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Tuesday 23 January 2018

We risk another exodus after 'losing the run of ourselves'

Entrepreneur Ben Dunne explains to Ronald Quinlan how the excesses of the Celtic Tiger years are hampering the economic recovery

Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan

IRELAND is going to have to adapt if it is to overcome the challenges it is facing in manufacturing, and if it is to tackle the surge in unemployment amongst men under the age of 25, according to businessman Ben Dunne.

The former retailer turned fitness chain chief believes the country's current economic woes have come off the back of a decade in which we paid ourselves too much for doing too little, trained our young people to work in an economy which was too reliant on property, and quite frankly lost the run of ourselves.

And when it comes to the future of Irish manufacturing, Dunne says it isn't the low-cost economies of the Far East that we have to compete with, but the lower-cost economies right on our doorstep.

"The costs here are prohibitive. We can't afford to be paying more than our nearest competitors in the North and in the UK.

"What's wrong with Ireland is we went through a boom that broke every rule in the book.

"We were at one stage seen as one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but we lost the run of ourselves. If we're paying a lot more here than they are in the North of Ireland, then we're in trouble. That's the kernel of the problem," he says.

Asked what exactly he would do to get people back to work now -- particularly those under 25s who might decide to emigrate and take their skills and education with them -- Dunne readily admits it's a difficult question to answer.

He does, however, have advice for the legions of newly-qualified solicitors, engineers, architects and tradesmen who now find themselves unemployed in the wake of the property crash. For Dunne, the answer is simple: make a decision to do something, even if that means doing something else.

Recalling his own experience of starting over at the age of 40 after being "turfed out" of his family's business, Dunnes Stores, he says: "The biggest thing that I had to do was make a decision that I was going to do something and do something else.

"There was no point in me trying to start off and compete against Dunnes and Tescos and Penneys."

And while he readily admits that, unlike so many of our young unemployed, he had significant financial means to start again, he is keen to make the point that people have to be prepared to reinvent themselves to survive.

"Who would have ever thought I headed up the largest retail business in this country, and that then over a five-year period I would reinvent myself as a fitness guy.

"I had to go back and do a bit of soul searching.

"I left school at 16 so I didn't have tunnel vision that people can have after studying for a profession. The one thing in life and in business, it's step by step.

"You must be going forward. You'll get pushed back every so often, but there has to be that drive in you.

"Every one of us has it, but you have got to go looking for it," he says.

Sunday Independent

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