My mother, Mary Rushe, was born in 1927, the year in which the state-owned Electricity Supply Board (ESB) was established. A farmer’s daughter, she witnessed technical and economic upheaval such as rural electrification and the arrival of the motor car and farm mechanisation; bade farewell to many cousins who immigrated to the United States out of dire economic necessity; experienced rationing during the WWII years or ‘the emergency’; and left her post as a secondary school teacher, without question, when she married my father in 1955, because of the ban on married women in the civil service. The decade when the marriage ban was lifted (1973), and my mother returned to work 6 children later, the social profile and ethical belief system in Ireland had begun to change dramatically. At 92 years of age she has witnessed a level of change in all aspects of life, the scale of which generations before her could not have countenanced.
As we are an island nation on the western seaboard of Europe, it is only natural (if short sighted) that the economy, in the early years of the Irish Republic, was inward-looking, with high tariffs on imported goods, and limited export trade. Political leaders such as Sean Lemass (TD, Minister for Industry and Commerce and Taoiseach, in the years 1924 to 1969) and T K Whitaker (Secretary to the Department of Finance, Governor of the Central Bank and Senator, in the years 1956 to 1982), heralded a new era of forward-thinking economic strategy in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. Since its foundation by government in 1949, the mission of IDA Ireland has been constant, that is to promote the growth and development of industry in Ireland. It has not been all plain sailing, far from it, but what a glorious success story the IDA has been in our tiny open island economy. IDA Ireland representatives have worked hard across the world, challenging the perception of Ireland as a backward rural country, and promoting its educated workforce and business-friendly tax incentives, with the added benefit of access to the common market when Ireland secured EEC (now EU) membership in 1973.
From the mid-1970s onwards IDA Ireland focused on attracting pharmaceutical and electronics manufacturers, two sectors pinpointed as having significant growth potential in global terms. The first wave was purely components manufacturing, but later R&D and higher value work followed. By 1982, some 130 of the world’s leading electronics companies had manufacturing facilities located in Ireland. This is the Ireland into which I was born, and my adult life story has been very much moulded by the success story that is foreign direct investment in Ireland. For over 30 years I have worked as an employee and consultant with over 40 companies who are operating successfully on this island. I am only one of the 229,000 people employed in jobs in foreign industry in Ireland.
The IDA now has a network of 30 offices globally (nine in Ireland) and a total staff of 340. Year-on-year it continues to promote investment in Ireland in the face of continuing challenges, threats and opportunities, from Brexit to global tax reform and beyond. However well it does its job, neither the IDA nor any development authority, can compensate for national fiscal recklessness. Ireland is lying in 24th place in the World Economic Forum global competitiveness index, and the level of debt per capita the highest in the Euro zone, so we have no room for complacency in the current wave of economic stability. We can only be grateful to IDA policy and practice that has ably supported Ireland in weathering the post Celtic Tiger economic crisis.
Last April, The American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland helped to celebrate the IDA’s 70 years in business by presenting the IDA with a Special Recognition Award. CEO Martin Shanahan received the award on behalf of the IDA. I am sure we all join with AmCham in recognising this incredible organisation for a major contribution made to transforming Ireland into an inclusive home of talent and innovation with global impact.
To view the current IDA policy and strategy, see “Winning: Foreign Direct Investment 2015-2019”
Acknowledgement: The author is grateful to content authors of the following sites, on whom she drew for this blog.