On his trip to New York last week, Irish Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Minister Richard Bruton sat down with the Irish Voice, and top of the list for discussion was the Invest in Ireland forum which was hosted by former President Bill Clinton last Thursday at New York University. Bruton also discussed the €10 Million Fund for International Start-Ups, as well as commenting on Ireland’s brain drain.

What did you think of President Clinton’s Invest in Ireland forum?

I thought it was reaffirming of the progress the government is making. When you come to the U.S. there is an extraordinary positive view that Ireland and its people are resolute and are getting on with the adjustments that are necessary. Bill Clinton said himself, now is the time to make an investment in Ireland; you are getting in at the right price, so to speak.

It was right across the spectrum, it was not just the politicians who were commenting on that view. Several speakers, some who had very recently invested, gave a testimony of how successful and what a good business climate it was.

To get people like that endorsing your message is 10 times more convincing than anything that I could say or that the taoiseach could say. It was really encouraging.

Part of Ireland’s challenge is to rebuild its reputation, and I think events like that are fantastic, they get the story out. The strong economy that everyone admired during the Celtic Tiger years, a lot of the basics are still intact.

What is the importance of Bill Clinton’s endorsement?

Bill Clinton has been an extraordinary friend to Ireland over many years. We couldn’t have possibly filled the room with the caliber of people that were there. I think what surprised us all was the analysis that Bill Clinton gave. His insights into Ireland’s position and the long-term strengths that Ireland has, the demographic strengths. He was extremely insightful.

For a lot of people in the room, Ireland may not have been on their radar before. Listening to Bill Clinton and his analysis setting Ireland’s story in a global environment, you couldn’t buy it in terms of publicity at the right level.

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What was the key result of last Thursday’s meeting?

I think the result is that the Irish story has got to so many influential leaders in the U.S., some of the biggest companies in the U.S.

Rebuilding your reputation depends on both demonstrating you’re doing it but also getting that message to people who make influential decisions.

Parallel to that I think we can point to the success that investors in Ireland are continuing to make.

Ireland has unfortunately got itself into an IMF/EU program and I think we have to convince the markets, convince investors that what we are doing is working.

Recently launched in the U.S., Enterprise Ireland has ring fenced a €10 million fund to attract entrepreneurs to relocate to Ireland and establish their start-ups there. Tell us more.

If you want to get a friendly business environment, access to venture capital, access to mentors, access to a pool of people who are similarly focused then come to Ireland.

What we are saying with this fund, is that if you come to Ireland you will be located in a country where there is a very vibrant enterprise mix in terms of the skills people can get.

Digital gaming is a rapidly growing sector, it has some of the major multinational gaming and it has a lot of small indigenous gaming innovators. In Silicon Valley I know that half of the new start-ups are not American, they are people who have come from elsewhere, all over the globe.
Why not have Ireland a similar go-to place?

Is Ireland a hard sell to global investors?

I don’t think so. I think it is much easier than in America than Europe. Europe has become very nervous where as I think when you come to U.S., people look at Ireland as a comeback economy, that we are resolutely getting on with decision making.

There is a lot of controversy in the U.S. about are companies putting American jobs overseas. We have a very different view that the relationship between Ireland and America has been a mutual one.

What do you have to say about the current wave of emigration out of Ireland?

It is a huge disappointment to an era in politics. We have seen 350,000 jobs wiped out in the last three years; over 75% of those have been under the age of 30. It’s very much a young person’s recession.
I think that is why we are determined to make employment the top priority of government. There are going to be timelines and deadline met in terms of meeting the employment challenges.

I think that is a huge profound shift in the thinking of government. I have sat around and seen glossy strategies launched throughout my political life, and what happens is there is no one charged with implementing them and the targets are great when they are launched by are not hit, no one is then responsible when things don’t happen.

This is about identifying actions, making someone responsible and holding them to account. That does not mean they will always work successfully, but if they fail to work we will be asking why.

I think the evidence of past history if that people who leave, if the opportunity arrives, they will come back, and they will come back with new skills.

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