Homegrown firms ‘key to recovery’

DEVELOPING a hi-tech manufacturing base including homegrown enterprises is key to economic recovery, a conference of leading chief executives heard yesterday.

The second Lemass International Forum held in the Guinness store room, Dublin, heard stern words from Intel Ireland general manager, Jim O’Hara, who criticised Ireland’s failure to tackle bureaucracy, financial waste and invest adequately in education.

Referring to what he claimed was a staid bureaucracy, Mr O’Hara said there was a need for the “elimination of waste” in order “to get a lot of crap out of the system”.

In order to develop high-end manufacturing, there was a need for “smart people” and this could only be achieved through developing the “best possible education system,” he added.

Mr O’Hara said moves to cut back the number of researchers was “crazy”. He also commented on the lack of leadership evident from policy makers on improving education or the creation of a digital infrastructure, stating: “Who’s putting up their hand saying this?”

There was also a need for a major overhaul of our school education curriculum, he added.

However, despite these problems, he said Ireland still had then advantage of being seen as a relatively stable economy and a “strong international brand”.

The conference entitled Factory of the Future: the Role of Manufacturing in Ireland’s Economic Recovery, also heard from Labour education spokesman Ruairi Quinn. He said that Ireland needed to re-balance its manufacturing base by the development of five to 10 major indigenous Irish manufacturing companies from an over-reliance on foreign direct investment.

Philip O’Connor, the director of Dublin Employment Pact, an organisation focused on getting the unemployed back to work, also criticised the overemphasis of the conference on foreign direct investment and post- university level manufacturing employment.

“If anything was learnt it was there is still a need for Irish business leaders and policy-makers to understand that there is a need to encourage real development which will give jobs to real people. The economy cannot be based on selling exotic financial instruments or just those with PhDs.”

Labour TD Pat Rabbitte questioned whether “orthodox” policy had not seen the abandonment of manufacturing here, with the emphasis rather on the “smart economy” and services with a detrimental economic effect. “I don’t know how many of us can be nano-technologists and the rest, but there are 60,000-70,000 or more unemployed construction workers out there and the question must be is a indigenous manufacturing base feasible.”

Enterprise Minister Conor Lenihan said people had the wrong impression if they thought government had given up on indigenous manufacturing in favour of multinationals but he added Ireland did have to move up the “manufacturing ladder” to the “higher end”.


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