Vincent Wall outlines how Ireland can make the most of Brexit...
It was at the IDA mid-year review during the week that the new(ish) Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’ Connor, reassured the assembled hacks that she was “fixated” on the measures Ireland needed to take to ensure we avail of any opportunities that arise from the UK’s departure from the EU and that we are sufficiently prepared to meet the challenges it will generate.
Her declaration followed confirmation by IDA Ireland’s chairman and chief executive, Frank Ryan and Martin Shanahan respectively that the agency was "awake" and already engaging with every relevant party to ensure Ireland got its share of the newly-mobile foreign direct investment that Brexit would trigger.
And to be fair, based on IDA Ireland’s overall track record through thick and thin times, we are probably in safe enough hands there...To be fair also, Martin Shanahan reaffirmed his position that we needed to amend our tax rates and policies to continue to attract international executive talent and to motivate and retain entrepreneurial activity.
But what of the Minister and her government colleagues? What sort of broad measures and decisions should their “fixation” stimulate, not just to address the new economic realities of Brexit, but also to reflect our renewed commitment to the European project even as the British retreat behind their protective White Cliffs?
In no particular order of priority, and based on the given that high capacity national broadband coverage is a given, here are some suggested fixations:
1. Overhaul the planning system to deliver as rapidly as possible, much-needed public infrastructure such as Dublin Airport’s new runway; a 21st century water supply to the Greater Dublin Area; sustainable sources of renewable energy and the houses needed to provide homes for our homeless and to continue attracting young European workers to our shores... In a nutshell, prioritise the broad public good over private inconvenience
2. Transform the educational system to reflect the realities of a fast-changing digital world where Ireland as a small member of the EU has just lost its English-speaking big brother.
As a priority, ensure all children leaving Primary School are proficient in the basics of software coding and in a primary European language and/or Mandarin, and take the curriculum hours from classroom teaching of Religion and Irish, if required. Also, demand a greater focused output from our regional colleges of technology and speed up their consolidation (for instance, force Waterford and Carlow to merge) to offer a greater breadth and higher quality of programmes.
3. Abandon the fiction that we can develop every town and village proportionately and focus infrastructural, educational and employment investment in priority cities. Cities are the economic powerhouses of the future and we need to develop at least two of sufficient scale outside Dublin to provide regional balance and to relieve congestion in the capital.
In this context, the construction of a motorway between Dublin and Limerick should be a priority, as should Government allocation of key third and fourth-level educational facilities to the regional cities to support local entrepreneurial activity and attract continued foreign direct investment
4. Abandon the planned Metro North rail line to Dublin Airport and build, within ten years, a version of Irish Rail’s plan for a high capacity heavy rail underground link from Heuston Station to Docklands. At a national level, the optimal return from major new rail investment is best delivered by a network connecting our largest population centres (Cork to Belfast direct) and Dublin Airport via a pass-through line under Dublin that can also support more efficient mass transport of commuters and visitors to the city
We’ll stop at four... Over to you Mary.