In the world before 1950 it was rare for a poor country without significant natural resources to become rich. The moves led by the United States to cut tariffs in the 1950s prompted the 'Economic Development' report in 1958 in which T.K. Whitaker (1916- ), Ireland's then top civil servant, proposed the end of protectionism and the embracement of re-emerging globalisation* by attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) to boost exporting. In a 1957 memorandum on the failure of Irish economic policy and the general sense of hopelessness in the country, Whitaker warned that "without a sound and progressive economy, political independence would be a crumbling facade." Two decades later in 1978 Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997) also faced a choice as it had been over a century since China had been the world's biggest economy — Angus Maddison (1926-2010), the renowned economics historian, chronicled the grim intervening times here.


In 2008 we reported on the findings of the Commission on Growth and Development that had been chaired by Dr Michael Spence who had won the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel in 2001 together with George Akerlof (husband of Janet Yellan, current chair of the Federal Reserve) and Joseph Stiglitz.

The commission said that sustained high growth in developing economies was a recent, post-World War II phenomenon. Using GDP figures, "high" as above 7% and "sustained" over 25 years or more, a similar picture emerged with variants. Growth at these rates produces very substantial changes in incomes and wealth: Income doubles every decade at 7%.

There were 13 such cases of sustained high growth, and nine were in Asia. These were Botswana, Brazil, China, Hong Kong (China), Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Malta, Oman, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand.

"Each and every one of these miracles had an export sector as a driver of growth and an increasing share of trade in GDP. There are no exceptions. Every growth miracle involves leveraging the demand and resources of the global economy."

In recent months we have reported on Greece's status as Europe's worst exporter and on how it could improve on its dismal inward foreign direct investment (FDI) record by looking at Ireland's success in this area.

We have also written on Europe's worst region for employment where organised crime and poor governance is a strong disincentive to FDI — 'Italy's Mezzogiorno is Achilles' heel of Euro Area; lowest birth rate since 1862.'

FDI is important for small economies in particular with the benefits of spillovers from well-run companies in areas such as technology and human resource skills, including at management level. For example in both Italy and Greece where many local firms are family-run, there is a problem in keeping educated young people in their countries — in 2011 the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said "there are 67 small developing and transitional economies with less than 3 million people."

While the car industry is Germany's biggest export sector, most of the growth in the output of German car firms since 2000 has been in other European countries and in 2014 Spain with the benefit of FDI, produced almost five times the level of car production in Italy where the local firm, Fiat, dominates.

However, in the long-term an over-reliance on FDI is not ideal for an economy and research for example has shown that China's capture of value added from Apple's iPhone is typically in the low single digits while it's over 20% in respect of a notebook produced by Lenovo, a Chinese firm  — see here.

The Apple iPhone carries the slogan ‘Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.’ and typically significant research is done in the home country.

Both the UK and Ireland have significant foreign-owned control of the internationally tradeable goods and services sectors and this is reflected in relatively low investment in R&D.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) foreign-owned firms accounted for 54% of business enterprise research and development (BERD) expenditure in 2013. Total BERD as a ratio of UK GDP was 1.05% — the ONS has also reported that foreign residents hold 54% of the issued shares in UK listed companies.

In Ireland the BERD ratio in 2012 was 1.2% of GDP and 1.47% of GNP and the FDI sector accounted for 66.66% of spending — the BERD ratios in 2013 were 1.9% in Germany; 2.0% in Denmark and 2.28% in both Sweden and Finland.

Earlier this year the Government issued a consultation document on the development of a new Irish science strategy and it notes that: "A large proportion of foreign-owned firms (54%) are not R&D active...13% of foreign-owned firms (107 firms), each spending over €2m, account for 88% of R&D spending in the foreign-owned sector in 2012."

Overall patenting remained poor in 2014 (some research activity in Ireland feeds into research elsewhere) and World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) data for 2013 show a consistent pattern — the big exporters whether foreign-owned or indigenous, do not appear among the top 10 patent filers.

International Data Corporation (IDC), the US IT research firm, in an assignment for the Irish Government, estimated in 2013 that there were 46,000 tech professionals working in the broad ICT (information, communications, telecoms) sector in that year — just over half the sector total and the rest worked in administration — there were 25,000 tech professionals working in non-ICT sectors.

