The Future of Manufacturing in Ireland

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By Frank Barry, Professor of International Business and Economic Development


Until the 1960s Ireland was under-industrialised by Western European standards.  Today, manufacturing’s contribution to Irish GDP is much higher than the EU average.  But manufacturing is migrating eastwards.


In the late 1990s one third of all personal computers sold in Europe were assembled in Ireland.  The closure of Dell’s assembly plant in Limerick in 2009 sounded the death knell for the sector.


Industry after industry has shifted, some to Central and Eastern Europe, many much further eastwards – to China and the neighbouring region.  Does manufacturing have a future in Ireland?


Much of manufacturing’s contribution comes from the foreign multinational sector, which has an unusually strong presence in Ireland.   Pharmaceuticals now account for half of Irish manufactured exports.  What is it that keeps the pharmaceutical industry here while other sectors have disappeared?


And if the multinationals disappear, through pressure on Ireland’s corporation tax regime for example, what then? We will be thrown back onto the resources and ingenuity of our indigenous industries.  How will they cope?


As recently as the 1980s the Irish dairy industry looked like a ‘high volume, low value’ sector.  Now it is populated by dynamic indigenous Irish firms which are themselves substantial multinationals and leading global innovators.  How has this come about, and what lessons might there be for other sectors?


And we read increasingly of small new niche firms that are developing successfully into export markets, exploiting with ingenuity the positive brand image of Ireland that exists abroad.  How can this brand image be strengthened and leveraged to its full potential?


These are some of the questions to be addressed in this session, where I will be joined by a panel of guests including Richard Keegan of Enterprise Ireland, Colm Healy of Skelligs Chocolate and Anne Randles of Ornua.

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