If we rise to the challenge Ireland can be the comeback economy of Europe


OPINION:The international picture of Ireland is skewed. It is up to us to restore our reputation

OVER THE past 24 months, developments in Ireland have diminished our international reputation and consequently, international commentary on Ireland has been largely negative in focus.

In the prevailing doom and gloom, even we ourselves have perhaps lost sight of all that we have going for us and important stories, such as the growing success of Irish companies in worldwide markets, are going untold or ignored both in domestic and international discourse on Ireland.

We have a strongly positive story to tell and it is this: Ireland’s best days lie ahead of us and not behind us.

We have built a modern, dynamic economy. We are more experienced than ever and more capable than ever.

Irish companies are selling innovative, advanced products and services all over the world. Ireland can be the comeback economy of Europe.

As a nation whose economic recovery depends on exports, and thus good international reputation, Ireland must ensure that this story is communicated and heard.

The international picture of Ireland is incomplete and skewed.

We have to challenge the prevailing discourse and avoid a disproportionate dip in international confidence in Ireland that could do an unwarranted level of damage to our reputation and hinder our economic recovery.

It is generally agreed that export success is fundamental to Ireland’s economic recovery.

Already we are showing a strong rebound from the recession of 2009.

Irish companies have had continuous export growth for the past 20 months in a row and we estimate that Ireland’s indigenous exports for 2010 were about €13.7 billion.

This means that 70 per cent of the exports lost in 2009 were recovered in 2010.

By the end of 2011 we expect exports to be above our record pre-recession level.

Because of the work we have put in as a nation, Ireland continues to punch well above its weight globally.

We are the largest net exporter of pharmaceuticals in the world.

We are the world’s second largest exporter of computer and IT services – behind India and ahead of Germany, the UK and the United States.

We are the fifth largest exporter of beef in the world.

Globally, one in seven formula-fed babies are drinking infant formula that has been produced in Ireland.

In financial services, €1.7 trillion of funds are administered here.

For a small island, those are impressive achievements.

The reach of Irish innovation is now truly a global phenomenon.

When you travel to the US, you will have your eyes and finger prints scanned by US immigration.

The technology that is used there comes from an Irish company called Daon. This technology is also used in Australia and in Narita airport in Japan.

If you were to undergo a medical procedure anywhere in the world, and had a stent implanted in your body, there is an 80 per cent probability that Irish technology from Creganna-Tactx Medical will be used.

Ireland’s Realex Payments provides e-commerce services to major corporations worldwide. Over the past 12 months, Realex has processed €9 billion of payments globally.

Operating in these state-of-the-art spheres, Irish companies will pull this country out of recession faster than many commentators expect.

This is not a repeat of the 1980s. The diversified industrial landscape we have built over several years in Ireland hasn’t gone away.

We have a strong cohort of indigenous Irish companies exporting to wider international markets than at any other time in the history of this State.

More Irish companies are engaging in research and development than ever before. Even in 2009, the worst year of recession in our history, investment in RD rose by 2 per cent.

IDA Ireland has been hugely successful in attracting foreign direct investment and our industrial landscape now includes household names such as Intel, Microsoft, Pfizer, Google, Facebook and Ebay, to name a few.

More of our people are more highly educated now than at any other time and there are more Irish business people with international experience.

The importance of the Irish diaspora cannot be underestimated, many of whom are in key positions of influence in business and in Government.

In addition, there is a new Irish diaspora that can be developed through the education of overseas students in Ireland.

These highly educated overseas students are the future leaders, entrepreneurs and decision makers in countries all over the world.

Through their positive educational and cultural experience here, they can join the cohort of Ireland’s advocates in the countries that will be our key trading and business partners.

We have a very high volume of business start-ups and a strong entrepreneurial culture.

The support structure and funding environment for new businesses is among the best available anywhere.

The Irish government, through Enterprise Ireland, is now the largest venture capitalist in Europe in terms of the number of investments made.

Established entrepreneurs count for more than 9 per cent of the population of this country.

And, Ireland is not only fostering its own entrepreneurs – Enterprise Ireland is seeking to attract successful international serial entrepreneurs looking to set up their next venture in Ireland.

Ireland remains high in international rankings as a place to do business.

The World Competitiveness Yearbookranks Ireland first for corporate taxes and fourth for having a culture that is open to new ideas.

We are fourth in the world for the availability of skilled labour and sixth for labour productivity.

Meanwhile, the World Bank ranks us eighth for “ease of doing business”.

We are a very open economy, so we go into recession faster than others, but we will also come out of it faster.

Our export performance for 2010 has been remarkable, growing 7 per cent in a difficult global climate.

Ireland is a nation with a proud history of meeting challenges, of surviving, of recovering, of growing, of achieving and of being great.

The things that made Ireland great before still exist: our people, our excellent education system, our innovative products and services and our export selling capabilities.

This is the side of the story that is missing from the international dialogue.

Ireland can be the comeback economy of Europe but we must be proud of who we are and what we have achieved. We must be proud of our home-grown companies and what they are achieving. And we must let ambition characterise our actions once more.

As citizens of this Republic, we collectively have the responsibility of being the architects of the country’s future.

That is an awesome responsibility when you think about it: our individual and collective behaviour and actions now will decide Ireland’s future.

We all have to make sure the full story of Ireland’s economy is heard to restore our international reputation.

The message to the international community is that they should expect Ireland to be the comeback economy of Europe.

The message to Irish companies is that now is the time to dream big dreams. There is no reason whatsoever for them to limit their ambitions.

Frank Ryan is chief executive of Enterprise Ireland