Monday Blog: Looking to an enterprising new year at the NERI

Happy new year!  The issues of happiness, sustainability and well-being will continue to exercise our attention in 2016. Regrettably Gross Domestic Product measures only some things while neglecting others. Worse still, some components of GDP may be inflated by negative human behaviour while adding nothing to human well-being. In the coming year we are likely to see rising concern about the environment, climate change, economic performance, public finances, unemployment and personal debt to mention just a few topics.

  At a global level political and economic risks remain at an elevated level. In the European Union the strains caused by failure to respond adequately to the recent crises has hampered recovery especially in those countries most affected by recession. Here in Ireland two important elections will take place – the elections for the local assembly in Northern Ireland in May and the general election in the Republic in a few weeks time.  Later this year, a UK-wide referendum on the question of membership of the EU is expected.

Through its research the Nevin Economic Research Institute will continue to provide evidence and analysis to enable others to better understand economic developments and make a difference in public discourse.  Our research will focus in a special way on This the Year of Enterprise, North and South.

As frequently stated in this blog, there is a lack of evidence and public debate about the role of enterprise in transforming society. Understandably, a short-term focus on public finances, debt and recovery has gained the most public focus. However, there is a need for a renewed focus on identifying the weaknesses and, at the same time, possible solutions to the endemic problem of under-development in many areas of industry and services in both jurisdictions. Too many firms and sectors remain on the periphery of export markets with insufficient attention to the role of innovation, marketing, finance, skills, organisational culture and stakeholder participation.  The economy of the Republic remains imbalanced as between a modern, high-technology and internationally orientated sector on the one hand, and a more traditional, employment intensive and domestically orientated (or UK market orientated) on the other. A long-term strategy is needed to link the two parts of the economy even closer together as well as lay the best conditions for a growth in native enterprise serving both domestic and export markets.

Some of the key issues in relation to economic renewal have been outlined in a recent working paper by my colleague, Dr Tom McDonnell [Cultivating Long-run Economic Growth in the Republic of Ireland]. Part of our work this year will include an analysis of the capacity of different sectors and enterprises to make a difference to productivity in the medium-term through more effective innovation and investment with the cooperation of various agencies.

Building on our extensive programme of research already undertaken by Dr Micheál Collins, we will undertake new analysis in the area of the Living Wage and income distribution especially as it impacts on particular groups in the population.  This will provide an important backdrop to how the living wage can be made a reality both in the Republic and in Northern Ireland.  Mr Daragh McCarthy will continue to explore areas of precarious work especially among young people. Meanwhile, in the North, Mr Paul MacFlynn will build on the foundation established in his working paper last year [A New Industrial Policy for Northern Ireland].

Finally, a major overarching work is planned for later this year to knit together the various strands of NERI research since our launch in 2012 and chart a way forward for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland up to the middle of this century.  An economic and social vision is necessary backed up by a credible strategy to attain such a vision. There has been no shortage of in-depth historical analysis of the economies of both parts of Ireland. The point, now, is to outline and elaborate in more detail than has been achieved up to now a way of getting there that:

  • Could work even within global constraints and uncertainties
  • Gain the support of wide range of people
  • Be seen to work in delivering higher levels of well-being and sustainable development.

May the coming year and years see a rise in gross national and individual happiness for everyone!

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Tom Healy

Tom Healy was the Director of the Nevin Economic Research Institute (NERI). Tom has previously worked in the Economic and Social Research Institute, the Northern Ireland Economic Research Centre, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the National Economic and Social Forum and the Department of Education and Skills.