Ireland’s industrial landscape in interesting times

24 Jan 2011

In his look back on the week, editor John Kennedy urges politicians and future leaders to put Ireland’s digital, innovation and green economies and job creation at the heart of their planned policies.

It is clear to anyone that for Ireland to emerge from its present set of circumstances, it needs to emerge a productive economy where innovation marches in step with entrepreneurial flair. Our history as a nation centred solely on construction is exactly that, history. We can’t put our eggs in any one basket.

The decision yesterday by the Green Party to step down from Government puts important legislation such as the Finance Bill and the Climate Change Bill in the spotlight. Eamon Ryan TD will be stepping down as Minister for Communications and John Gormley TD will be stepping down as Minister for the Environment.

Events are happening at breakneck speed and following a tumultuous week in Irish politics in which Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD failed to implement a cabinet reshuffle and subsequently stepped down as leader of the Fianna Fail Party, in the past day the Green Party announced it is stepping away from Government.

Ryan said that over the course of the next seven days it is vital that all parties sit down together and work out the passing of the crucial Finance Bill. It is likely the general election in Ireland will be brought forward to 25 February and not 11 March as set out by the Taoiseach in recent days. He said the Labour Party and Fine Gael have expressed a willingness to sit down and work on the Finance Bill.

Question mark over legislation

The events put into sharp perspective urgent legislation such as the Finance Bill and raise question marks over the passing of the Climate Change Bill.

For the technology landscape of Ireland, the baton on implementing the next 600Mbps schools broadband projects will likely be passed to the next Government. It is vital this work is furthered, not mothballed.

It also raises questions as to whether the decision in the Budget to cut crucial funding for the Smart Schools = Smart Economy project in 2011 to put technology in the hands of teachers and students will be revisited by the next Government. Again, this is a crucial project that was overlooked in times of plenty. The generations of students who should be benefiting from ICT in the classroom are going to be the very people we will rely on to build a productive economy.

There was a poignant moment at the recent BT Young Science & Technology Exhibition when I looked around Steljes’ stand and a 13-year-old boy who was studying a cluster of Intel Classmate computers asked me when these devices will be coming to all classrooms. I was lost for words but it’s at moments like that your resolve is strengthened.

There can be no greater responsibility for a Government of this nation than to ensure that Ireland fields a 21st-century workforce and that its people have a chance to grasp the wealth of opportunities the technology industry will present.

There is no country better positioned than Ireland with its wealth of international technology giants like Intel, IBM, Microsoft, Apple and Google to grasp these opportunities, but continuing broadband issues, as well as the provision of skilled IT literate workers, ought to be a cause for concern.

There are three kinds of professionals that will thrive in the decades ahead – technologically gifted people, science graduates and entrepreneurially minded people who view entrepreneurship as a valid career option. Combine all three and you’ll be battle-fit for an era in which we’ve barely scratched the surface of technology’s promise. And not just technology, any number of industries where invention and opportunism go hand in hand.

No more back stepping

For any incoming government, it is important to be aware that fundamentally our education system must not take another step back. Improvements in maths, ICT and science in the classroom and the foundation of entrepreneurial talent begins in the education system.

Our telecommunications infrastructure will not only provide the arteries through which commerce and exports will flow but every citizen must have access to quality broadband as they desire access.

We also need to become a country where entrepreneurs can start and fail and start again without fear. This means there is a job of work to be done in revisiting Ireland’s bankruptcy laws as well as entitlements to social welfare. At present in this country, if a business owner’s company failed or went bankrupt, he/she can’t serve as a director for 12 years. If a sole trader or company owner’s business closes down, he/she has no entitlements to social welfare. By all means punish where there has been wrongdoing, but to put insurmountable barriers in the way of entrepreneurship is madness. You shouldn’t be punished for trying.

And from a green technology perspective, thousands of jobs may yet be created in renewable energy, retrofitting of existing buildings as well as new technologies.

It is vital therefore that as a new Government sets out to grow employment and repair our nation’s damaged reputation, important achievements in education, science infrastructure, carbon reduction and telecoms infrastructure must not only be sustained, but improved upon.

We live in interesting times, change is happening at a breakneck pace. Let’s hope Ireland’s best days lie ahead as a productive economy.

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