Society President MICHEÁL O’CONNOR attended the Medium-Term Economic Strategy Consultative Forum in Dublin Castle on September 24.
This consultative forum, arranged by the Department of Finance, comprised a large cross-section of the property and construction sector, including participants from public sector, semi-state and private organisations. The purpose of the Forum was to arrive at a strategy, through consultation, that would consolidate progress made to date on economic recovery, and set us on a path towards sustainable prosperity, through a process of creative thinking.
Rapidly changing world
A number of very interesting points were raised. For example, prior to modern times, it took over 250 years for the world’s population to grow by one billion people, yet the population has grown by one billion in the past 12 years alone. This is relevant to the growth of cities: the increasing numbers of cities containing over ten million people, and the increasing percentage of people living in cities, from 50% of the world’s population now, to 70% of the world’s population by 2020.
In terms of Ireland’s position in Europe, one view expressed was that the Euro was never fully constructed and that to do so will entail deepening economic integration, deepening fiscal integration and a greater sharing of economic sovereignty, together with greater political union. The UK’s continued opting out of the Euro presents an opportunity and a risk for Ireland. Can Ireland position itself as the only English-speaking member of the Euro? On a global economic scale, what are the opportunities for Ireland in this? Ireland has positioned itself as a financial centre, which gives us exposure and opportunity. We are also seen as a low tax economy; however, what if this disappears through greater fiscal integration? How will Ireland position itself then? Can Ireland attract the best people from around the world, as other countries have attracted the best from Ireland, and can those that we attract consider themselves Irish one day? Does Ireland possess the ability to attract people from all countries? As a nation we should be able to do this given that we have sent extensive numbers to the four corners of the world over successive generations.
Innovate, change, adapt
With respect to the developing entrepreneurial culture in Ireland, a view expressed was that we can no longer depend on price; we have to innovate, change and adapt. An interesting insight was that much is known on how innovation fails, but precious little is known about how innovation develops. Accordingly, it was suggested that we should avoid what we know doesn’t work, and what we should not do, and focus on the balance. Some 60% of our ICT is exported to the US, but considerably less to the EU. We need to put greater emphasis on our labour – people – and not on capital. As a country we have no clear vision on how to develop the ‘soft infrastructure’ – the communication highway. We need greater collaboration between industry and our universities/colleges. We need to put greater focus on foreign languages, in our schools and to build political allies. Ireland needs to position itself as an innovation hub or gateway. In global economic terms, cities are increasingly beginning to compete with one another rather than just national economies. Where do Ireland’s cities stand in this respect?
An underlying theme of the Forum, similar to a number of the messages delivered at the recent Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland Annual Conference, was “innovate or die”. Another interesting outcome was the question of Dublin in contrast to the rest of Ireland. How do we manage this as a nation when, as noted above, cities are increasingly seen as the attraction, rather than countries? It is interesting to consider this in light of the comments by Barry O’Leary, IDA Ireland CEO, at our recent conference, where he cited an imminent shortage of appropriate office space in our major cities that would be deemed suitable for the attraction of multinationals. Clearly there is an urgent need for us to do more to increase the attractiveness of our cities.