€1m-plus fund for 'game-changing' ideas to revive country, says President


PRESIDENT MARY McAleese has launched a search to find two “game-changing” ideas that will help secure prosperity and jobs for Ireland.

The idea for the Your Country, Your Call competition came from the president’s husband, Dr Martin McAleese, who has been working on the plan for more than 15 months.

It is an online competition offering the two winners a cash prize of €100,000 each and a development fund of up to €500,000 for each project. The successful entrants will also receive advice and support from industry experts.

Mrs McAleese, who is patron of the initiative, said the winning projects might involve new ways of doing everyday things or might identify a completely new industry or service. They could be in any area, from education and sport to science and tourism, from agriculture and religion to arts and industry.

“The possibilities are open-ended but the winning proposals should be game-changers with the potential to bring widespread and fundamental benefits right across the generality of Irish society,” she said.

Mrs McAleese said Ireland had “formidable brain power” and, if we fostered it, the country would go into forward gear again.

“We have within us the capacity to change things for the better by mobilising our individual and collective ‘can-do’ spirit,” she said.

The competition is governed by An Smaoineamh Mór – a company that has been set up with charitable status. It is chaired by former Bank of Ireland governor Dr Laurence Crowley.

He said the competition was about “finding, rewarding and implementing two transformational proposals that will help secure prosperity and jobs for Ireland. It is also about stimulating minds to think positively”.

He said it was supported by Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Tánaiste Mary Coughlan and Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan.

The competition is open to anyone over 18, and is not confined to people living in Ireland. Asked what sort of ideas might be successful, Dr Crowley cited the example of the International Financial Services Centre in the 1980s.

He said the competition operated under a number of principles: that all services would be given free; that the competition was not owned by anybody; and that the highest standards of corporate governance would be implemented.

In a short film shown at the launch, Dr McAleese said the idea came when he had been “thinking about the state our country is in, wondering if we’ll get out of it, maybe accepting that the old ways and the old ideas will not get us out of it”. He said there was an enthusiastic goodwill from people who wanted to get involved on an entirely pro-bono basis with no vested interests.

“It was all done out of a genuine concern for the future of this country, for the wellbeing of this country, and particularly for the next generation.”

The initiative has raised some €2 million from companies and individuals and aims to raise more. Donors include companies and individuals with backgrounds in business, media, sport, education and government.

A television advertising campaign will begin this weekend to encourage people to enter the competition. It features people such as singer Christy Moore, writer Cecelia Ahern, broadcaster Olivia O’Leary, actor Amy Huberman and businessman Pádraig Ó Céidigh.

The closing date for entries is April 30th. The entries will be whittled down to 20, and then five finalists before the final two winners are announced around October.