Slugger O'Toole

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Dublin web summits while Belfast stays in base camp

Tue 2 November 2010, 12:39am

Lots of teeth gnashing over how to manage cuts to the budgetary provision allocated by London for running Northern Ireland. Regardless of their real value,  at least some proposals have been produced by Sinn Féin and the DUP. Meanwhile, the UUP and SDLP have yet to wake up to the fact that they are not actually in opposition, though, and are yet to grace the public domain with some constructive suggestions.

While Brian has noted that a few modest balloons have went up for revenue raising, nothing can actually paper over the fact that fiscal policy and cuts are being directed from London (which, after all, pays handsomely for the privilege of retaining 5345 square miles of real estate on the island of Ireland). While the Republic ponders transfusions of frontloaded austerity (and the markets appear to fear the reaper man), at least the Dublin web summit last weekend managed to bring the founders of YouTube, Skype and Twitter together with key figures from the worlds of technology, innovation and venture capital. Green shoots, maybe not of recovery yet but possibly pointing to where recovery will come from.

Judging by the limited media coverage in Belfast, one wonders whether the business and political leadership in Northern Ireland noticed? I mean, it’s not like anyone would want to try and kickstart an economic recovery when it’s easier to just sit back, take a reduced handout, and make cuts. Right?

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Comments (21)

  1. Andy Luke says:

    Word has it that Belfast City Council talked livestreaming meetings this evening and shot it down in the same night. I don’t have more details except for that Alliance were among those who didn’t care for it. Annoying.

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  2. Alias (profile) says:

    ITLG and NUI Galway, the University of Limerick, and Shannon Development have held seminars for the last two years (the third one is on the 17th of this month) where they introduce people with capital ideas to the people with capital – 20 or so venture capitalists based in Silicon Valley. ITLG have developed a network of over 1,500 executives from the major US technology companies to assist Irish technology companies in areas of mutually beneficial interest.

    That’s an important initiative because Irish technology companies seeking funding haven’t gone where the money actually is: to Silicon Valley. Over 40% of all venture capital that is invested in the US is sourced from Silicon Valley. However, Irish companies can’t simply rely on venture capitalists coming here to look for investment opportunities – or, more accurately, to judge competitions and give speeches in response to an invitation – but and will have to do what Israel’s technology companies do, and book a flight to Silicon Valley with a business plan in hand.

    The reality is that Ireland is not seen as an entrepreneurial country and so these folks don’t look here for business ideas. For example, 94% of the manufactured goods that Ireland exports come from foreign-owned companies that are based here, and only 6% comes from indigenous Irish industry (if you can refer to cattle exports as such). And most of the major hopes for an indigenous Irish technology companies have either gone bust or deflated (Iona, Baltimore, etc). That’s not a record that makes venture capitalists take a closer look. Likewise, performance of some of the biggest Irish companies in the financial services and insurance sectors, for example, and are also bad omens for the ability of Irish companies to prosper.

    Israel has 127 companies quoted on NASDAQ compared and Ireland has just 3 quoted companies on NASDAQ. So folks in Silicon Valley will look to Israel for investment opportunities but won’t bother with Ireland. Even at that, Israeli companies are constantly banging on doors in Silicon Valley whereas the Irish are waiting for Silicon Valley to come to them…

    So while Northern Ireland’s political and business class may be relatively backward, Ireland’s political and business class isn’t any better.

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  3. Seosamh says:

    ”Judging by the limited media coverage in Belfast, one wonders whether the business and political leadership in Northern Ireland noticed? I mean, it’s not like anyone would want to try and kick-start an economic recovery when it’s easier to just sit back, take a reduced handout, and make cuts. Right?”

    What business and political leadership would that be? All we have here are a business and political class who consider running to London cap-in-hand for handouts and spare change as political imitative.

    To kick-start an economic recovery in Northern Ireland, presupposes that there is a self-sustaining economy in Northern Ireland. Wrong. Time for people here to get over themselves. Northern Ireland is but a very hopelessly bankrupt, glorified County Council, dependant on the British Block Grant for survival.

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  4. Big Bad Bob says:

    Wouldn’t totally write NI off in that regard – there are some good companies down in Titanic, for example, in areas such as software development.

