Thinktank aiming to put Ireland back on economic map


THE GROUP of heavy-hitting business figures and former senior political and public officials has no official name but have become known informally as “Ireland First”.

Details of the participants and their ideas have leaked out over recent weeks but now the identities of members of the think tank have been laid bare.

The aim of their report to Government – A Blueprint for Ireland’s Recovery– is to help inform an economic recovery plan. The group, however, points out that none of the 17 authors has a monopoly on ideas.

Businessman Philip Lynch and chief executive of the Rehab Group Angela Kerins are chairing the group, which started out with just a few names. More were added week by week as they thrashed out ideas at meetings.

Seán O’Driscoll, chief executive of Glen Dimplex, is spearheading the next stage of the plan, leading the presentation and discussions with the Government. The Department of the Taoiseach received the report last week.

The view of the group is that the State cannot borrow its way out of this economic and financial crisis but must work its way out.

The over-arching theme is how to the reduce costs in the State to make the economy the most competitive in Europe by 2016.

The proposals involve cutting about 30,000 public jobs in an overhaul of the sector and the creation of 200,000 jobs.

The group targets five industries in particular for job creation – manufacturing, tourism, agriculture, life sciences and information and communications technology.

A minister for competitiveness would be established to act effectively as the Government manager ensuring a series of targets and benchmarks are met.

The group believes Enterprise Ireland and the IDA should be given more powers to target overseas investment and an investor-relations strategy should be devised to restore Ireland’s reputation and confidence.

The group covers a broad church of interests, though there is a strong weighting towards the Fine Gael-Labour pews. It includes Fine Gael grandees John Bruton, Peter Sutherland and Frank Flannery. Former Labour tánaiste Dick Spring is involved. Former Fianna Fáil finance minister Ray MacSharry is the only former representative of that party. The group includes two government-appointed directors of AIB, Michael Somers and Dick Spring, and a board member of the Central Bank, Mike Soden.

Michael O’Flynn, an unofficial spokesman for the construction industry, is the only property developer in the group.