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We need jobs initiative that is radical and far-reaching

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IDA chief executive Martin Shanahan

IDA chief executive Martin Shanahan

IDA chief executive Martin Shanahan

New foreign direct investments in Ireland have dropped by 6pc in the first half of this year compared to the same period in 2019.

It could have been much worse, given the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects on global trade. But, as IDA chief executive Martin Shanahan warned yesterday, the outlook over the next two years is "very challenging".

We will be lucky if we still have 245,000 people employed by IDA clients at the end of the year. We will also be lucky if we don't fall foul of changes to the international taxation environment, as the European Commission warned this week.

Corporation tax receipts from multi-nationals are of enormous significance to our budget arithmetic every year. Defending our 12.5pc tax rate has become an article of faith for mainstream political parties.

The Programme for Government (PfG) re-iterates the new coalition's commitment to the current rate. But it is likely to come under increasing attack from the EU, which is pushing for a tax on digital sales. It may also feature in the US presidential election stakes, with Donald Trump expected to promise once again to bring American companies back from Ireland.

Our current tax arrangements are not, of course, the only draw for overseas companies. The availability of an educated and skilled workforce, an enterprising culture, and the fact that we are English-speaking are also big attractions.

If there is any erosion of our tax advantages, then skills and innovation will become even more important to attract inward investment. But these are also necessary to make indigenous industry more competitive.

Proposals for an Innovation District in Dublin centred around the Grand Canal Dock area - or Silicon Docks as it is known - were launched last January by the then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Now that he is in the jobs hot seat in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, he might look at the plan's merits again as it could be a game-changer for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

He and other ministers are working on a jobs stimulus plan, which will be unveiled in the next fortnight. This will place a lot of emphasis on support for SMEs, described rightly in the PfG as the backbone of the economy.

Getting all 250,000 SMEs back up and running will be a hard task. There will inevitably be casualties and provision will have to be made for those who lose their jobs.

The Further and Higher Education Department and its minister, Simon Harris, have a key role in reskilling and upskilling people for life post-Covid. The new normal will involve working in different ways. Many will have 'hybrid' jobs, working partly at home and partly in an office or other work environment.

The Tánaiste has promised that the jobs initiative will be radical and far-reaching. It has to be if we are to create an economy that is adaptable and resilient and meets the needs of our companies and our citizens for a very different world.

Irish Independent