It’s a good thing for Ireland’s bankers that Reykjavik is just a short hop across the chilly North Atlantic from Dublin. Following the spectacular implosion of Iceland’s financial sector, Ireland’s financial wizards will want to spend a bit of time with their Icelandic cousins learning how to lick wounds and set about rebuilding their nation’s reputation.
The similarities between the two countries go far beyond geography, red hair and a swappable single consonant. Failed banks, lack of manufacturing, and global pop-stars whose names begin with B are also a theme. For some, the notion of the Celtic Tiger always seemed a bit rich when measured against the likes of South Korea or Singapore and for the “Mid-Atlantic Miracle” that was Iceland, the words “ideas”, “above” and “station” were perhaps a bit more accurate – even when local bank Kaupthing was positioning itself as the next UBS.
To be sure, Ireland needs to book a new gig for itself – and fast. Iceland has already experienced a brain drain and if Ireland’s leadership doesn’t map out a new plan that goes beyond cuts there won’t be anyone left to get up on stage for the next act. At the start of the weekend, radio and TV programmes in Ireland were punctuated with vox-pops of young Dubliners talking about upping-sticks post Christmas and heading to Brazil, Hong Kong and Scandinavia for work. In the background, a chorus of sunny optimists said the low corporate tax would continue to be a draw and there was no shortage of tech companies looking to set up European HQs in and around Dublin. What they failed to address, however, was the rather glaring issue of where these businesses were going to find top-flight talent.
In the coming weeks, Finland (see our national survey in our current issue) will unveil a new national brand that will put clean technology, education and Finnish “can do-ism” at the heart of its identity. Ireland needs to embark on a similar exercise and figure out what it stands for and how it’s going make itself more attractive to inward investment. Fortunately for the Finns they never gave up on manufacturing and they still do a brisk trade in ships, cars, trucks, linen, glassware, bicycles and elevators. Moreover, they’ve managed to fashion their national carrier (and Helsinki) as an essential bridge between Europe and Asia. Could Dublin become the new super-fast connection between Europe and North America? Why not?
A completely new airport would create jobs and activate all that construction equipment that’s currently sitting idle. Aer Lingus needs a new mission to distance itself from Ryanair. And US immigration pre-clearance at Irish airports would allow the carrier to target niche destinations all over the US. Indeed, the one thing that always made Ireland more of a Celtic Kitty than a Tiger was that its national carrier was never a Singapore Airlines and Dublin airport was never a Changi.