A new Irish President: can he lead the re-building of the Irish economy ?

My opinion piece below was published in today’s Irish Times.   I wrote the piece a couple of weeks ago when the outcome of the Irish Presidential election was unknown.  It was thus awkward to write,  especially not being able to use “he” or “she” :-)…

In the event,  at lunch time today as I post this it appears, from the preliminary election tallies,  that Michael D. Higgins will be the next President,  and so sincere congratulations to him and his team.

My article below discusses an initiative which I hope the new President may undertake to rejuvenate the Irish economy…

Our new President is about to undertake one of the most critical presidencies in the history of the State. As we collectively shoulder an astronomical sovereign debt burden, the President should play a strong role in nurturing national recovery. Our President must invest substantial effort in promoting our international poise and raising our national confidence.

There is impressive competition, some with echos of our own candidates. Tony Tan, President of Singapore since last month, has a PhD in Applied Mathematics from Adelaide, and an extensive track record of building national research, innovation and enterprise. Shimon Peres, President of Israel, speaks not just Hebrew and Yiddish, but English, French, Russian and Polish. Dilma Rousseff was imprisoned as a guerilla and tortured in the 1970s for her protests against the military dictatorship of that time in Brazil, but now as President leads one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Tarja Halonen, President of Finland, has an extensive track record on human rights, and her work on Gay and Lesbian rights has been internationally recognised. Kompas chart topper and singer Michel Martelly is now leading the reconstruction effort as President of Haiti. Ricardo Martinell, with an MBA, an entrepreneur and a supermarket chief, but now as President has helped Panama emerge as the Singapore of
Latin America.

Our President has to be a serious player on the stage of world public opinion and highly competitive international investment. Not only will a deep appraisal of the Irish economic situation be expected, but also an ability to passionately articulate and defend investment opportunities in the face of persuasive competition. Our President needs not only to be intellectually lucid but also emotionally empathetic with the many new diaspora leaving Ireland for better opportunities abroad.

Presidents Robinson and McAleese have prepared the ground. President Robinson was widely internationally known for her positive impact on Anglo-Irish relations, her high profile visit to Rwanda, her promotion of human rights, and for her promotion of the “Young Irish”. President McAleese is internationally recognised not only for her welcome to Ireland for the Queen of England and President Obama, but also her visit to President Medvedev, the Special Olympics, and her bridge building and reconciliation. Furthermore, our Ambassador and Consular network is generally recognised as world-class. It is probably unfair of me to single out, but I have met foreign executives who were deeply impressed by our Beijing, Berlin, Hanoi, Tokyo, and Washington missions, amongst – I am sure – many others.

Previous Irish Presidents have played a deep role in assisting the IDA attract foreign direct investment into Ireland, and promoting the exports of Irish indigenous companies. But now, our national business model is maturing. No longer do we only seek foreign direct investment from multinational companies, but now also foreign risk capital to invest into the expansion and growth of Irish firms. No longer do we only seek foreign executives to relocate to Ireland to build the European operations for their parent companies, but now also appeal to foreign entrepreneurs to build their next high growth venture from Ireland. No longer do we seek the back office management of foreign treasury funds through the IFSC, but also are pursuing foreign private money to grow indigenous companies.

The national clamor is for jobs, jobs and jobs. The combination of the collapse of the Irish banking sector and its persistent lack of competence in industrial development as opposed to property speculation, means that many established firms in Ireland, as well as new start-up ventures, are finding financing a challenge. And yet, as evidenced by the recent Global Irish Economic Forum held in Dublin Castle, there is certainly a nucleus of high net worth Irish diaspora resident overseas who would invest in the Irish indigenous economy if only appropriate mechanisms were put in place. I believe that were the President to champion an international foundation for investment into Irish economic recovery, then many further diaspora would join this national call. I believe that administration of such a foundation by the Office of the President would carry more tenability than being associated with any specific government department or political party. I suspect that many more entrepreneurs in Ireland would respond to a call to prudently expand their businesses and increase employment, if the call to so do were issued by the President.

The Ireland Funds raise philanthropic funds for peace and reconciliation, arts and culture, and education and community development. In contrast, a Presidential diaspora foundation for the economy would focus on commercial, for-profit, firms. There are several ways in which micro and medial financing of Irish based firms by a Presidential diaspora foundation could operate. Capital could be borrowed with larger sums available as individual companies proved their repayment record. Equity investment could be made into firms for which returns might be reasonably anticipated through share buyback or other liquidation events. Assets could be pooled to stratify and amortize risk profiles across portfolios of projects. However in all cases, the guiding principles should be that the Presidential foundation should be self-sustaining, transparent and professionally administrated.

Our President, Deo volente, Insh’allah, Dia sásta, will celebrate the centenary of the Irish Rising in 2016. By then I sincerely hope we will all also celebrate our economic recovery, the Irish Phoenix.

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About chrisjhorn

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