    But yes, it’s time we got over the idea that NI is a ‘public-sector-led economy’. There’s no such thing. What that means is ‘NI is a non-economy’.

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  5. DC says:

    Seems sensible this live streaming thing.

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  6. HeinzGuderian (profile) says:

    Green shoots in Dublin……..is it time,maybe,for A Notion Once Again ??

    Yer avin’ a laugh,John !! :-)

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  7. DC says:

    John you need look no further than Conall McDevitt of the SDLP to highlight the problem you raise in the first paragraph – below is an example of such an utterly evasvie response by Conal McDevitt – which he delivered when pressed about just how the SDLP would opt to deliver services in the climate of reduced spending:

    Mr Bell: Is it not the case that Scotland is about to review its case and increase student fees? How does the Member respond to the news in the ‘Irish Times’ today that the Irish Republic is to put an extra €1,500 on to students to raise the €80 million that it needs? Finally, if it comes down to a choice between a cancer bed in the City Hospital or student fees, how would the Member pay?

    Mr McDevitt: I will avoid the last question; it is an unfair choice, and I will not fall into that dilemma. If this was Dáil Éireann — it might be some day — [Interruption.] — I would be standing here saying that we should unite anywhere on this island against the type of politics that suggest that it is a good idea to burden education.

    Why avoid the last question Conal McDevitt – why? – and just what has your nationalist aspirations got to do with actual public service delivery based on economics and those of reduced financial spends.

    Complete cop out in terms of responsibility – he still thinks he works for his old PR company in that he can make any old populist statement; but then again what can I expect he hasn’t even been properly elected yet so he holds no responsbility on behalf the electorate he professes to serve.

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  8. Anon says:

    You are making an economic argument with a cancer patient and a student. The cancer patient will be a huge burden on the State. The student is likely going to produce revenue over his lifetime, most likely.

    It *is* a false choice. There is basically no limit to the ways that you could fill that gap. Raise general taxation, raise corporate taxation, impose a carbon tax. Cut Civil Service pay, reduce civil service numbers. Eliminate Invest NI. Cut the policing budget. Cull quangos. Excetera, excetera.

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  9. DC says:

    But the ultimate obligation is to decide, Conall McDevitt avoided the question which I imagine in government – in the local administration – of which the SDLP is a part – an answer must be provided.

    And so it may not be a dilemma such as a direct choice between one or the other but it is likely to be a situation which has multiple choices but none the less MLAs and ministers will be faced with them, or very similar situations.

    As for the Dail reference Conall made, he made a political opinion – a statement on what he would *say* (not do) – albeit an aspirational one – but what Mr Bell alerted Conall to was the *decision* the Dail took, hard facts. It was nothing aspirational or high minded like I would be standing here saying that we should unite anywhere on this island against the type of politics that suggest that it is a good idea to burden education/

    Of course it’s not a good idea generally, but in the context of post-financail crash politics it may be the best option the Dail’s got.

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  10. Anon says:

    If his party is still working out their position, he would be wrong to preempt it. But they and UUP will need to outline some ideas soon.

    Has the Dail’s cuts got ANY headway with their budget deficit? Nope. The answer is probably to leave the euro, or default.

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  11. DC says:

    Anon – perhaps ‘still working out their position’ might have been the more appropriate response by Conall.

    Rather than promising something that as an individual has little to no hope of delivering on.

    Giving off populist sentiment to stimulate the electorate is just cheap politics whenever as a region and across the islands – collectively – people are asking hard questions, hard specifics as to what services will be preserved or some maybe even grown and *how*.

    At least in your own response you gave a few examples of variables at play that could be considered wjen trying to work out a way without charging addtional fees.

    But as you can read Conall McDevitt avoided the question.

    And re playing economics with cancer paitents and students – don’t you know economic capital is at the root of all other capital.

    It is as a direct result of economics that such situations – such dilemmas – come about – that of additional student fees or other such proposals: think financial crash and less public money to spend.

    It’s all economics.

    Nationalist sentiment and unifying on an all-island basis against the principle of additional tuition fees certainly wont plug the money gap. Has Conall already forgotten John Hume’s maxim: you can’t eat a flag!

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  12. st etienne says:

    must have took some digging to find that ‘Good News Story’ from Dublin!

