Fionnan Sheahan

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Fionnan Sheahan: IDA the one agency that must not be starved of resources

Fionan Sheahan

Published 28/08/2010|05:00

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In the middle of a recession, the one body definitively requiring additional resources is the national job-creation agency. Surely that's unquestionable.

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The basic principle of needing to speculate to accumulate surely applies. Or so you'd think.

The next phase of economic development in this country will be based on export-driven growth. Or so the Government tells us.

The era of relying on the property market to create jobs and bring in taxation revenue is gone. Or so the Coalition reassures us.

In other words, it's back to basics and rebuilding the industrial strength of the country.

And yet this simple plan is being ineptly implemented by a Coalition that is once again showing itself to be far out of touch with reality.

Sixty years after its formation, the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) has a more vital role than ever to play in selling Ireland as a place to do business and bring jobs.

It has a long-established track record of bringing some of the biggest names in world business to these shores.

So it is deeply shocking to learn the IDA is being left in limbo by its political masters when it comes to staffing. The Government wants 100,000 jobs created. Yet the organisation tasked with doing this is still waiting for the 50 or so staff it says it needs to even have a stab at that task.

It beggars belief that the chairman and the board of the agency must beg a minister for staff.

Appointing Liam O'Mahony as IDA chairman earlier this year, Tanaiste Mary Coughlan noted his "valuable experience and knowledge".

Mr O'Mahony is a former group chief executive of CRH plc and has over 37 years' experience in a variety of senior management positions at home and abroad.

"He takes up this position at a time when we are facing significant challenges in the global economic environment," Ms Coughlan said at the time.

Rather than using his skills to chart a course for the IDA, however, Mr O'Mahony has been reduced to dealing with human resources issues being faced by the IDA internally.

Going on for the best part of a year now, the IDA has been in negotiations with the relevant departments regarding its staffing with no resolution in sight.

The frustration being experienced by the IDA clearly spilled over this summer, when Mr O'Mahony was forced to write to Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe pleading for "sanction for additional staff numbers with the flexibility to recruit, promote and redeploy within this".

His letter set out the stark implications of the Government's foot-dragging.

'The current impasse will almost certainly lose foreign direct investment (FDI) for Ireland and result in IDA being unable to meet its targets.

"This would also result in initiatives planned for Sligo and Limerick being put on hold and would have an enormous impact on our ability to staff our overseas offices, which are so vital to winning FDI in the face of increasingly aggressive global competition," he wrote.

The revelation of the behind-the-scenes wrestling by the IDA is an appalling commentary of this Government's approach to the jobs crisis.

Next week, when the latest Live Register figures are announced, ministers will again claim they are doing everything they can to address the unemployment problem.

The reassurances are ringing pretty hollow.

Continually accused of lacking a cohesive plan to tackle the rising unemployment and get people back to work, the Coalition has always insisted it is doing everything it can.

There is no shortage of glossy reports on job creation and ministers, right up to and including the Taoiseach, never hesitate to share the glory of jobs announcements brought about by the IDA's efforts.

And yet, when it comes to the fundamental issue of providing staff to go out and knock on the doors of boardrooms in New York, London, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Silicon Valley, Singapore and beyond, the Department of Finance and the Department of Enterprise cannot get their act together.

Preferably, a great deal of the job creation in this country would come from the indigenous sector.

The go-getting entrepreneurs of the next decade making the headlines in this country will hopefully be a new generation of captains of industry, rather than over-stretched property developers.

But attracting investment from abroad will also play a crucial role in the recovery.

The Celtic Tiger II, if it is to come about, will have to produce more than just housing estates, apartments and office blocks.

Just last week, former Taoiseach John Bruton emphasised the importance of foreign direct investment when addressing an audience of US politicians in Leinster House.

Despite the tough times, 22 US companies have invested in Ireland in the past six months, with the prospect of 2,000 jobs being created, he said.

At this point in time, it is estimated that investment by US companies in Ireland is worth €146bn.

Mr Bruton pointed out that it was two-way traffic -- as Irish companies were also continually investing in the US.

"You own this country. We own a large chunk of the United States. The truth is, across the Atlantic, we own each other," he said.

The world is a lot smaller and the globalised economy means there is often little to determine the nationality of a firm as the term multinational defines the identity, not just of their base, but the nature of their product.

The global recession means the market for attracting investment has become a lot more competitive, but this country still has unique selling points in terms of language skills, EU membership, an educated workforce and the can-do attitude we so often take for granted.

Setting targets to create 100,000 jobs is all well and good, but the strategy has to be backed up by talented individuals capable of attracting investment and harnessing the potential of the country.

The boardroom of Ireland Inc clearly has too many cobwebs if the Cabinet can't figure that out.

Irish Independent

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