While all hats have now been thrown into the ring for the directly elected office of President of Ireland, we thought at Technology Voice of the possibilities if certain other candidates had stepped forward to offer public service at the highest level to their country of origin. The Irish, like Ireland itself, can no longer be thought of as the inhabitants of a tiny Ireland off the north west coast of Europe. The myriad forms of the Irish Diaspora reflect in many ways modern Ireland as a global state. If only our leaders could see that.
The role of President of Ireland can in many respects be regarded as a ceremonial position as there are few absolute powers that come with the job, but to the world outside of Ireland the individual who holds this post has far greater recognition than even the Taoiseach itself.
What lies outside of Ireland – particularly in the form of the Diaspora – is as important as what is inside Ireland. Ireland, as small at it is and despite its recent and ongoing financial troubles, is a player in the global markets. The recently announced opening of an overseas office for Twitter in the Dublin area testifies to Ireland’s geographical importance and reflects wonderfully on the highly educated, well skilled population that inhabits these shores.
Internally, the tech sector has been growing at 6% a year and is creating jobs. Technological breakthroughs in the agricultural sector have the potential to have Ireland become a lead player in the food supply chain business. (Technology Voice will be covering this area in greater depth over the coming months.)
However, many of the current candidates and much of the politicking around selecting a leader for this unique role remains insular and dwells on a sense of a role that Ireland plays in the world which can only be viewed as outdated.
One possible contender for the role, should he be asked to step forward, is Tom McEnery, ex-Mayor of San Jose and occasional contributor to Technology Voice. We spoke to him last week in the offices of the Irish Innovation Center, a facility that Irish businesses can base themselves in and use as a springboard into Silicon Valley – the knowledge workshop of the world.
Apart from his many distinctions in public service he was instrumental in helping the IDA to open an office in California. In 1990 he joined the elite company of those who have received the “Lord Mayor of Dublin’s Award.” He has been honored in Belfast, with the assistance of Apple, for the award-winning Bytes for Belfast.
Our first question to him was how he viewed high profile roles such as being head of state of Ireland.
“What I think is important is how do you perceive these jobs? Are they just meaningless baubles? Are they merely symbolic? Are they relics of another time? Or, are they something that can play an active role in moving the people of the country forward? In Ireland there never has been a more important time to have sound leadership since the founding of the Republic. If it was inspirational too, even better.
“What Ireland needs now is not only to show a positive and entrepreneurial side to the world, Ireland needs to show it to the people of Ireland who have been so shaken in the last few years.
“You have got six million people in the island of Ireland which is just what you have here in the San Jose / San Francisco Bay area, and I think there has always been much in common. That is the basis of our San Jose and Dublin Sister City program. Although there were many differences between the two areas, there was one very important thing in common — the entrepreneurial, visionary aspects of the types of the people who live on that island and the people who have come to this area that has become known as Silicon Valley. There is much to learn and emulate.
“There never has been a more important time for a face that is hopeful, optimistic and has a plan. One to be implemented now, not through rhetoric but through action.
“You need a symbol of what Ireland is going to be, her hopes and dreams — what fueled both the Celtic Tiger’s good points and Irish Diaspora historically. What are the aspirations of the Irish people that the President can nurture and support? To me, it is all about quality of life. It is all about jobs and opportunity. Maybe, most importantly, it is all about preventing people from going to immigrant ships and leaving, as has been the bane of Ireland in the past.
“Right now, as I look at the situation, it seems like a truer honor for people like myself in America, Australia, England or wherever the Diaspora is located is to make sure that no other people like my grandmother ever have to emigrate.”
Nobody asked Tom to run for Presidency although many who know him and know of his strong ties to Ireland think it would be a very good idea. On closer questioning he revealed a track record that would have made him a very interesting and suitable candidate.
“I’ve always looked a politics a little differently than other people do. It’s a job to do. I don’t look on it as, ‘Gee, what I can I run for?’ but, ‘Where is there a role that I can make a difference in?’ I found one in San Jose for nearly a decade. I found it first as chairman of the local planning commission. First when we tried to encourage and nurture Silicon Valley in all its various incarnations to come here.
“I tried to fill another role in my economic work in Ireland with inward investment, Intel et al., and Belfast with the young people there who needed to know that they could change the world easier with a computer than with a gun.
“For those two terms and eight years as Mayor I had a rare opportunity to build a tax-base and create a vibrant, thriving center city. The accomplishment I feel most proud of is to make people feel good about being a citizen of San Jose.
“Apart from North Kerry and a few places in Dublin, I am far from a household name in Ireland. As I look at the different policies and programs that I have worked on here with the Irish Technology Leadership Group, (ITLG), along with the small venture capital fund that I am involved with and the 30 businesses that we have here at the Irish Innovation Center, I think we have done more than any other group coming out of the Farmleigh discussions two years ago.
“I particularly want to credit John Hartnett, founder of the ITLG and great entrepreneurs like John Ryan, founder of Rovi who was born in Tipperary. Also, Craig Barrett, former CEO of Intel and second generation Irish American. These are doers; people who follow the dream. It is still alive in Ireland but must be nurtured.
“In the most positive sense we are the great Irish dreamers, now we must implement those dreams.
“I think what is going on here in San Jose and with the Silicon Valley Diaspora is exactly the sort of policies that the next President and the government of Ireland ought to inspire to build upon — I plan on playing a role.
What policies are they?
“The policies basically are:
- You support and nurture creative people in Ireland.
- You support an eco-system of venture capital. You don’t worry about creating reports – you worry about creating companies.
- You nurture the infrastructure. Not only the roads and systems like that but broadband as well.
- Education is first and foremost — It is what built Silicon Valley.
- Public Private Partnerships between government, private institutions and individual companies. This is the backbone of what really is the engine of the world today, and that is Silicon Valley.
“It is a program where you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You have to look at what has been tremendously effective here in this valley and in the city of San Jose and understand that if you nurture those very creative aspects of a knowledge economy you can make some wonderful things happen.”
Although Tom, an Irish citizen of some years, takes a deep interest in Irish history and Irish current affairs and has worked tirelessly to build a bridge between Ireland and Silicon Valley, he remains an American who has lived all his life outside of Ireland. Could this be a handicap to him being President despite meeting the criteria for candidature?
“I think it is intriguing that someone from the vast Diaspora could play a role in setting a course for Ireland in a world now that is so clearly globalized. This is the proper time to call home the wild geese and see how they can participate. Many of the Craig Barretts and Hartnetts and McEnerys are ripe for that task — we owe it to our grandparents and the young dreamers of Ireland.
At this date, no person from the Diaspora will be introduced into the Presidential race, but the idea of a Craig Barrett or a John Hartnett, is not only fascinating, but could be one of the most significant movements to revitalize the Irish economy and once again restore the dream for young Irish men and women.