Paraphrasing playwright Sean O’Casey, Minister Richard Bruton told a packed audience at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties on Tuesday night that Ireland is “rotten ripe” for revolution.
Addressing the topic of Transforming our Industrial Landscape and Creating jobs, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation recalled how Sean Lemass and TK Whitaker, a politician and a public servant, had reinvented a new ourland out the wreckage that was Ireland in the early 1960s.
“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.”
Minister Bruton said today’s Ireland is in an even worse state than back then.
“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.
“But the aftermath of an earthquake is also an opportunity. We must use this opportunity to create entirely new foundations for the Irish economy.
An Innovation Revolution
“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.”
Opportunity to start afresh
The Minister said that the election of a new government had given Ireland an opportunity to start afresh, to forge an Innovation Revolution in our economic planning, in our public service and political system, and in how our communities and people engage and interact with our political and economic systems of governance.
“The crucial thing”, he insisted, “is that everyone can play a role.”
The Minister continued: “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.
“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.”
He pointed to the success of Finland and Israel, two small countries that had faced adversity but “turned difficulty into strength”.
The Minister pointed out Ireland’s current strengths: a vigorous innovative new generation with a proven record; a strong export sector; significant strides in competitiveness; the location of choice for many of the most ambitious companies in the world; and a proven research base for harnessing creativity.
He sounded a positive note: “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; and return to and stay in the top five countries for cost-competitiveness in the EU. While continuing to attract Foreign Direct Investment will remain a priority, “The challenge for tomorrow is, can we grow our own Google, Microsoft or Intel here in Ireland?”
He said we must foster Ireland’s entrepreneurs and “find smarter ways to enable our enterprises realise their full potential”,
“Reconnect our social programmes to developing potential and opportunity” and support new industries like Cloud Computing, Lifesciences, Cleantech, Digital Content and Digital Gamingand 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.
Most fundamental to all this, Minister Bruton said is “the transformation of productivity or value added in both public and private and welfare sectors and at individual, corporate and community levels.” He added: “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.”
“All of these elements will be drawn together into one coherent plan, he explained and pointed to work already started.
“Now is the time to pull these strands together into a coherent plan.
“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.
“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.”