In March 2014 in a speech titled 'Irish Exceptionalism in the World Economy,' Prof Patrick Honohan, Central Bank governor, said:

"One hoped-for element of the policy of encouraging foreign-owned firms is the inward transfer of technology and business know-how including to locally controlled firms. As the decades passed, this transfer does seem to have happened to an increasing extent. But the reliance on foreign-owned firms has lasted a long time. Irish-owned companies have grown and prospered over the past half-century, and the most pessimistic of prognostications have not materialised. Nevertheless, this systemic dependence on foreign capital and know-how has skewed Irish development. In the interests of robust diversification, most Irish economists observers would hope for a greater convergence towards normality in this aspect of Irish economic development, with a stronger emergence of innovative Irish companies alongside those steered from abroad."

Before moving on to FDI data and the performance of the indigenous trading sector, a related issue is that Ireland is not a wealthy country nor was it during the bubble. Data from Eurostat, the EU statistics office, show that in 2014 using Actual Individual Consumption adjusted for prices — a proxy for standard of living per inhabitant — Ireland's was below the Euro Area average and close to Spain and Cyprus

Last month the Central Bank reported that average household net wealth rose to €129,238 per capita. However, it's well to keep in mind the concentration of household debt as Eurostat data show that over 40% of Irish owner occupiers had no mortgages in 2009 compared with 12% in Sweden and less than 10% in the Netherlands — Eurostat data published in 2011 [pdf; see chart page 9].

In the OECD Area, Israel's AIC is below Ireland's despite having a successful high tech sector and about 250 foreign-owned R&D centres — see page 4 here.

FDI data

FDI data are often confusing and a new OECD Benchmark Definition of Foreign Direct Investment (BMD4) took effect in late 2014 with the goal to reduce distortions in the statistics.

The Netherlands is for example used as a pass-through route for huge FDI flows and the new standard will require countries to report so-called Special Purpose Entities (SPEs) separately. These SPEs are “typically holding companies used to channel capital through countries without generating any significant real economic activity or employment.” The OECD has made a comparison of the total FDI flows with the “real” FDI flows excluding SPEs for a group of four countries (Austria, Hungary, Luxembourg and the Netherlands). In the case of FDI outflows, the “real” investment amounted on average to only 20% of what was officially classified as FDI. In the case of FDI inflows, the difference is even larger. In some years total FDI was more than ten times larger than genuine investment flows.

In a July 2000 speech which has become known for the words "spiritually we are probably a lot closer to Boston than Berlin," Mary Harney, then tánaiste and enterprise minister, also spoke about US FDI.

"The figures speak for themselves," she said. "It is a remarkable fact that a country with just 1% of Europe's population accounts for 27% of US greenfield investment in Europe."

Employment in Irish FDI exporting firms peaked in 2000 (see chart below) and US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) data show that the value of the investment stock of US affiliates in Ireland rose from $25.1bn in 1999 to $51.6bn in 2002 while there was a rise from $117.7bn in 2007 to $310.6bn in 2014.

Finfacts reported in 2004 that the profits of US affiliates in Ireland doubled between 1999 and 2002, rising from $13.4bn to $26.8bn — Ireland had became the most profitable overseas location for US affiliates according to Tax Analysts, a US tax research firm.

This profits and investment surge mainly resulted from the ‘check the box’ tax loophole that had been inadvertently introduced by President Clinton’s Treasury Department in the mid-1990s to simplify the tax code through allowing companies to file subsidiaries’ income with parent company income. The companies also were able to designate which units were irrelevant for tax purposes, termed “disregarded entities”— in 1998 the US Congress refused a request from the Treasury Department to revoke the rule.

US companies can defer US tax on their foreign earnings until repatriation. The 'Reinvestment of Earnings' is reflected in high cash balances in low-tax jurisdictions (the cash is usually kept in dollars in a US bank, which can be either overseas or in the US) and are counted as FDI inflows.

The 163% rise in the value of US investments in Ireland in 2007-2014 does not reflect real-world investment and the outward investment in 2013 valued by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) at €389bn — a rise of €77bn in the year — is also very misleading.

An annual report on the Irish-US relationship published by the American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland adds to the confusion — the report is usually launched by an Irish Government minister.

"Over the five-year period starting in 2008 and ending in 2012, US firms invested more capital in Ireland ($129.5bn) than in the previous 58 years combined; The level of investment in Ireland over 2008-2012 was roughly 14 times larger than US investment in China," the report stated in 2013 but there was no commensurate jump in jobs.

The US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) said in respect of 2014: "The largest dollar increases were in Ireland, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, which together accounted for over 95% of the increase in the area. In Ireland, the increase was accounted for by holding companies, other industries, information, and finance and insurance. Reinvestment of earnings accounted for the majority of the increase in holding companies..." — wonder why Ireland, the Netherlands, and Switzerland?

