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Teamwork's the only way to win

SOME time this year, the forecasters tell us, Ireland will emerge from recession and resume economic growth, albeit at a pitifully low level. But will the turnaround be based on the "sound fundamentals" of which the Government assured us right up to the moment of the crash?

With agriculture, tourism and the domestic manufacturing sector all in the doldrums, there is only one likely engine of export-led growth: the 600-plus American multinationals that employ over 100,000 people directly and which last year spent €350m on research and development.

They are the fundamentals now. But governments have seldom done enough to meet their needs and concerns or to avoid a "nightmare scenario" in which they moved their operations to other countries. Their difficulties -- which are also, very largely, the difficulties of the economy in general -- have been outlined many times, but too little understood at the political level.

In terms of costs, Ireland is not competitive. Wage costs exceed the average for developed countries by 20pc. The bureaucracy is inefficient. Employers find "a reluctance within the education system to make the necessary and sizeable change in the curriculum to adapt to the needs of the smart economy".

These are the words of the new president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland, Lionel Alexander. Yesterday, as he took office, he added another item to the list.

The first among the various forms of protest planned by the public service unions will take place tomorrow. This and subsequent events will have no direct effect on the non-unionised multinationals. But if they escalate, they could have a drastic effect on the countless essential day-to-day transactions between the public and private sectors.

And when the companies make their plans for location and investment, they will ponder whether to stay in Ireland or choose other countries where they have sister companies.

Mr Alexander called on the Government to lead "a process of reinvention and transformation". The public service unions must be a part of any such process.

That was not the case, in any meaningful sense, in the talks which broke down before Christmas. The unions had not -- and have not yet -- forsworn the cronyism that characterised their relations with the Government for so long. The Government, for its part, has not grasped fully the point that all policy is interdependent. Only integrated governance will bring us either economic recovery or a stable society.

Irish Independent