Multinational sector can power Ireland's economic recovery

Ireland acting as bridge between EU and US key to expanding inward investment

More than 160,000 jobs in Ireland directly depend on the multinational sector – with a further 100,000 indirectly dependent.   Photograph: iStock

More than 160,000 jobs in Ireland directly depend on the multinational sector – with a further 100,000 indirectly dependent. Photograph: iStock

 

The multinational sector in Ireland played a key role in our recovery from the recession of 12 years ago – we need to ensure that it does so again in our road to recovery from coronavirus.

More than 160,000 jobs in Ireland directly depend on the multinational sector – with a further 100,000 indirectly dependent. These 260,000 innovative and committed women and men have shown resilience and optimism in the teeth of the pandemic – their work saves and enhances lives around the world – every day.

Throughout the crisis Ireland has, once again, stepped up on the global business stage – production has been maintained. In critical areas such as medical technology it has been significantly increased.

We may have only 0.06 per cent of the world’s population but our people have a profound impact on the global community’s health and how it works and lives.

We need to keep the momentum going – from housing and broadband to long-delayed physical infrastructure to our planning process

In our just published report, Make the Bridge Stronger, the American Chamber has illustrated the nature of this impact – including during the crisis – and we have set out clear recommendations to the incoming government on what we believe needs to be done to protect and expand inward investment in Ireland.

Our title was inspired by the document that formed the basis of the government formation talks – it includes an ambition that Ireland will act as a bridge between the European Union and the United States.

This ambition has been reaffirmed in the programme for government. The American Chamber supports this ambition – but Ireland will need to work really hard and fast to make it happen. From the many recommendations we have made let me focus on three.

Continued support

First, speed is our friend. In our response to the crisis the public and private sectors have shown how agile and transformative we can be – almost overnight our health system was transformed; essential workplaces implemented new health and safety protocols and hundreds of thousands of people switched to working from home.

The enterprise supports made available to protect businesses here have deeply impressed in boardrooms across the US. We need to make sure that we continue to support business and jobs.

We need to keep the momentum going – from housing and broadband to long-delayed physical infrastructure to our planning process – we need to move faster and we need to benchmark our decision-making with the countries we compete with for inward investment.

We have to remain welcoming to the global talent pool and be a place where everyone who comes to play a part in our economy and society has equality of opportunity

Second, we need to create an Ireland that is fully digitalised with an inclusive workforce that displays world-leading digital literacy. The European Commission’s recently published Digital Economy and Society Index reports that 53 per cent of our population have basic digital literacy skills – below the EU average of 58 per cent.

We recommend the implementation of a three-year strategy to bring Ireland into the EU’s top three – ensuring this is done in a way that focuses on supporting the economically disadvantaged.

Let’s continue the innovative approach we’ve seen in parts of Government to digitising public services and businesses – such as the Passport Service and Revenue Online – to keep our economy and society moving – from our visa and permits system and the court service to helping family-owned companies transact online. We believe this digitisation agenda merits a Cabinet-level minister.

Third, we believe our roadmap to recovery should treat the domestic and multinational business sectors as integrated, deeply intertwined and essential to each other – because that is the reality. While the multinational sector purchases goods and services to the value of €6.3 billion from Irish businesses each year, we believe greater integration is possible.

The recently published National Competitiveness Council Competitiveness Scorecard highlights the productivity gap between the multinational sector (6.1 per cent growth in 2017) and the rest of the economy (0.6 per cent in 2017).

Hard questions

We recommend a nationwide programme of upskilling and best practice sharing between the multinational and domestic business sectors. Targets should be set and delivery monitored by an inward investment taskforce – led by the Taoiseach – which would also oversee the roadmap to recovery.

Extra policy support will be needed to reskill and upskill our workforce to fully take advantage of the global recovery. To continue to grow, we have to remain welcoming to the global talent pool and be a place where everyone who comes to play a part in our economy and society has equality of opportunity – and we have to ensure those who come or stay here experience a world-leading quality of life.

Lastly, we need a sustainable, knowledge-based and innovation-led recovery. We can’t lose sight of the role research-based activity in Ireland plays in connecting us to opportunities overseas. And we must ask and answer the hard questions to make sure Ireland transitions to a sustainable, carbon-neutral economy.

Collectively, we need to utilise those core Irish traits of being collaborative and creative but also fiercely competitive; being optimistic and ambitious but also realistic – not believing that past performance will win future opportunities. There are a lot of things we have learned about ourselves during this crisis, one of them is how resilient we truly are as a people.

Let’s leverage these lessons and focus now with a sense of urgency to change our economy and society for the better.

Carin Bryans is President of the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland

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