Speech to Fine Gael National Conference 2010

This morning,  I was an invited speaker at the Fine Gael National Conference in Killarney,  at their session on “Getting Ireland Back to Work”.

I am not a member of Fine Gael!   At their conference,  they invited a few guest speakers from outside of their membership,  to give different perspectives on Irish society and the economy.

I was asked to say a few words about the Innovation Taskforce,  but was strictly limited to just five minutes,  followed by some Q&A.   My presentation therefore had to be short!  I was asked by a few people present for a copy of my speech,  so I have posted it below.   Regular readers of my blog are unlikely to find any new messages 🙂

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a privilege and honour to be invited to speak to you this morning.

We have 430,000 people unemployed.

What are we going to do ?

The smart economy is one part of the answer.

What is the “smart economy” ? Many economists will tell you it is about productivity and competitiveness. I believe the smart economy is really about winning: winning confidence in our public sector, winning with new practical ideas, and winning worldwide with innovative products and services.

Many economists will tell you we need to rebuild our banks, de-leverage our assets and restore competitiveness. Many economists will tell you we need to roll back the clock to the good years of the Celtic Tiger, before our property bubble.

But I believe the world has changed behind our backs.

The US has had its “war on terror” and entered recession in December 2007.

Meanwhile China has quietly gained the confidence of many governments worldwide, built export markets and gained global control over important raw materials such as bauxite, silicon metal, coke, magnesium and zinc. Newsweek just this week noted the rise of the Yuan as an international currency; the Shanghai co-operation organisation as a central Asian NATO; China’s successes and further ambitions in space including lunar landings; its rapidly emerging world leadership in high speed trains, the internet IPv6, and green and clean technologies. The San Jose Mercury just yesterday noted that Silicon Valley may be losing green technology leadership to Beijing.

Craig Barrett, at the Royal Irish Academy a few weeks ago, noted the recent emergence of 3 billion middle class consumers in Brazil and south america; India, China; latin america; central Europe and south east asia.

The environment for the Celtic Tiger has gone. Ireland no longer has a global monopoly on low costs and a low corporate tax rate,  nor on a technology skilled and English language competent labour pool.

It seems obvious that the world has changed.  It seems clear that restoring our national competitiveness to pre-bubble levels is insufficient.   We need to create value rather than low cost volume.  If we can create high value services and goods for the international markets,   then we will create wealth for our economy and also sustainable employment freed from the vagaries of an international race to the bottom.

How do we do this ?   How are we going to accelerate our smart economy,   make an immediate improvement in employment and also at the same time build sustainable growth ?

I honestly and sincerely believe that Ireland has a great foundation. We have many multinational companies present in the country,  and are thus jealously viewed by competing jurisdictions such as Israel,  Singapore and even indeed Silicon Valley.  We have our natural resources, including agri-food, marine and – uniquely – our under-used electromagnetic spectrum.  We are native speakers of the international business language.    We have an international diaspora,  several times larger than the combined Israeli and Indian diasporas.    Our glass is thus half full.  How do we fill the rest of it ?

We have the opportunity to build Ireland as the place in Europe for innovation, new products and services. We have attracted foreign direct investment; now we need to go further and also attract foreign risk capital. We have attracted multinationals through the IDA and world leading scientists via SFI: we now need to go further and attract overseas entrepreneurs to Ireland to augment our own. We can make Ireland the place where all European entrepreneurs are most likely to be successful.

For every multinational we have, indigenous companies can be accelerated and orphan projects built out as new companies. For every new company we build, others will be inspired to try. For every company that is successful, several others will be spun out. If we build this chain reaction, we will get positive feedback, a self-sustaining dynamic engine of enterprise growth and a rapidly expanding job market.

To do all this, we need not increase our national debt. We instead need to re-balance our priorities and put some wood behind the enterprise arrow. Out of all our Exchequer investments this year, less than 5% goes to the combination of the IDA, SFI, Enterprise Ireland, FAS and Forfas – are we serious about re-building our economy ?

I believe we have an enormous opportunity. The Celtic Tiger is over. Now it is the Celtic Phoenix. We need to believe in ourselves; we need to have confidence in our ability; and we need to have pride in Ireland.


