Industry needs more self-reliant policy

ENTERPRISE Ireland announced its new chief executive yesterday to replace outgoing boss Dan Flinter who retires after 10 years.

The appointment of Frank Ryan, currently executive director, IDA Ireland, makes clear that the semi-State sector is continuing to play safe by picking somebody from within the sector.

Mr Ryan has a good track record in his own organisation and brings a lot to the job, including knowledge of the US market, where he worked for the IDA.

No doubt, as chairman Pat Molloy said when he made the announcement “Frank will bring a breadth of experience and knowledge that will be of substantial value to Irish industry and to Enterprise Ireland in its next phase of development.”

All that is true. But given the concerns of indigenous business about the state of industry and its lot was there not a case to appoint somebody from industry that knows what it is to be an Irish firm trying to survive in the tough world of global business.

This is a complex issue but there is a case for having somebody in the job that really knows what it’s like to be trying to survive in Irish business right now. For two years, the small firms lobby represented by the Small Firms Association and ISME have been screaming that their sector is being driven into the ground by excessive insurance costs and by the total lack of support for the sector generally coming from Enterprise Ireland.

This is not an attack on Enterprise Ireland. Dealt the hand that it has been by the State and limited in its funds, Enterprise Ireland can only do so much.

It cannot be expected to nursemaid the thousands of firms that are operational in today’s market and to any of them justice.

So that begs a further question. Is EI the right mode of support for business any longer. Is there not a case to be made for a basic grant or capital funding system to be put in place for those with enough get up and go to accomplish growth using their own initiatives and company skills.

Is molly-coddling the sector with trade missions and grants really the way to go anymore?

And what is the best way for this country to ensure that the indigenous sector becomes sufficiently developed to command better treatment from government to allow it to flourish.

We need a system that allows us to develop firms in key sectors that will become the self-confident wing of the economy, sure enough of itself to create multinational companies with global standing. After years of Forbairt that transmuted into Enterprise Ireland, it is far from clear that support from the State-backed development company will provide the impetus to create homegrown multinational firms able to compete with the best in the world.

If the Government had the will to tackle the insurance question and to have that resolved, one of the biggest pressures facing Irish-owned firms would be removed overnight.

It strikes me as odd that a man who has been charged with bringing multinational firms into Ireland should now be asked to do a 360-degree turn and think about developing Irish companies. Probably that change in direction for Mr Ryan is more ironic than anything else. But the real debate is much bigger than either Enterprise Ireland or IDA Ireland. And that is what direction do we want to steer industrial policy.

We need a much more self-reliant policy that will take industry to the next step of global player status.

Science Foundation Ireland and Forfás are trying to ensure we move in that direction, but something is missing. I think that something is a lack of belief in ourselves and what we are capable of achieving without being hand-held by Enterprise Ireland or anyone else for that matter.

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