The past, we are told, is a foreign country.
Fifty years ago so much was different. The Everly Brothers were top of the charts, Spurs were league champions and a new broadcasting service called Teilifis Eireann was just turning on.
On the other hand, Tipperary held the Liam McCarthy cup and another Irish American was in the Oval Office……!
Tragically however, years of poor public policy left 1960s Ireland isolated, impoverished and ill-prepared for the challenges of a rapidly changing international marketplace.
Maybe the past isn’t such a foreign country after all.
LEMASS & WHITAKER RESPONSE
It is well known that the key to transforming this bleak and miserable economic landscape was an axis of innovation forged between political, public and private stakeholders in our economy. This axis of innovation during this period of our country’s reinvention is most readily recognised and embodied by Sean Lemass and TK Whitaker.
Politician and public servant, working together and driving change. Reinventing a new Ireland out of the ruins and wreckage of years of misguided policy. They abandoned failed policies and stood up to those who would resist. They recognised obstacles holding back sectoral opportunities and removed those obstacles to let ambitions be realised.
More than that, they set out a vision of what could be achieved and inspired confidence and support for their plan.
TODAY’S BURNING PLATFORM
Unemployment today is a staggering 14.1%. More worrying again, 60%of the 300,000 job losses in recent years are people under the age of 25. More than half of those out of work are already over a year unemployed and are now at serious risk of marginalisation.
Our net emigration is around the same as the 40,000 that in 1961 capped off a tragic lost decade.
While Lemass and Whitaker inherited a sluggish economy we inherited an economy which has suffered a catastrophic decline of 12% in the last three years.
And unlike Lemass and Whitaker, we live in a country which has suffered a humiliating loss of economic sovereignty for the first time in our independent history and the scale of our collapse is unprecedented in modern economic analysis.
In the midst of this crisis, we must make some fundamental choices about our future and how we imagine it, plan for it and then realise it.
That vision of our economic future can’t simply be built on a perpetuation of the policies of our past. As I have said before, the biggest mistake after an earthquake is to build again over the same fault lines using the same design.
MINISTER’S RESPONSE TO BURNING PLATFORM
But the aftermath of an earthquake is also an opportunity. We must use this opportunity to create entirely new foundations for the Irish economy.
It is my view that today, like 50 years ago, we need to reimagine our country’s future with a daring vision of how we want our economy to operate so that it can support the type of society we aspire to.
In short, I am persuaded now more than ever before that if we are to transform our industrial landscape and create the type and number of jobs that we need then we need nothing short of a revolution. That revolution is not just a political one, or a technological one or even a financial one.
It is a revolution of mindset. It is a revolution in thinking and attitude. It is a revolution where new ideas and change are embraced, championed and realised.
THE INNOVATION REVOLUTION
Put another way, the revolution we need is an Innovation Revolution. We need a revolution in our economic planning; a revolution in our public service and political system; a revolution in how our communities and people engage and interact with our political and economic systems of governance.
But who will lead this revolution?
You see, when I speak of an Innovation Revolution I am talking about all walks of Irish life. I’m talking about innovation in how we deliver public services, how we improve our communities, how we educate our children, how we prepare for the challenges of the next 50 years in all facets of our economy. Innovation can be a small change in a community or a small business that improves life quality or productivity; or it can be a new discovery in a lab that spawns a new industry.
Innovation must become the norm across our political and economic system, not just an occasional add-on to the tried and tired policies of the past. It is this innovation revolution that will drive the productivity growth that will push our economy to new levels and create the new jobs are our people demand. The crucial thing is that everyone can play a role.
You see, for me, people like Mickey Harte, Moya Doherty, Sebastian Barry or Rory McIlroy are leading innovators that have transformed and improved the world around them with their passion, their ingenuity and their courage to break new ground in the fields they operate.
Steve Jobs once said that innovation distinguishes between leaders and followers. I agree. All the people I mentioned above are leaders, not followers.
The time is right for Ireland Inc to start planning to lead rather than waiting to follow.
ELECTION an OPPORTUNITY to START AFRESH
The election has created a watershed – the chance to plan ahead for a vigorous comeback. Too much time has been spent trying to shore up the failed policies of the past. Now is the time to start creating a new future.
There is no reason why we can’t aim high and hit our targets. Other small countries have faced adversity and turned it into the foundation for unprecedented success.
After a severe crisis in the 1990s Finland took radical action, developed strong indigenous industries, including the world’s largest telecommunications company, and achieved average growth rates of over 4% in the decade from 1994.
Israel has faced little but adversity since its foundation but at every point has turned difficulty into strength. It now boasts the highest number of start-up companies and the largest venture capital industry per capita in the world and has achieved strong and sustained growth rates since the mid-1990s.
Adversity and necessity drove the invention and the innovation that transformed these small economies and it can do the same here.
The truth is, Ireland has every reason to be confident for the future because we have real strengths and a vigorous innovative new generation with a proven record. We have a strong export sector; we have made significant strides in competitiveness; we are the location of choice for many of the most ambitious companies in the world and we have a proven research base for harnessing creativity.
If we can build on these strengths and add some more I don’t see why, by 2020, we should not aspire to:
Create 200,000 new jobs and have over two million people at work;
Be the best small country to run an enterprise;
Double the value of our indigenous exports;
Return to and stay in the top five countries for cost-competitiveness in the EU.