About chrisjhorn

This entry was posted in analysts, China, economy, education, Enterpreneurship, Ireland, politics, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Speech to Fine Gael National Conference 2010

  1. John Kennedy says:

    Succinctly put Chris, wondering what was the reaction from the floor and Q&A?

  2. chrisjhorn says:

    Difficult to tell reaction from floor – applause of course – because of spotlights on stage. The other panellists seemed happy and Leo Varadkar asked whether “Celtic Phoenix” was copyrighted, he apparently liked it – I said not at all, please go ahead and use it.

    The Q&A was an opportunity for the panellists to respond to details of Fine Gael’s enterprise policy, so it wasn’t appropriate of me to join in. However the Chair Denis Naughten did put one question directly to me re the Taskforce which was an opportunity for me to stress how its work should be viewed apolitically, not associated with a specific political party — and that I was delighted that Fine Gael were engaged on the topic.


    PS – the debate was televised live by RTE, so I guess it may appear on their web site archives in due course and/or on youtube..

  3. John Kennedy says:

    Thanks for the reply Chris, before Christmas I attended a Fine Gael road show in Limerick open to the public and business as well as Fine Gael members, in the Q&A session, the questions came from “business people” I would know to be Fine Gael supporters and was really only an opportunity for the Front Bench to re-iterate Fine Gael policy, politicising, what should, as you say, be an apolitical solution.

  4. DK says:

    I lived in Ireland as the Celtic Tiger roared. Now clients there tell me how dire things are, as recovery is slated to be well behind that of other countries.

    With this gloomy mood as a backdrop, I applaud you for your optimistic speech.

    In particular, I like this line:
    “We need to create value rather than low cost volume.”

    This is exactly it.

    Anyone in any industry right now—in any part of the world—knows you have to have something people consider valuable if you’ve any hope of selling it.

    Thanks for sharing.


    • chrisjhorn says:

      Thanks Dipika!

      I sincerely believe that Ireland does have a great opportunity to emerge as a global centre for successful entrepreneurship and innovation, not least because we have several national competitive advantages which frankly no other jurisdiction has – I mentioned some in my speech.

      So I am optimistic: we just need to harness our energies and determination.

      Best wishes

  5. DK says:

    Yes. Ireland was a delightful place to locate our business for many of those reasons in the early 2000s.

    But I wonder if the hurdles foreign nationals faced when attempting to start a business have eased?

    Our startup couldn’t front a 300,000Euro initial investment or readily employ 5 people, requirements I read in a form letter from Dublin months after inquiring about how to legally set up shop. These walls were enough to drive us back to the USA.

    Just sayin’—


    • chrisjhorn says:


      Interesting. In the Innovation Taskforce report which I was involved with and which has just been published, one of our recommendations was specifically to encourage overseas entrepreneurs.

      Our recommendation 9.9 includes:

      * Introduce new arrangements to fast-track special residency permits for appropriate qualified entrepreneurs, and their immediate families (including a work permit for spouses);

      * The requirement for non-EEA nationals to commit to transferring capital of at least €300,000 if they wish to start a business in Ireland should be waived where alternative criteria are met (for example acceptance by an approved Angel Fund);

      * A dedicated support package should be provided by EI and/or IDA, to assist early stage overseas projects which locate here.

      best wishes

    • Nilesh Shitre says:

      For the same reasons what Dipika mentioned above I have to wait for 10 years in Ireland to start up business venture and to accumulate necessary capital and funding. When we came in Ireland we don’t even have any collateral or assets to offer as a security….Financers/bankers are made up of same clay all over world 🙂 we can’t give them security of dreams…Even after accumulating required initial capital bank till date don’t offer finances to start-up mainly non-European naturalized Irish citizens… But I must accept say there is lot of other support available by Enterprise board except funding. “patience is a virtue” which I learnt from my experiences in Irelnd. I am always ready with new spirit of “bachenge to aur ladhenge” means “if I survive I will fight again”……always keep trying one day I will be successful in Ireland with my business venture for global market.

      – Nilesh

  6. Great speech Chris, Its refreshing to see not everyone wants to go back to 2000 and rebuild the Celtic tiger, unfortunately I feel there are too many vested interests trying to push us back towards ‘the good old days’!!

  7. DK says:


    Thanks for the reply! I am so happy to see that there is point number 2 in your recommendation. Nice work.


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