

Key to the future is the development of an enterprise culture that transcends society from school children upwards and right through the universities and institutes and throughout our companies. “It should be a reasonable aspiration of all children born in this country that they might, one day, have the opportunity to start their own business. That is what I am trying to achieve.”

Cowen pointed to a previous “can do” spirit that the wealth of the Celtic Tiger boom dissipated and that must be revitalised. It was this can do spirit and vision that saw the creation of the International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) that grew from a conversation to employing 25,000 people within two decades.

“How do we create a ‘European Silicon Valley’ in Ireland? How do we attract the best talent to Ireland and support our home-grown talent?” the Taoiseach asked.

“How do we ensure we continue to be a magnet for high-value inward investment? How do we make the most of our natural resources and address the challenges faced by our food and agriculture sector? How do we reposition ‘Brand Ireland’ to secure Ireland as a leading tourist destination?

“How do we ensure our education system produces the thought leaders of the Smart Economy – fostering creativity, innovation, and lateral thinking? What role can our fantastic cultural and artistic reservoir of rich heritage and contemporary talent play in developing our economy?”

Cowen promised that the Government would be in “listening mode” to answer these questions. The time to act is now.

By John Kennedy

Photo: Ireland’s Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD, right, greeting the new US Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney.

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