The 2015 American Chamber report said that "in 2013, the last year of complete data, Ireland ranked as the number one destination in the world for US foreign direct investment and "US direct investment stock in Ireland totalled a record $240bn in 2013, a greater investment stake than Germany and France combined ($196bn)."

The blowout figures however were out of sync with the jobs data i.e. the real world US firms in Germany and France combined had 10 times the employment of US affiliates in Ireland — 112,000 compared with 1.149m based on BEA data. Net jobs in American firms in Ireland rose by about 22,000 in the period 2007-2014. As IDA Ireland — the inward investment promotion ageny — data has full-time only positions in 2007 and total employment in 2014, we have raised the published number in 2007 by the total/full time ratio.

Jobs in Ireland's tradeabe exports sectors 2000- 2014
  2000 2014
FDI 183,756 179,384
Indigenous firms 172,026 183,031
  355,782 362,415
Total jobs in economy 1.715m 1.939m
Total workforce including unemployed 1.779m 2.174m
Ratio of exporting jobs as % of workforce 20% 17%
Population nearest census 3.917m 4.588m
Source: CSO + Annual Employment Surveys via

In the foreword to the 2015 report, Kevin O’Malley, US ambassador to Ireland, cited 115,000 jobs in Irish-owned firms in the United States and commented on Irish investment in the US: "But this investment is not one way. The report states that Ireland invested a record $26.2bn in the United States for 2013. This is an incredible statistic for a relatively small country. Successful Irish multinationals have led the way for Irish startups who are increasingly looking to the US as a first step in their path towards internationalization."

Incredible and untrue! This investment was mainly American not Irish!

The 2014 American Chamber report had claimed that Irish companies employed 141,500 in the US and the Brookings Institution fell for it. Only about 6 of the 26 listed "Irish" companies on the Nasdaq stock market are in fact Irish.

On 14 March 2014, at a meeting in the Oval Office with Enda Kenny, taoiseach/ prime minister (see pic above), President Obama commented: "And there is tremendous investment by US companies in Ireland. There’s tremendous investment here in the United States by Irish companies."

Apart from CRH, the international building materials firm, most of the jobs are in American firms that have become "Irish" for tax purposes. These US companies maintain their operational headquarters in the US and the tax saving moves are called "tax inversions." Six of these companies have a combined global payroll of 624,500 people — Accenture (305,000); Eaton (102,000); Medtronic (92,500); Seagate (52,000); Ingersoll-Rand (43,000) and Allergan (30,000). Accenture told Finfacts that it did not wish to be called a "US consultancy firm." Accenture Consulting, was spun-off from Arthur Andersen, the then US accounting giant, in 2001 and the new company had been incorporated in Bermuda. "None of our top executives are moving to Ireland, but that's totally irrelevant," said a company spokesman according to The Wall Street Journal in 2009 when the tax residency was moved from Bermuda to Ireland. "If it was a US corporation, how many CEOs live in Delaware?"

The impact on the Irish national accounts of the Irish/American companies  was outlined here in 2013 — it's one of the hidden distortions and when the CSO reports a Balance of Payments surplus, it may really be in deficit.

According to CRH's 2014 annual report there was an average of 40,000 people employed in the Americas in 2014 while institutions in Ireland held 4.32% of the shares; 41.81% in the UK and the rest of Europe, and 41.61% in North America. Global retail investors held 11.95% and Treasury 0.51%.

The CSO data on FDI outflows in 2013 include the redomiciled US firms — their funds have never been in Ireland to be outflows in the real world.

Indigenous firm performance

Despite low corporate and employer social security taxes (PRSI) coupled with no obligation to provide employees with an occupational pension, together with State supports, the indigenous international trading sector has not performed well over the decades.

Nevertheless, these firms in 2014 directly employed more than the FDI exporting sector (see chart) while the indigenous exports accounted for about 10% of tradeable headline exports  — for workers, the pay and benefits such as occupational pensions that are available in foreign-owned firms, typically are better than what's on offer in domestic firms.   

Irish indigenous exports by geographic locationEnterprise Ireland breakdown of indigenous tradeable exports by geographic location>>>>>>

Exports from the indigenous tradeable sector plus tourism and transport amounted to €27bn and the headline total in 2014 was €215bn. Deleting €100bn in respect of overseas manufacturing contracting of €24bn, Double-Irish tax transactions of €46bn and excess transfer pricing of €30bn, would give an indigenous ratio of 23% — still a low ratio.

While indigenous firms are more productive than the FDI sector in providing jobs,  increasing exports by a significant margin would be difficult.

