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UCC Express - Entrepreneurship in Ireland

“Heroes of this economy are the people who set up new enterprise”. Those are not my words, but the words of Richard Bruton TD at a recent business event; retweeted and endorsed by Eoghan Murphy TD and his party Fine Gael. Based on this utterance alone, one would have to wonder about the mindset of both the politicians who regularly utter such nonsense, but more pertinently, the room full of entrepreneurs whom this was said to, who it seems didn’t object to this very generous characterisation of themselves. With big ideas come big egos it seems. Enter Paddy Cosgrave, of The Web Summit ‘fame’. For those of you who don’t know who Paddy is, he’s the same guy who said his own degree from TCD is worth more than yours, or any degree from any one of the six other universities for that matter. Don’t worry though, while he may not hire the plebs who are educated outside of the pomp of Trinity, he’ll still sell you an exorbitantly overpriced ticket to the Web Summit, so all’s not lost. But things haven’t been going Paddy’s way of late. For the past week, the Irish media (assisted by Paddy himself), have been cataloguing in intimate detail, the Web Summit’s seemingly laborious debacle with the government and associated state bodies. It seems that everyone wants to punish Paddy for being successful, and so he has decided, after 5 years of holding the summit in Dublin, that Ireland just isn’t offering him and the event enough anymore. 

In the 5 years since it’s inception, The Web Summit has received over €700,000 in funding from the IDA and Enterprise Ireland. The Web Summit organisers prefer to call it sponsorship. This funding comes every year, despite their ability to sell out platinum tickets weeks in advance of the event, even when they carry a price tag of €5000 a pop. But even with all this, it seems the faraway hills of Lisbon boasted too much greenery and lured Paddy away. At first glance, the Web Summit’s move to Lisbon for its 2016 event could be seen as more evidence of the damaging effect of red tape and civil service ineptitude. Further investigation suggests otherwise. For anyone who had the chance to read the list of Paddy’s demands for the 2016 event, they were quite literally unbelievable; Garda escorts for his VIP’s, road closures, free leap cards for all the attendees of the event, free rental of Dublin City Hall and Wood Quay, Web Summit branding for the city centre and parking permission suspensions. One could be forgiven for thinking that Air Force One was landing in Dublin, or that high-flying tech entrepreneurs might be short a few euro for the Luas. I am not one to praise Enda Kenny or the current government too often, but in retrospect it is hard to see how the Web Summit’s move to Lisbon has been brought about by anyone but Paddy, despite his poor attempts at covering his tracks. 

But there is a wider point to all this. For me, this is just another insight into the arrogance of the business and entrepreneurial community. In a previous life, and not all that long ago, I set up and ran two businesses, so while I am not entitled to speak authoritatively with respect to success in business, I certainly have an idea of the business mindset. In my years working to establish my own company, I met plenty of down to earth and honest business people, working hard just to put food on the table like anyone else. For that reason, I don’t want to generalise, or stereotype good, hard-working people. However, there is another side to the business and entrepreneurial community in Ireland, a side epitomised by Fine Gael’s characterisation of entrepreneurs as ‘heroes’. Listen to IBEC, ISME or any Chamber of Commerce representative and the self-centredness and inflated notion of self importance emanates from them. Regulation, minimum wages, basic living standards, social services, tax and decent working conditions are all cumbersome blocks which require demolishing, in order to clear the road to prosperity. Just don’t mention that that road can only cater for a small % of society. It’s all well and good to be proud of your startup or business, but the fine line between pride and downright arrogance and self-entitlement is crossed too often for Irish business to be able to ignore anymore. Surely having an individual demand free public transport for multi millionaires, business people and those well able to afford that service proves just that? 

Stephen Hawking recently identified what he believes to be the greatest threat to humanity's future; it was capitalism. Business and capitalism thrive off inequality and scarce resources. As a result, when such binary, self indulgent and selfish attitudes exist within the business and entrepreneurial community, we all suffer the consequences. Human beings, the environment and sustainable economic development are all being sacrificed for short term gain of a business elite. Therefore headlines about extinction, pollution and economic crashes should not surprise any of us anymore. Like anyone else in our society, entrepreneurs deserve respect, not least for the resilience they show in creating businesses and jobs. But so do workers, students, the unemployed, travellers or the homeless. Labeling an entrepreneur a hero is not only crass, but it diminishes the value of the word. Entrepreneurs and Paddy are not the only people who work extremely hard in our society, and they most certainly are not the ones deserving of most state assistance. I’m just not sure that is understood by Paddy or anyone else just yet, and judging by recent events, possibly never will be.

Comments

  1. Hey Diarmaid,
    I enjoy your commentary. Good job. Hope you're well. I'm in 2nd year of nursing - really enjoying the sociology classes we have.

    Darragh

    ReplyDelete

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