Tom McEnery: The Restructuring of Failure

Ghost estate, Oranmore, Galway.

As I read and listened to the recent comments by Frank Daly the NAMA (ref: link to talk given to Society of Chartered Surveyors, 12 April 2011) the first thing that jumped into my mind was that it seems incredible and startling that what Ireland seems to be doing is restructuring failure instead of nurturing success.

The second thing was, if you are talking to a group of auctioneers and chartered surveyors — the very people that were intimately involved during the bubble in turning the Celtic Tiger into a sick kitten — and say to them, ‘We should have been more vigilant,’ that seems like an attempt at black humor instead of being a legitimate criticism to make as you move forward.

I was aghast just looking at it.

I read in the Irish Times the other day about the 100 or so ‘ghost’ golf courses. Some are owned by the government. They are indicative of what happened during the wild splurge to just lend anybody anything for any kind of chimerical concept.

However, to have government interfering with the private market by keeping some of these ghost golf courses and other commercial buildings and businesses such as hotels in business seems to me to be exactly the wrong thing to do.

What’s the key to the future of Ireland? As always — it is investing in its people.

But that seems to be a measure that is being discussed far more than it is being implemented. The other thing that popped into my mind is that famous line of Patrick Kavanagh’s poem, Memory of Brother Michael — “We sailed in puddles of the past.”

Certainly the latest chapter of world history is filled with mistakes of every kind. Many of them committed by the United States. The important thing is to learn from these mistakes. As I read the latest pronouncements from the Irish government I think in many cases they are saying the right thing. But the key is implementation. That’s what Craig Barrett, the Chairman of the Irish Technology Leadership Group (ITLG) and former Chairman of Intel says so often.

It is wonderful to have American companies come to Ireland and make investments and employ people. That is positive and a key ingredient. Good things have happened in Ireland in the last decade and a half. But what’s far more important is what groups like the ITLG and others are promoting and that is invest in the people of Ireland. Invest in young Irish entrepreneurs and hopefully have a parallel investment by the Irish government in education and infrastructure.

If you are trying to keep alive ghost properties and restructuring the horrible failures of the property boom then you are really missing an opportunity for the second time.

The opportunity we have before us is to look at what always has been the strength of Ireland — the people there and the people in this vast Irish diaspora which is now in place. Instead of talking about it and having Taoiseachs delivering bowls of shamrocks to the White House it has to be implemented in a significant way.

An analogy that comes to me because of my background in early 20th Century Irish history is that it is almost like after the Easter Rising in 1916 when Michael Collins and the other new leaders decided to look at things completely anew both in the structure of a revolutionary movement and economically. (This latter aspect is often overlooked in Collins’s case.) He realized that you couldn’t just do the things that had been unsuccessful in the past.

It is good that we have Googles and Intels investing in Ireland but the real success will be when we have those new Irish companies that may have had their founders and staff trained in Intel or Dell. When we have those young Irish entrepreneurs coming out of Trinity and UCD or the other Irish universities being able to get funding.

The funding obviously, largely has to come from the private sector but the government can play a role too.

That is the road to Ireland’s economic stability and success in the face of what has happened in this tremendous implosion of the Celtic Tiger.

It is not about waiting for Twitter and the like to come to Ireland. That is obviously positive. I think it is important to keep the corporate tax rate low but supporting education and funding entrepreneurship is the priority. This 21st Century, as we have seen through the advent of social networking, is going to be a century of innovation.

Ireland can either look to the past and sail in those puddles or it can, in a significant way, change its governmental structure. This has to be done to restore the Irish people’s confidence in their government but the agencies like NAMA, IDA and Enterprise Ireland have to think and act anew.

They have done good things in the past but that is not enough. They have to do more with the Irish diaspora then just say nice things about us. We don’t need that. Ireland doesn’t need that and the young graduates of the universities and the people looking for meaningful jobs that pay a decent wage don’t need this.

One thought on “Tom McEnery: The Restructuring of Failure

  1. Tom, Well done. Ireland is indeed trapped in a timewarp. A generation of political buffoonery and unchecked crony capitalism reduced the Celtic Tiger into today’s cringing alley cat. Altering the DNA and tempo of the IDA and Enterprise Ireland by injecting new but vigorous management blood would help accelerate the SME innovation engine you advocate. Broad economic structural ‘fixes’ must also be made. Certain overlooked infrastructure assets could aggressively utilized to boost education intake, jobs formation, ICT innovations, tax receipts and wealth creation. NAMA befuddles even so-called banking and finance experts. Take a look at this article I wrote with Michael Collins firmly in mind: “Place branding Michael Collins” —…Jim Egan, Ferrumar


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