Earlier this year we compared Ireland and Denmark — the latter has a population of 5.6m vs. Ireland's 4.6m.

The number of Danish exporters at 30,000 compared with 4,000 Irish exporters (about 3,000 indigenous).

We reported that the population ratio per exporting firm was 187 in Denmark; 236 in Germany; 550 in France and 1,150 in Ireland

IDA Ireland FDI jobsIn the 1911 UK Census, the percentage of the Irish workforce employed in the manufacturing sector was down to 20% (including the industrialised north-east around Belfast) from 33% in 1841 and 36% in the UK as a whole in 1911.

Irish manufacturing, dominated by US foreign firms, now accounts for 11% of the workforce and an equivalent 21% in Germany while according to the European Commission only 3% of Irish small firms are in manufacturing compared with 10% across the EU — the significance of the manufacturing sector in an economy is usually reflected in its business research and development (R&D) activity. Manufacturers have been responsible for approximately 70% of all R&D conducted by businesses in the United States in recent years. This is far lower than in Germany, Japan, Korea, and China, where manufacturers account for 85%-90% of all business-financed R&D according to a US Congressional Research Service report published in 2015.

The traditional Irish food and drinks trade surplus with the UK had been narrowing in recent times and effectively evaporated in 2014 despite a weaker euro vs. sterling rate in the second half of the year.

The Irish Times reported last June: "Ireland would be financially better off getting out of beef farming and transferring large tracts of land over to forestry, according to one of the State’s leading agricultural experts. Prof Alan Matthews, professor emeritus of European agricultural policy at Trinity College, said most beef farms in Ireland are not financially viable without EU subsidies."

By August the sunny optimism of Simon Coveney, agriculture and food minister, on the end of EU milk quotas, had also evaporated. See here.

Meanwhile, Irish agricultural land prices are among the highest in the world because of the very low turnover of land. High land prices can work for the Netherlands which is the world's second-biggest agri-foods exporter, with the benefit of innovation.

Annual Dutch agri-food exports of €80bn compares with Ireland's €10bn.

Macra na Feirme, the young farmers association, has said that there are more Irish farmers over 80 years of age than under 35 while in France young people are given preference when land comes on the market. It's also not strange that a French farmer may have had no farming family background — Irish agricultural land prices are about four times the level in France and the Irish conacre rental system that dates from the 19th century is hardly an incentive for ambitious farmers.

Farm numbers in Denmark and the Netherlands are much lower than in Ireland and last year the Dutch economic affairs ministry asked a local think-tank to benchmark the Netherlands against seven other countries for innovation in the agri-food industry and Denmark was selected as the most innovative while the Netherlands got a third rank.

Last year as well, a University College Dublin study also ranked Denmark as No. 1 and it concluded: "Ireland has a number of truly world class innovative companies, however the problem is there are simply not enough of them and there are too few new innovative companies emerging from which world leading companies could emerge."

According to Invest in Denmark, the inward investment agency, within ingredients for the food industry, Denmark holds a strong global position: 14% of all food ingredients supplied to the global industry come from Denmark.

In recent times there has been a welcome recovery in the Irish whiskey industry but it will not restore the significance the industry had in the 19th century — Scotch whisky exports at £3.9bn; Irish whiskey exports at €365m

The Annual Employment Survey 2014 report published by the Department of Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation, shows that two-thirds of the full-time jobs in indigenous firms were in the Industry sector; 23,000 were in Information, Communication & Computer Services, and 32,000 were in Business, Financial & Other Services.

In 2014 exports accounted for 51% of total sales by companies supported by Enterprise Ireland, the public agency, compared with 42% in 2004 — this partly reflects the decline in the domestic market after the bubble burst.

Central Bank economists said in a 2012 paper: "We highlight the reliance of private sector employment in Ireland on domestic demand: 64% of private sector workers are shown to work for indigenous non-exporting firms, with 57% working for indigenous non-exporting SMEs, figures that highlight the need for job creation strategies to aim beyond an export-led recovery."

Last month's Quarterly National Household Survey published by the CSO showed that most of the 120,000 jobs added since Dec 2012 were in the domestic sectors. See here.

