The Awakening: An Interview with Tom McEnery

Tom McEnery is a businessman and writer. He was the Mayor of San Jose from 1983 to 1990 and has had a long and deep interest in Ireland and its history. His Master’s thesis was on Irish Nationalism and Michael Collins. He also edited and wrote the introduction to ‘A New Ireland: Politics and Reconciliation’ by John Hume.

Tom’s grandparents came to America from Kerry at the turn of the 20th Century. His uncle was a priest and a writer who was very interested in Irish history. As Tom says, “I kind of inherited some of his interests as well as his library when I was in college.”

When Tom visited Ireland for the time when he was 19 he felt that strange feeling of belonging that so many members of the Irish Diaspora have when they return to their original homeland.

“It was something for whatever reason, whether apocryphal or emotional, or maybe it was DNA programming, but I felt an immediate connection.”

It is this strongly felt connection and sense of history that has made the events that have taken place in Ireland all the harder to take and he has no illusions about where the responsibility lies, “The idea of the best and the brightest leaving again for the four corners of the world is something that is repulsive to anybody that is in the Irish Diaspora.

“That’s why my grandparents left. That’s why you get these weighty historical tomes which talk about how the Irish have been so successful everywhere else in the world but have not been successful at home.

“When we had an opportunity to grasp that over the last decade we came up with air. Because the polices that were in place were inadequate to deal with the recklessness of the real estate bubble and what were probably the illegalities of just a few banks.

“It shows how the movement of a great people can be destroyed by a couple of dozen ill-conceived decisions and a hundred greedy people.”

When Tom was Mayor of San Jose he established a Sister City relationship with Dublin. While being too modest to claim any kind of responsibility for the subsequent wave of investment in Ireland by U.S. multinationals it would be safe to say he played a role in facilitating some of the processes.

That Tom was active in bringing American business to Ireland can be witnessed by his presence at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Intel plant at Leixlip in 1988. In the the intervening years over €6.0 billion has been invested in making the facility most technologically advanced industrial location in Europe.

But so much promise and hope for the future was lost and squandered in the venality of recent years, “What happened in that period of time was truly extraordinary. It may be redundant to say, but also important to say, that the Celtic Tiger was pretty much destroyed by an era of incompetence and greed. It is really important to reverse that.

“As anybody in the Irish Diaspora or anybody in Ireland knows that for the horrible mistakes that have been made there has to be, number one, accountability.

“But more important than that there has to be a recognition of what went wrong and how can there be what I like to call an Awakening.

“The Irish like these simple one-word things; The Famine, The Uprising, The Troubles. I really think The Awakening is necessary. The anger has to be channelled into constructive areas:

  • “To build the infrastructure and to improve education and training. particularly in engineering, maths and science.
  • “To lead to a new period of innovation with the most important product that Ireland has always had and that is its people.

“The real estate speculation was clearly so wrong. When you think back on all great mistakes, you just wonder how it could have happened. How could World War 1 have happened? If you look back at the misappropriation of the financial assets you have to ask, how could they have been so wrong-headed?”

A key part of the Awakening is to learn as much as possible from what went wrong which will require both candor and transparency and then the application of the lessons learned.

Craig Barrett, the former Chairman of Intel says, “The world hasn’t changed. We have just changed the government.” If we keep the same policies and we don’t fully understand what happened it is not going to lead into a new era of Irish prosperity.

Tom emphasizes this point as well, “That’s what’s critical. That is what is absolutely critical. Look at policies that can be changed. Look at the way you invest your assets. Whether you have hundreds of billions of dollars or hundreds of millions you have to channel them into the areas that will best serve the Irish people.

“Put the resources into building infrastructure and to encourage high value added products that would have help the economy tremendously in terms of exports.”

That means, “Investing in the proper areas of infrastructure, maths, science and engineering.

“What I always did when I was Mayor is when there was a crisis I tried to rely on the smartest people with the clearest judgement.

“An acknowledgement and understanding has to lead to an Awakening. First you look to the assets of the people of the Diaspora, then you look to your own people.

“Then you look at groups like the ITLG and CEOs like John Hartnett, Conrad Burke of Innovalight and John Gilmore of Sling Media. You look to these people and the tens of thousands like them in the US, Canada, Australia and throughout Europe.”

From wherever you start you have to use the best tools at your disposal. Having policies that even with limited budgets that focus on infrastructure and education are absolutely key to the future.

Using the immense resources that reside in the Irish Diaspora is another key element.

Another asset of great importance is the work being done in the universities and research institutes across the country.

As Tom points out, “Here is one policy directive that people a lot wiser than I have found very successful.

“Transfer technology from universities to create wealth and jobs.”

He is referring to the American model of technology transfers as used by MIT and Stanford as methods that could be utilized more fully by Irish institutions such as Queen’s, Trinity and UCD and the other universities throughout the land.

The Awakening, as Tom McEnery describes it, could represent a new era in Irish history where the values of lessons learned from the recent past combined with policies that provide genuine investment and support for long term future growth can lead to a stable home for Irish people everywhere.

A home that Irish people can come and go to as they please without the spectre of forced economic emigration.

The main picture for this article is dawn across the Corrib from NUI Galway
The banner picture for the newsfeed for this article is sunrise over Salthill, Galway

One thought on “The Awakening: An Interview with Tom McEnery

  1. Well said Tom as always a very good summary of a very complex situation. Yes I believe we could take to the Awakening as a good start to an Ireland we could all be proud of again.


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