Government called to action on competitiveness

27 Aug 2003

Ireland can only maintain its place as an attractive European location for advanced knowledge-based enterprise as long as swift and radical action is taken at the highest Government level, said the American Chamber of Commerce’s Southern Regional Meeting, which was attended by US multinationals based in Cork.

Acknowledging the fact that many of Ireland’s labour-intensive manufacturing jobs that were created in the 1980s and 1990s are now being relocated to low-cost countries, Dr Ed Walsh, president emeritus of the University of Limerick said that plans under the National Development Plan to replace these jobs with more sophisticated ones can only be achieved if the country succeeds in rolling out the necessary advanced skills and infrastructure.

He warned that failure by the Department of Education, in particular, to meet its objectives under the National Development Plan could derail progress and future inward investment.

“The new research strategy under the National Development Plan, spearheaded by Science Foundation Ireland and the Higher Education Authority, is already proving a remarkable success in demonstrating that Ireland can be an attractive European location for advanced knowledge-based enterprise,” he added.

But there is danger on the horizon, he warned, if the Department of Education continues to find difficulty in honouring its NDP commitments; a factor that is endangering the entire national initiative.

“Should the Department of Education and Science decide to withdraw from partnership on the national research strategy then serious questions would arise as to the most suitable departmental home for Ireland’s higher education system. Swift and decisive action at the highest level, could not only salvage the plan, but strengthen international perceptions that Ireland, like Finland, is prepared, especially in difficult times, to adhere boldly to its new research and science development strategy,” Dr Walsh said.

Joanne Richardson, chief executive of the American Chamber of Commerce said: “Ireland is at a turning point in its economic development and determined action is needed now all around to push for the required levels of growth in particular in the areas of that advanced knowledge-based and higher value activities.

“We are extremely vulnerable to competition from low cost countries and we must aggressively market Ireland as a viable location for functions such as research and development. We need to partner with the universities to build up the research competence and provide the advanced skills and infrastructure. This will encourage US Multinationals to initiate and strengthen their R&D activities in Ireland.”

The United States, she said, remains the single largest source of inward investment in Ireland. Almost 90,000 people are employed in over 570 US companies. Almost a quarter of all new Greenfield US investment into Europe comes to Ireland. US investment is crucial to Ireland’s current and future success, both as an investor and a significant trading partner. As Ireland moves into the next phase of economic development the contribution, knowledge and experiences of US companies in Ireland will be of key importance in the development of a knowledge-based economy.

By John Kennedy