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Governments Complacency on Broadband Fails Economy

Posted on: February 22nd, 2008

The Governments economic policies are smug and very aspirational. An extraordinary complacency has sunk into the body politic, those running the economy, the Department of Finance and others. They feel that somehow, because we were successful when times were good, our economic success will extend for another five or ten years. I do not feel this is the case. I think we are running into trouble and are refusing to recognise this.

The Irish stock market was one of the worst performing stock markets in the world last year and it indicates a change of opinion about it. The Irish stock market is down about 40% and, while this does not necessarily indicate that those selling Irish stocks are right, although there are many of them, it is foreigners with objective views who are selling these stocks.

They believe the game is up and the good times are over and, to some extent, this is a verdict on the Irish Government’s economic policy. The Government’s complacency on the Broadband Infrastructure Bill says it all. Ministers have said we should not worry about broadband because multinationals are still coming to Ireland but this merely means they have not quite rumbled us yet. We are sitting on our laurels and are happy with what has happened in the past 15 years. We are not keeping up with what is happening to this generation. If we do not realise we are falling behind with regard to broadband and other areas the economy has serious problems.

The Government is depending greatly on social partnership. It tells us not to worry in the hope that talks on the issue go well, but social partnership does not matter much anymore. It is a nice charade that involves the trade unions and employers. Once an agreement is reached we are told the economy is fine because a pay agreement has been reached. This is a cosmetic exercise that does not represent the truth as only employees who are members of trade unions and employers who are members of the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, IBEC, are bound by it.

Some of the most important and vibrant parts of this economy are members of neither and will have no truck with social partnership. Ryanair, the most successful company of its generation in the Irish economy, refuses to join IBEC and believes social partnership to be nonsense. I recently asked the head of a multinational what would happen if trade unions started recruiting in his company and he said it would leave Ireland overnight to return to America.

It is convenient to place great credence in social partnership because, without doubt, a deal will be done – a deal is always done – because it suits all those involved to create a charade that the economy is healthy. This will not matter much because it is not the real economy anymore. Those who depend on social partnership – conservatives and people with vested interests – are talking about the old economy. IBEC and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, share the same interests. They each want to pose as counsellors for the economy when the economy exists elsewhere.

The Government must be aware that multinationals are probably the most important prop to the economy and no major multinational has located here in the past year. Can the Minister of State address this? Strong and worrying signals are coming from the multinational sector but they can be addressed if we create the necessary infrastructure and do not fudge the issue.

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