Playing to our strengths

1 Feb 2010

Our skills in the technology arena can form a fundamental part of Ireland’s sustainable recovery, according to Minister Eamon Ryan TD. He spoke to Ann O’Dea.

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Eamon Ryan TD, is upbeat about the opportunities for this country, and the possibilities offered in particular by our existing strengths in the digital arena.

“We lost our direction in the past five or 10 years,” he says. “We, as a country, got a collective psychosis around property, around making money out of property, and it was very socially damaging in that there was a huge transfer of wealth from a younger generation to an older generation.

“It’s very painful as that contracts. But in a way we needed to stop, we needed to go back to an economic model that was genuinely more enterprising, more productive, more competitive, and I think that’s now happening. I think we are being much more flexible and adaptive given the scale of the downturn.

The whole area of technology is one where Ryan sees great opportunity. “We’re not going to be good at everything. We’re not going to make cars here. We may not be the place where companies assemble computers. But what we can do is be a really skilled country at the meeting point of ICT and, for example, energy efficiency.

He points to the location here already of some of the world’s leading technology companies, from IBM to Intel, HP to Cisco. “And, as well as having those international ICT companies here, we’re attracting the next wave as well, like the Googles, the Facebooks and the Yahoos. We’re still getting them, they are still coming. So this is something we are good at.”

Enterprise Culture

However, we must now be ambitious about building and supporting that enterprise culture, he says. “I did business studies way back in the Eighties and I remember the Telesis report which said, effectively, that FDI had worked for us, but asked could we rely on it? It said we needed to start building our own resources and our own enterprise culture. We didn’t really implement the Telesis report, and we continued with foreign investment as the core of our economic development.

“The Culleton report in the Nineties pretty much said the same thing and again we didn’t do it. Then Owen O’Driscoll’s Enterprise Strategy report said the exact same thing again in early 2002/2003 and again we really didn’t do it.”

This time action is vital, says Ryan. “Our Smart Economy paper was published last Christmas and in reality it is saying the same thing: we have to develop our own enterprise capabilities here; we have to develop higher value-added services here, not just in our FDI companies but in our indigenous companies. I think – and I may be wrong – that it may actually happen in the next five or 10 years in a way that it didn’t happen in the past 30 years.”

“I think we’re more confident now, we have more resources, we’ve built up an expertise. We do have real skills, we’ve made some good investment decisions in the likes of SFI (Science Foundation Ireland) in recent years.”

He points to leaders such as Intel’s Martin Curley, Microsoft’s Paul Rellis, Google’s John Herlihy, Boston Scientific’s Mike O’Hara – Irish people of his own age holding positions of major responsibility in multinationals in Ireland. “They are as good as anyone else in the world, and I see the same type of people in our Irish companies, with similar skills. I just think we need to be that little bit more ambitious.

“I was very taken, when the Irish Technology Leaders Group brought over a lot of venture capitalists last year, with what was said about some of the really great Irish companies that came and presented to them. They said one of the things they lacked was a bit of ambition, that sense that ‘mine can be a billion-euro company’. I think that our job in government, and I think our job in general in this country, is to help make that happen. And I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t.”

This article is an edited extract from an interview with Minister Ryan in the Irish Director Green Economy Report

 Photo: Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Eamon Ryan TD

Ann O’Dea is the CEO and co-founder of Silicon Republic and the founder of Future Human