‘Schools bigger problem than banking’

THE former leader of one of the world’s biggest technology companies has warned Ireland is spending far too little on education and needs to correct the shortfall immediately if the country is to have any economic future.

Craig Barrett, former chief executive and chairman of Intel, told one of the plenary sessions at the Global Irish Economic Forum that Ireland had bigger problems than the banks that needed to be tackled head- on if the economy was to have a long-term future, in particular the lag in education spending.

“Ireland is not a big country,” he said. “It is limited in resources so it has to prioritise. You need to then have the education system, the research and development system and the Government policies crystallised about a few areas, focused on and be world leaders in those areas.”

Nearly 200 top international business brains have converged on Dublin to engage in a frank discussion on how to help inspire the flagging Irish economy.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen appeared to accept the point Craig Barrett was making. He called for a “strong sense of investment in education, research and development putting in place the building blocks for the future, the long term”.

“That is while recognising that we have short-term difficulties that we have to try to deal with as well,” he said.

Musician and activist Bob Geldof said countries like Israel, similar in size to Ireland, were spending up to 6% on R&D while Ireland’s spend was a mere 2%. Even poorer countries than us are spending more in that key area, he said.

The Taoiseach told delegates the country stood on the brink of three major challenges — the Lisbon Treaty, the establishment of NAMA and the framing of the next budget.

He stressed the need for Ireland to tap into the enormous good will of the Irish diaspora — solid supporters of Ireland for many years.

Ireland could either view itself as a small country on the periphery of western Europe or being at the centre of a global Irish community of over 70 million people, he said.

Many of those in attendance insisted the Irish economy would get back on its feet given time.

US Ambassador to Ireland, Dan Rooney insisted Ireland was not “unique” in facing serious financial and banking problems. The US and several other countries have undergone similar difficulties and were coming out the other side, he said.

Meanwhile, billionaire businessman Denis O‘Brien said a Yes vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendum was essential for setting Ireland on the path to growth.


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