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  13. st etienne says:

    I’ve heard McDevitt perform this vacuous kite-flying exercise on a number of occasions now. I’ve also heard opponents of his within nationalism target him with accusations of living in an ivory tower.

    Clearly any politician who masquerades 32-county aspirations in this climate as legitimate policy is indeed lost in the clouds.

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  14. Not really, in the Republic it was covered pretty well – Chad Hurley, Jack Dorsey and others were all over the broadcast and print media.

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  15. In fairness to the selected member for South Belfast, that’s a lose-lose question to be given. At the same time, he should have known that the obvious answer to give is that we need to look at where revenues can be raised as well as where cuts must be made.
    Any mindless moron can top-slice budgets (we’re going to see lots of them doing it on both sides of the border between now and Christmas). Despite Eamon O Cuiv’s belief in the magical healing properties of pruning, growth won’t just automatically follow cuts (this fact hasn’t been fully grasped by some people). It takes imagination and innovation to figure out what happens (economically) after the recession and start planning for that now (e.g. like the web summit). To do both needs leadership, and it seems to be in short supply.

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  16. DC says:

    But John – Conall McDevitt was lobbying a protest vote when in government himself – or the SDLP has ministers that are so the lose-lose dilemma is part and parcel of a rigorous cuts climate where sadly winners will be few and far between.

    Conall McDevitt was trying to champion a win-win situation – be in government and win and win the popular vote for the students by championing their protest vote – but possibly causing the health service to take a knock at the same time through more reductions in that department should his visionary pitch ever become hard policy.

    Let’s put it this way – he did a solo run whenever people are asking for more collective thinking because of the pressures of *reduced* budgets across all departments.

    Vote Conall – get hope – but little delivery – however, dontcha all feel better?? It’s cheap.

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  17. He puts himself over as slick (or others try and do that for him), but he should surely have thought through his basic objection handling for the classic throwaway question about ‘a hospital bed v any other type of spend’ (which surfaces in one form or other in practically every debate). It demonstrated a lack of political craft.
    As you say – hope, but little delivery – but, in fairness to him that’s a pretty common political problem.

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  18. DC says:

    I used to appreciate his style and think more highly of him, but over the last while – especially given the financial crisis and strapped for cash approach to public services – and having seen his work on his facebook page – I have changed my mind as he seems to champion every popular project going. It really is more akin to deploying populist PR stratagies than delivering proper politics through prioritising of needs.

    One day you see him at the side of the young disabled, next day he’s calling for an inquiry into something or other into the past, next he’s calling for human rights to be supported, next he supports debates into Palestine at Stormont – then you see him up playing football with MLAs and journos – then championing student loans. Back round to photo shoots with the severely disabled again.

    There comes a time when as a person observing this I stop and think to myself is there a point where his integrity has to be questioned given that he must know – like even I know – that he can’t deliver on it all. Then I get cross at what is clearly PR marketing and that of playing on people’s emotions.

    People or certain members of the public who dip in and out of politics think it’s great – and think that they are so glad he helped them, but for the more seasoned observer it’s just cheap politics and Conall is both a seasoned observer and seasoned participant. He should know better and people deserve better than to have their causes picked up and given the ‘hoped all over approach’ by politicians – only to be quickly dropped once they come into direct contact with the chilly winds of budget cuts, which are clearly coming our way.

    Because (Northern) Ireland Deserves Better

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  19. fair_deal says:

    John

    ” the UUP and SDLP have yet to wake up to the fact that they are not actually in opposition, though, and are yet to grace the public domain with some constructive suggestions.”

    The UUP did release a document but try to ensure no one noticed it.
    http://ultonia.blogspot.com/2010/10/dogs-breakfast.html

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  20. Yeah, I’d seen it – but given that it includes only one number (£1.6billion) and just reads like a cut and paste of the Executive’s idealised job description, I didn’t realise it was meant to be taken as a serious contribution to the spending debate (never mind a constructive one).
    You refer to it as toilet paper… I couldn’t possibly be so crude.

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  21. [...] Terex Corporation. First Minister Peter Robinson made a statement on his recent visit to the …Dublin web summits while Belfast stays in base campSlugger [...]

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