These are the type of targets and outcomes that a revolution in our thinking can achieve.
THE CHALLENGE FOR A NEW PLAN
In planning for that new future any new plan will need to address 6 keyissues.
Role of Government
First, every enterprise needs a competitive location, a supportive environment, a good management team and a market to sell its goods.
The reality is that Government, in its many different guises and agencies, is a critical player in every one of these. No part of government can be a detached onlooker.
If the winds of our Innovation Revolution can blow through the corridors of every legislator, regulator and educator then the natural ingenuity of Irish people can be unleashed.
Role of FDI
Second, FDI has been, and will remain, a key element of our economic model and we must create the conditions where ambitious leaders of these businesses in Ireland can win strategic new elements of their global operations.
However, the challenge for tomorrow is not just whether we can attract the next Google, Microsoft or Intel to our shores.
The challenge for tomorrow is, can we grow our own Google, Microsoft or Intel here in Ireland?
Where is Ireland’s answer to Apple going to emerge from in the next 10 or 20 years?
Third, in transforming our industrial landscape, we must seek to create an indigenous engine of economic growth. We have one of the highest percentages of entrepreneurs in the OECD with 8.6% of the population established as entrepreneurs. Yet our indigenous enterprises struggle to increase value added and gain foothold in export markets. We must find smarter ways to enable our enterprises realise their full potential.
Linking in with Social Programmes
Fourth, in this type of environment we also need to reconnect our social programmes to developing potential and opportunity. That means making engagement with training and education a condition of support; developing programmes where talent can volunteer to contribute to worthy work at home or abroad and expecting people to fulfil their side of the bargain by testing themselves in these new opportunities.
Targeting Winning New Industries
Fifth, if Ireland is to have a real opportunity of early-mover advantage in key sectors we must be willing to make choices in our investment and to become the catalyst for clearing obstacles and backing the innovators.
That means supporting new industries like Cloud Computing, Lifesciences, Cleantech, Digital Content and Digital Gaming and a small group of others. We have shown our commitment to date in some of these sectors and I am determined to champion the cause of the others through policy and further promotion.
Innovation and Productivity Growth
Finally, and most fundamental, is the transformation of productivity or value added in both public and private and welfare sectors and at individual, corporate and community levels. Without a transformation in productivity we cannot create the competitiveness we need and release resources for investment in development of both public and private sectors. Without competitiveness and investment there will be no jobs. The type of productivity growth to drive the sustainable jobs of the future can only be underpinned by constant innovation of products and processes and a coherent strategy to foster just such an environment.
THE PLAN SET OUT
Now is the time to pull these strands together into a coherent plan.
This Plan will have as its one mission a determination to get our people back to work. It will rebuild our communities around sustainable, innovating and exporting new enterprises. It will be driven by a new generation of Irish entrepreneurs supported by a new generation of thinking in public policy.
The Government has made a start on this since being given a mandate last February. In just five months we have:
Recapitalised and resolved the structures of the two pillar banks and have advanced plans to launch a loan guarantee scheme and microfinance fund later in the year;
Launched a targeted Jobs Initiative that cut job taxes and put money in to high tech sectors of R&D like Cloud Computing;
Embarked on a comprehensive review of expenditure designed to weed out and eliminate any waste or excessive burdens from the system;
Passed reforms of the JLC system, started merging and consolidating agencies and bodies all with a view to reducing costs.
But this is just the beginning.
It is my determination having taken on the massive task of tackling the jobs crisis facing our country to now prepare a 21st century version of Economic Development, the plan that Whitaker built and that Lemass drove.
Building on the actions of the first five months in office I intend pursuing more of the policies that can help prepare the ground for this Plan in the run up to the Budget for 2012. While that Budget has stringent fiscal targets to meet it would be, I believe, a missed opportunity if we did not use that Budget to again re-orient our economy away from the failed dependencies and policies of the past and towards supporting the Innovation Revolution I’ve spoken of today.
Following on from the Budget in December I plan to publish my Economic Plan for the 21st Century in the New Year and seek to chart a course for a transformation of the economy unlike anything we have seen for 50 years or more.
Tearing down barriers, whether physical, intellectual or cultural, will be at the heart of this next phase of our development.
It is appropriate then, on a day that we talk about an Innovation Revolution that will tear down barriers to our future economic success, we look back to that foreign country that is the past. Fifty years ago today, on a visit to East Berlin Nikita Khruschev gave the go ahead to Walter Ulbricht for the building of one of the 20th Centuries most iconic of barriers – the Berlin Wall.
In an Irish context, from a very different starting place, it is time to start tearing down the walls that are holding us back.
As Whitaker wrote in Economic Development;
“Readiness to adapt to changing conditions is a sine qua non for economic success”
I view this Innovation Revolution as the beginning of a drive towards a self sustaining higher productivity economy underpinned by a pioneering skills and enterprise base.
But the Innovation Revolution is not about men and women in lab coats, though they will play their part. It is not about politicians and public servants, though they too will have a crucial role. And it is not about business people, bankers and industrialists, though they most certainly will be at the heart of the change that I want to see in our economic future.
The Innovation Revolution is about our people, our communities and our children’s future. It is about leading rather than following so that we are masters of our own destiny. It is about Irish people realising their full potential in their own land and creating a future for their children to grow up in and their parents to grow old in.
To paraphrase O’Casey, I believe that the time is rotten ripe for this type of revolution.