Thursday 19 April 2018

Maeve Dineen: Politics crying out for people with proper business acumen

Maeve Dineen

A week of high farce reminded us that our political leaders are not much cleverer than the bankers and regulators who have brought the State to the brink and probably destroyed Fianna Fail's chances of forming a new administration for a decade.

It is early days: new candidates are being selected and the parties are putting the finishing touches to their manifestos, but there is every sign that business will once again fail to stand up and be counted in the coming contest. This is a shame, and a missed opportunity.

Probably the last businessman of substance to serve in Cabinet was Cork tea merchant Peter Barry, who left the Cabinet in 1987.

Strangely, few constituencies have selected young, business-minded candidates to contest the forthcoming elections, but we need more experienced men and women like Peter Barry in the next administration to balance all the teachers and lawyers who are already jostling for power.

This is not to say that business people have some sort of monopoly on wisdom about the economy or business; they don't, as George W Bush's last administration demonstrated in dramatic fashion.

Still, the business mind, with its penchant for problem solving and cost cutting, is a valuable part of the equation and a cabinet without business experience is missing something. Most TDs are sole traders in business terms: men and women who have run nothing bigger than their own election campaigns.

It is absurd that when they become ministers, they control departments with large budgets and personnel.

Many fail to ever get to grips with the departments or impose their will on their civil servants as a result.

Business has not been slow to criticise the present Government; every week another CEO comes out to rail against the establishment. Nor has business been slow to excoriate the media for allegedly talking down the economy -- but it has been slow when it comes to outlining possible solutions to the nation's problems.

It is interesting that financial journalists and commentators such as George Lee and Shane Ross have entered the fray but no business leaders of comparable stature are coming forward.

In an ideal world, we'd have one or two business leaders from several sectors in the Dail. Personally, I'd like to see the food sector represented by the likes of Cooley Distillery's John Teeling and former Kerry chief executive Denis Brosnan.

Manufacturing could spare us Glen Dimplex's Martin Naughton, a fine patriot and a brilliant manufacturer.

In the absence of the Green Party, we could welcome some of the country's many technology visionaries including Eddie O'Connor, while the technology sector could lend us Google's affable John Herlihy or Iona founder and academic Chris Horn.

The property sector could sacrifice Bernie Doyle, who knows a thing or two about timing the property market, while transport could give us Michael O'Leary, who could be given Irish Rail and Dublin Bus as his personal fiefdom.

There are not many women in my fantasy cabinet I'm afraid, but then business can be every bit as blind to women's talent as our political system.

Irish Independent

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