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Ireland turns to its diaspora for help overcoming economic disaster.
DUBLIN, Ireland — Desperate to overcome a ruinous economic downturn, Ireland is turning to its 70 million-strong diaspora for help.
Underlining the seriousness of the Irish economic crisis, the government released statistics Tuesday showing net outward migration for the first time in 14 years. In a return to the past, perhaps those emigrants can help seed the recovery back home.
The appeal went out at a government-sponsored Global Irish Forum, held in Dublin and modeled on the Davos Forum where world leaders debate important international problems. It was held in Farnleigh House, former home of the Guinness family, set in 78 secluded acres of parkland in west Dublin.
At the forum some of Ireland’s most prominent sons and daughters gave advice on how to exploit its emigrant population, while dishing out some harsh criticism of Ireland itself.
Political, corporate and cultural figures from all over the world met in private sessions in the 18th-century mansion, with the prime minister, Brian Cowen, in attendance.
Much of the conversation focused on how to attract inward investment and promote Irish companies abroad. But news leaked out that there had been some straight talk about Ireland's poor performance in recent years. Craig Barrett, former chairman of Intel, which has invested $7 billion in the country since 1986, made everyone sit up when he said that little remained of his original reasons for bringing the chip-making giant to Ireland.
“The day belonged to Craig Barrett,” confided New Yorker Niall O’Dowd, as attendees gathered for a final public session in the classical-style ballroom on Saturday. “He made everybody sit up and pay attention.”
O’Dowd, publisher of Irish Central news website, said Barrett “pointed out that Ireland is falling behind in infrastructure, broadband, education and, most of all, in investment in research and development, which is the key to attracting high-level foreign investment.”
Martina Newell-McLoughlin, head of the University of California biotechnology research program, shocked Irish university presidents by calling the seven universities in Ireland a “bunch of ivory towers” with no coordinated thinking.
Irish mobile phone magnate Denis O’Brien complained to the delegates, who included Rock star Bob Geldoff, that “we are famous for our writers, our artists, our poets and we are not famous for much else.”
O’Brien made the point that the Irish diaspora already helped entrepreneurs like himself in unexpected ways: His cell phone group got a license to operate in Samoa because the prime minister had been educated by Irish Christian Brothers.