Another listless strategy floated for a stalled ship

A SPRUCED up boat is sailing in the Atlantic when its engine chokes, splutters and stalls.

The captain and his crew clumsily try to restart it. Passengers get restless and are asked to throw their belongings overboard, to lighten the load.

A storm is swirling. The crew fire a multitude of distress flares.

A call for help is made. The captain is told to call back when the ship is actually submerged. The crew has two options.

The first involves taking control of its destiny and find a way to fix the flooded engine. The second is to sit back, stick up a sail and hope the winds blow in your favour.

The Government’s latest rehashed, reworked and really empty strategy for trade and tourism has been drawn entirely from the second school of thought.

The Trading and Investing in a Smart Economy is not an action plan for recovery. It is a prayer for nature to come to the rescue.

It took four senior Government ministers to launch it but none of them will drive it. There was no investment, no incentives and nothing extra to market. The same ship, the same situation and the same storm.

Enterprise Minister Batt O’Keeffe nailed it. “The targets adopted are ambitious and they are predicated on growth in the global economy,” he said.

For instance, the plan did not even set out what it needed to happen in order to achieve its goal.

It cited the ESRI’s multiple growth forecasts. One of these was the low growth scenario with a 3.2% increase in GDP. The second was a higher version, a 4.6% rate. That is a difference of about 50,000 people out of work or in jobs.

The new plan did not explain which scenario it believed was probable or what were its options if the economy under or over-preforms.

Instead it reverted back to the tired blandishments.

“The exporting sector will continue to be an important driver of GDP growth in 2010 and beyond,” it said.

Worse, the plan was already teetering on the edge of being out of date.

It used the IMF’s economic outlook from April 2010 to suggest the Irish economy will expand in the second half of 2010.

Figures released last week, from April to July, showed the trend was actually downwards and even Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the aim was now to keep the ship steady in 2010 and not necessarily to push on.

And, like most new ideas produced from the Cabinet these days, it was a mosaic of low key, low grade policy documents pulled under the one banner.

On the tourism side the plan aimed to exploit leisure tourism, business tourism and niche markets. These were based on the Tourism Renewal Group which was published in October 2009.

The plan said that in 2009 approximately 50% of the exports from “high-potential” start-ups were to mainland Europe.

This was on the basis of a Forfas review of the single market which was actually published in 2008.

The team of ministers said language was a big barrier to exploiting the newly rich markets in east Asia, India and the Arab states. And the strategy boldly suggested how Ireland can overcome that.

“Through consistent investment in education, the Government has taken advantage of its demographic potential and ensured Ireland’s young labour force is highly qualified and skilled labour force with excellent technical, language and customer service capabilities,” it said.

This brazen bout of self-promotion was premised on a Post Primary Languages Initiative from 2000 to introduce Russian, Italian, Japanese and Spanish to schools.

In June 4,543 students sat the Leaving Certificate in either Japanese, Russian, Spanish or Italian. More than 5,000 took the music exam.

Yesterday’s plan also boasted about the expanding range of languages examined in the Leaving Cert, from Danish to Modern Greek.

There was no mention of the fact that the OECD showed primary school students in Ireland had virtually no exposure to foreign languages compared to 10% of teaching time among our European competitors.

On a very practical and urgent level the first item on the “Action Plan” was to strengthen our international profile.

nBuilding Ireland’s profile abroad. This involves a ‘joined up approach’ from the six different agencies to promote and represent Ireland.

nMaximising the impact of integrated trade missions. This will be done by “over the coming years” building on the potential of trade missions through more integrated trade, tourism and promotion activities.

nPromoting Ireland through St Patrick’s Day. Decisions on where ministers go will be based on early and strategic considerations.

The Action Plan was all about hoisting a green sail and hoping the windy Leprechauns overseas work their magic.

There are more useful ways of sailing the boat back to shore.

While four Government ministers, and one junior minister, were sitting in Enterprise Ireland launching their new money for old rope action plan Ireland’s bond prices went higher than ever before. The markets were begging for clarity, certainty and communication.

As an alternative agenda for yesterday morning the Taoiseach and his Cabinet could have worked on their own steam to call investment houses, meet fund managers, kill rumours and reassure markets that Ireland was not the basket case the bond prices suggest.

Instead another listless, directionless and pointless strategy was floated for a stalled ship.


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