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U.S. Conference Of Mayors Mission To Ireland
Mayors Briefed on Economic Revival, Technological Advances, And Workforce Development/Educational Systems

By Kay Scrimger
May 23, 2005


Led by Conference President Akron Mayor Donald L. Plusquellic, the Conference of Mayors Mission to Ireland, May 5-11, included Conference Vice President Long Beach Mayor Beverly O'Neill and Conference Trustee Rita Mullins. Conference Executive Director Tom Cochran accompanied the delegation.

According to Plusquellic, "Our goal in this Mission to Ireland was to learn more about how Ireland, over the last fifteen years, has engineered a true economic revitalization, and what made Ireland -a changed island,- as the Irish describe their country.

"Part of what we wanted to understand was the extent of U.S. investment and its importance to the growth and modernization of Irish industry over the past 25 years, as it provided new technology, export capabilities, and employment opportunities. Although Ireland has only one percent of the population of the European Union, it has attracted 25 percent of all new U.S. -greenfield" investment in Europe since 1997.

"In 2003, $9.1 billion worth of new U.S. investment flowed into Ireland, more than twice the U.S. investment flow to China. We learned that there are more than 570 U.S. subsidiaries in Ireland, employing about 90,000 people, and ranging from manufacturing of high tech electronics, computer products, medical supplies, and pharmaceuticals to retailing, bank and finance, and other services."

Ireland is the largest exporter of software in the world. It boasts a vibrant, globalize economy, with GDP per capita second only to Luxembourg in the European Union, which Ireland joined in 1971.

The "Celtic Tiger" period for Ireland in the mid to late 1990's had successive years of double-digit GDP growth, stimulated by a progressive industrial policy that boosted large'scale foreign direct investment and exports. Although there was more moderate growth experienced in 2001-2003, the nation strengthened in 2004, with a government surplus and annual GDP growth of about 4.7 percent.

The Local-National Government Relationship

Cochran noted, "We were of course very interested in learning as much as possible about the role of local government and mayoral responsibilities in Ireland. We found that even in a system in which the central government is responsible for the lion's share of the funding and overall direction of local government, local officials exert a great deal of influence through their planning and management as well as through force of personality and political skills."

The Conference delegation met with a variety of officials, including representatives of the local and central government, the corporate sector, and the university system. Topics explored included Ireland's technological sector and how it developed, its successful educational and workforce development strategies, U.S. investment in Ireland, and its political and economic realities.

The Lord Mayor of Dublin Michael Conaghan discussed the local government-central government relationship. "Local government differs from that in the U.S.," he said. "Because of the strong role of the central government in financing and responsibility for local government, we could be said to have a -management form- of local government." Despite his being appointed by the city council for a one-year period, Conaghan has been able to exert influence on community policing in Dublin and to become an active local partner in the relationship with the central government, which is responsible for police functions in the nation.

A Vice Principal of a college, himself, the Lord Mayor also discussed the educational system, including traditional primary and secondary schools as well as the cultivation of a variety of vocational schools, "colleges of technology," in fields ranging from the theater, management, and professional catering to design. Funding for these 14 technical colleges comes from the central government. Very little tuition is required, thus producing one of the most skilled and well'trained workforces in the world.

O'Neill pointed out the "real conceptual change" that made possible the investment in and broadening of vocational education, which laid the foundation for Ireland's ability to meet the skilled worker needs of international investors.

The Lord Mayor also discussed that while in the old days "real urban Ireland," generally represented by Dublin was "suspect, in Europe now, it's not countries but cities. Capital cities are really the new countries in Europe," he said, and "cities are learning from each other."

Delegation Meets with Variety of Corporate, University, and Governmental Officials, including U.S. Ambassador James Kenny

Microsoft representatives Matt Rossmeissl, Managing Director, European Operations Center, Matt Landers, Head of Corporate Affairs, and Kevin Marshall, Academic Program Manager, discussed the role of education, central government flexibility and warm climate to foreign investors, and the outstanding skilled workforce of Ireland in attracting international businesses such as Microsoft. They noted that for every dollar earned in Ireland by Microsoft, $7.5 is earned by the economy of Ireland. They also stressed the excellent collaboration between academic institutions and industry.

The "can do" attitude of the central government in moving projects along for the corporate sector as opposed to bureaucratic obstruction in some other countries is also a central contributing factor to the decision to invest in Ireland, they said.

Visiting the U.S. Embassy in Dublin, the delegation had the opportunity to learn from U.S. Ambassador to Ireland James Kenny the extent of U.S. investment in Ireland, which, for example, is five times greater than U.S. investment in China. Ireland is "a changed island," Kenney pointed out. "Its education portfolio is second only to economic development," he said.

Dr. Hugh Brady, President of University College Dublin, the National University of Ireland, emphasized the role of partnership, access, and flexibility extended to the higher education system by the central government. His successful tenure as university president also stems from skillful partnering with the private sector in a variety of areas.

Part of the discussion with Brady focused on a comparative discussion of U.S. versus Ireland's educational systems. O'Neill focused on a recent editorial on Chinese competition with U.S. skilled workers and students. She noted that the "U.S. system presents problems of access and incentives."

Following a tour of the Parliament Building, the delegation met with Senator Cyprian Brady, a chief adviser to the Prime Minister of Ireland, as well as a member of the upper house of the Parliament, and with his colleague Senator Timmy Dooley.

Brady noted that where Ireland "is today has taken 25 years," the seeds of which were sewn in the 1960's and 1970's with focus and investment on education. Most important was the introduction of secondary education as mandatory and free.

Dublin City Manager John Fitzgerald and his senior staff provided an extensive briefing for the Conference delegation on the growth and development of Dublin, which has exploded in growth in the last two decades, and with projections that it will have quadrupled its population in the next two. Ireland has reversed its immigration outward, having hit a low of about 2.6 million people in 1984-1985 but now is approaching 4 million, with an influx of people of Irish descent returning home as well as 50,000 Chinese, 80,000 people from Eastern and Central Europe, and a large number from Nigeria, South Africa and Russia.

Senior advisor to the Honorable Mary Harkin, Minister of Education and Science, Sean Harkin outlined in detail the educational system of Ireland, from earliest primary grades through higher education.

He noted that the book The Making of the Celtic Tiger by Ray Mac Sherry and Padraic White (Mercier, Cork, 2000) credited the economic growth in Ireland to:

1. The relative stability of the political and institutional environment;

2. The generally active and supportive central government;

3. The social partnership in Ireland;

4. Ireland's membership in the European Union; and

5. The use of English language by the Irish people.

Harkin also noted the high regard that the Irish have for teachers, an old tradition of the Celtic people.

Observations of Mayoral Delegation about Education and Potential Downside of Ireland's Economic Revival

The delegation also discussed the need for the United States to study the Irish experience in education to determine what lessons it could learn and apply to enhance the education of U.S. students to ensure their competitiveness with students of other nations.

In addition, the mayors discussed the downside of Dublin's growth and development in terms of potential competition with suburbs and exurbs in Dublin's metropolitan area, the social impact of such rapid economic expansion, long'term implications of such heavy reliance on foreign investment, attendant problems of traffic congestion and environmental impact, potential racism and bias stemming from the influx of immigrants from many nations, and the sustainability of the Irish revitalization.

Facts on the Irish economy were drawn, in part, from the United States Department of State, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, October 2004, "Background Note: Ireland" (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3180.htm)