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Willie O'Dea: A start-up visa programme was suggested long ago

Last Tuesday, the Government gave us another example of the one thing it does really well: making announcements about announcements.



Look into the detail of Alan Shatter's pronouncement on the start-up entrepreneur and immigrant investment programmes and you will see that his statement does not launch the schemes. Rather it merely announces that he will be announcing the launch of the two schemes around the middle of March: another example of this Government's press- release obsession.

Turning to the substance of the release, I welcome and support the introduction of a start-up entrepreneur scheme.

In fact, I have strongly supported and advocated the introduction of such a scheme since I first proposed it here over 18 months ago, on June 13, 2010. My column that Sunday was entitled 'Start-ups are the key to speedier economic growth'.

If the Minister or his army of civil servants have any difficulties finding the particular edition, all they need look out for is the one with the front- page headline, 'Fine Gael revolt, as the knives come out for Kenny'.

In it, I said that I believed we should encourage highly qualified and innovative entrepreneurs from abroad to come and invest in and accelerate new businesses here, and I set out how such a scheme could operate. I explained the background to the principles underpinning it and referred to the fact that Canada has been operating a less ambitious form of the programme for years. I even included a link to the American website advocating the introduction of a more advanced and comprehensive system.

Short of drafting the legislation and regulations for either the Department or the Fine Gael research office, I could not have done more.

I have referred to the start- up visa waiver many times in the intervening 18 months, including as recently as two weeks ago in the context of building up our trade links with the Bric countries.

I also discussed it in the aftermath of last year's damp squib of a jobs initiative.

These schemes should have been launched then. It is very worrying that this Government has taken a full year to even move to considering an idea it should have known about and included in that jobs initiative.

All it had to do last year was to get one spare adviser or official to simply google the independent.ie webpage to find it and other initiatives I have proposed here -- from exploiting the potential of intellectual property to encouraging the development of the video games sector here.

While in Opposition, Fine Gael was very clear that it was its job to oppose and it was the Government's job to come up with the ideas and initiatives. Now, it seems, Fine Gael in Government believes it can change sides in the Dail but keep the roles the way they were.

Meanwhile, the Government's full-time cheerleader and part-time Foreign Minister urges others to pull on the green jersey. The late Jim Tunney had a great line about showing loyalty: "I put my colours on going into a match, not coming out."

The Tanaiste would do well to recall these words, while the rest of us recall how fiercely he refused to pull on a jersey or even don a rosette to support the Croke Park Agreement in advance of the unions' vote. Gilmore is in no position to lecture anyone on the merits of sticking by tough decisions or patriotic sacrifices.

Returning to Minister Shatter's announcement about an announcement, one aspect of his comments gives me some cause for concern. The Minister asserts that "no new legislation is required as the pre-existing legislative powers of Ministerial discretion are sufficient to enable the programmes to operate in a flexible manner".

This suggests that his proposed scheme will be too loose and unspecified to be of any real effect. Fortunately, I had already started the process of drafting legislation to put a start-up visa scheme on a firm footing. I will be publishing my Private Member's Bill before he gets around to drafting his next press release on the topic. That is how you do policy.

Willie O'Dea is the Fianna Fail TD for Limerick City;

www.willieodea.ie

Sunday Independent