The task force met collectively for the fourth time yesterday from 10am-5.45pm. I’ve previously posted on the first, second, third and consultation meetings. The members of the task force, including the civil servants, are listed here, and most of the public submissions to date are here.
The meeting as usual was chaired by Dermot McCarthy, and we had a full attendance of all the 28 members, bar one of the private sector members, and also bar one of the agency leaders who had a Board meeting but nevertheless sent a substitute. Junior Minister Conor Lenihan also attended for the entire day, along with additional staff (not strictly task force members) from both the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The meeting was scheduled from 10.00am until 4.00pm, but ran over by almost a further two hours.
Our final report is in draft form, and this was the first meeting in which the entire report was available for consideration by us all. We had originally hoped that this would have been the last meeting of the task force..
The meeting started with a presentation from myself! In discussions with Dermot McCarthy and a few other members of the task force over last saturday afternoon in Government buildings, there was a consensus that it might be useful to stand back from the report itself, and remind ourselves of the “big picture”. I did so, using I admit some humour, and also some of messages from Karl Fisch’s wonderful Shift Happens video. I think I helped set the last week’s 2009 budget in context, and I think helped ensure that all of us were grounded on the challenges and opportunities for Ireland ahead.
The rest of the meeting was spent taking some high level comments on the current very first full draft of the 151 pages of report, and its associated 131 recommendations! However, to be honest, the current version of the report is the outcome of a cut and paste of contributions across four working groups and with multiple authors and contributors. There is overlap in several sections, and indeed in some of the recommendations — rationalisation of the text is clearly needed.
Anna Scally had a led a effort last friday for the full day on behalf of working groups 1 and 2, to identify seven key recommendations across the 131, and to prioritise (primary importance, secondary importance, tertiary) all the remaining recommendations accordingly. We spent some of the morning yesterday, and most of the afternoon, examining this prioritisation and the specific recommendations. There is a reasonable holistic approach, covering for example human capital, financial capital, tax incentives, commercialisation and technology transfer offices, immigration policy, infrastructure, state agencies, metrics, convergence, “superstar” projects, sectorial concerns, brand Ireland, the TCD/UCD alliance, and follow up after the report is published — a huge range of topics…
For me, one of the intriguing interplays is the need to sustain and grow what we already have – including in particular transforming the multinationals operating in Ireland into a culture of innovation – and concurrently nurture and grow a very strong start-up and young company culture..
Overall, I personally believe there was a lot of buy-in and support around the table for the general thrust of the report. However the report itself clearly needs very major surgery to present it in a more palatable form – the content is good, but different styles of writing – I am personally unconvinced by the current structure and table of contents structure.
Net-net: editing work is needed over Christmas and the New Year to get a better structure to the report; hopefully just one more meeting in January; and then we will be ready to present to Cabinet and to the wider community.
As a footnote, I personally was slightly disturbed by the exodus of some of the task force members who were civil servants and/or agency staff from the meeting from about 4pm onwards (the scheduled time it was due to close), in many cases without apology or explanation to the rest of us. By 4.45pm, we were only left with Minister Lenihan, and the civil servants of the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Finance. No doubt the others had absolutely critical meetings to attend of extreme national importance, or were rushing to catch public transport to their de-centralised offices outside of Dublin. Nevertheless, many of us in the task force also have our own day jobs, our own families and social obligations, and have been putting in considerable work pro bono. I was disappointed.