A senior Goldman Sachs figure and Irish government advisor on American projects has stated that Ireland needs to decide what it wants to do about its Diaspora and that he feels the Irish are deeply conflicted about their emigrants.
Adrian Jones, a Roscommon native and managing director at Goldman where he co-heads the firm’s America's equities business, was honoree this week at this year's Irish America Magazine Wall Street 50.
In an interview with Sheila Langan in the magazine he stated;
"Over the ten years leading up to 2008, 2009, Irish people were very badly let down by their government and by their public servants. You had a classic credit bubble that was allowed to build to epic proportions. There was a tremendous amount of groupthink, and it became an extremely difficult environment for somebody to go against the grain.
"I think one of the challenges of a very small country, particularly a cohesive, homogenous, small country, is that it is very difficult to speak out, particularly when there are so many vested interests who are very focused on keeping things moving in one particular direction. And, very unfortunately, that’s what developed in Ireland.
He says as a result of this the Irish are wary of their emigrants
"I think Irish people, generally, are a little wary of emigrants. Emigration is so much part of Irish life. We speak very well of people who go away and do well. But we get a little concerned when those people come back and tell us how things could have been done better. As Richard Harris tells Tom Berenger in [the film version of] The Field, “Go home, Yank. Go home.” There’s an element of that in Irish life. And I think official Ireland – and by that I mean not the agencies but Dublin, be it government or public sector – is struggling to figure out the next leg of this Diaspora thing."
He stated there was a European bias in Ireland that militated against the American Irish contribution.
"Official Ireland is very European focused. They’ve been working as part of the ECC and then the EU since 1973. This may sound politically incorrect, but the vast majority of the Irish Diaspora that can have any influence on the situation is in the United States, and to some degree in the U.K. So you’ve got a bit of a challenge in that you’ve got public sector, European-focused official Ireland trying to figure out what to do about private sector, U.S.-based ex-pats, and official Ireland seems to me a lot more focused on how to control this as distinct from how to enable it."
Speaking about the Diaspora initiative launched by the government he stated "I think the Irish agencies abroad have for many years been very effective at leveraging the Diaspora – long before we even called it the Diaspora. They’ve always been thoughtful, smart and creative at figuring out ways that they can use relationships to help Irish companies, to find investment for Ireland.
"In the late stages of the crisis, official Ireland, in my view, started groping around on this whole issue of “the Diaspora,” which resulted in the first Global Irish Network conference at Farmleigh in 2009. I was invited to join, and I wasn’t able to attend the initial conference, but I did attend the Dublin Castle conference last October, and there was an interim conference here in New York in November 2010."
He says far more use should be made of leading Irish American figures. "Craig Barrett, the former chairman and CEO of Intel, announced that he was willing to sit on any Irish state board without pay. Any other institution in the world within 20 minutes would have signed him up. And Craig Barrett is still waiting to get a call from Dublin. There’s a reason for that, and to me it gets back to the awareness and the need for control. Craig Barrett isn’t part of the Irish system, so he isn’t beholden to anybody. He’ll call it the way he sees it. And I think official Ireland is somewhat anxious about that.
"One other example. I went to the interim conference the Global Irish Network (GIN) hosted at the Irish Consulate in New York in November 2010. One of the speakers was a minister from the previous government, and she said a couple of interesting things that day. When she was asked what she wanted of the GIN, she said she wanted cheerleaders. Which, I think, made for an awkward moment. She also said everything in Ireland was fine, that the Irish government was fully funded, and that the writing earlier that week in The Journal [that Ireland was headed for a bailout] was misinformed.
“You had a group of people in the room with a great deal of good will for Ireland, but they were uncomfortable about being asked to be cheerleaders, and they were very uncomfortable about being patronized. If they didn’t feel that way at the time, they certainly felt patronized a week later when Ireland formally requested a bailout.
"Official Ireland needs to figure out precisely what it wants to do about the GIN and the Diaspora. Because there is still a great deal of good will. When I was in Dublin Castle at the GIN conference last year, there were people in that room who could help a great deal through different types of initiatives. But they are busy people and the goodwill isn’t going to last forever, and somebody needs to harness that. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there’s anybody in the Global Irish Network or the Diaspora who can change the rules under which the Irish government is trying to work right now or come up with something they haven’t already figured out; Ireland has very few strategic choices given the financial constraints it’s living under. But a great deal of what the Diaspora can do is at a micro level.
"There’s an opportunity to help shape future government policy and future regulation, and to provide some help in governance and oversight on public boards. They can contribute by helping the universities provide world-class education, by helping Irish entrepreneurs, by sitting on the boards of Irish companies and helping them expand into markets like this, which are brutally competitive and need local expertise. They can work with new immigrants – and there are going to be a lot more immigrants – to assimilate. There are huge opportunities like that for the network, but there has to be accountability and follow through."
Jones, a former Irish Army Officer who served in Lebanon before moving to America with his US born-wife Christina supports current government efforts to bail Ireland out. "I’m supportive of what the government is doing. I think this government inherited a very, very bad hand of cards. If people think the Obama administration inherited challenges, they should look at the Irish situation. I’ve met several of the members of the current government through the Global Irish Network (GIN) and when they come to New York, and I think that they are genuinely committed to doing the right thing, as they see it, to the absolute degree that they can."