Update Nov 2015

Jobs in Irish exporting firms down 30,000 since Q2 2008
Europe's export superstars: Austria, Denmark, Germany Part 1
Europe's export stars: Ireland and UK as laggards Part 2

Ireland Euro Area exports

The Euro Area is Ireland's biggest trading partner but more than half of indigenous exports are to English speaking countries. Matching the lack of real commitment over the decades to revive the native language, has been the tepid attitude to foreign languages. Eurostat reported in 2010 that in 2008 the highest shares of pupils in primary education studying a foreign language in 2008 were found in Luxembourg and Sweden (both 100%), Italy (99%) and Spain (98%), and the lowest in Ireland (3%). An official report in 2012 cited a EU Eurobarometer report, which surveyed companies across 27 EU countries employing more than 50 employees, only 9% of Irish companies surveyed considered that foreign language skills would be essential for future graduates over the following 5-10 years — compared to a 31% EU average.

Reducing reliance on FDI?

The 1989 decision of Intel, the US chip giant, to locate a key plant in Ireland, was hugely significant for inward FDI and in 2013, Dr Craig R. Barrett, a former CEO and chairman of the board of Intel, said at an Irish Technology Leadership Group (ITLG) meeting in Cork that Ireland needed to concentrate on developing its own industries.

“You can’t fault the country for trying to be a good place for FDI, but you can say with some certainty that FDI in the future will be more difficult to obtain, therefore you need to do your own growing," he said. “That is with the universities becoming more innovative and entrepreneurial, the angel investors, venture capital money becoming available to drive the economy.” See here.

Ministers over the decades have welcomed mainly American ready-made jobs while it's uncertain so far what level of interest Chinese investors will have in Ireland. They tend to buy existing firms in Europe. Ireland got €99m of €46bn invested by Chinese investors in the EU in 2000-2014.

This week Bohai Leasing of China announced that it had agreed to pay $2.63bn for Avolon, the Irish aviation lessor. The transaction is valued at $7.6bn as Avolon has about $5bn of debt — Irish-based aviation leasing companies own over 3,000 commercial aircraft with an estimated value of about half of Ireland's annual gross domestic product (GDP). Less than 1,000 people are directly employed in the sector in Ireland.

FDI Ireland, US, GermanyThe incoming FDI jobs were free of the need to cull any sacred cows, but in coming years it will be more difficult to maintain an edge on incentives compared with rival countries as corporate tax reforms take effect.

We estimated in 2014 that 40 American firms accounted for about two-thirds of Irish headline exports in 2013. Chemicals and medical devices accounted for 58% of customs-tracked goods exports (not including overseas contracting) in 2014 and direct numbers employed were 46,000 in 2014 and 47,000 in 2005.

Linkages to the domestic economy are low according to these 2009 and 2015 papers. However, this 2010 paper suggests that the measurement of backward linkages is "problematic."

In 2014, average hourly labour costs in the whole economy (excluding agriculture and public administration) were estimated to be €24.6 in the EU28 and €29.2 in the Euro Area (EA18). Ireland was at €29.8 compared with the UK's €22.3 — a difference of 33.6%. However, the typical worker in an Irish-owned SME is poorly paid with no occupational pension, while the employer is operating in a country with the fifth highest price level in the EU28, and selling food products into an intensely competitive UK market.

On 15 Sept the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) Economic Survey of Ireland 2015 was published and it highlights Ireland's two economies: A high ratio of graduates in the 25-34 age cohort possibly benefiting in terms of pay from the "strong presence of multinationals" compared with record EU rates for jobless households in boom and bust; "90,000 persons, i.e. 26% of the registered unemployed, have been without a job for more than 3 years, and only 51% of single parents were in employment in 2014, compared to an EU15 average of 69%; the latter gap was apparent before the crisis, indicating that it is largely structural. In addition, many workers who lost their jobs, especially men and older workers, have stopped seeking a job and withdrawn altogether from the labour market (Kelly et al., 2015). The activity rates of the low-skilled are particularly low in Ireland. Only 50% of the individuals in the 20-30 age group are employed or are seeking work, 20 percentage points lower than in other advanced economies in the European Union."

Separately, the neglect of the apprenticeship system is confirmed by international research. Ireland had 11 apprentices for every 1000 employed persons in 2010 compared with 33 in Austria; 40 in Germany; 43 in Switzerland, and 17 in France.

In recent times FÁS, the now defunct public training authority, had a poor reputation for training and in 1992 'Industrial Training in Ireland,' an official report authored by Dr Frank Roche and the late Paul Tansey, found that indigenous firms were not generally aware of the gap which existed between the level of skill in their firms, and the best international practice — in 2013 Eurostat published 2010 data on continuing vocational training in 24 EU states. Ireland supplied no data and the next update will be in 2017. An OECD report in 2010 concluded in respect of FÁS that: "Evaluations and data to assess its efficiency and effectiveness are lacking," and in general: "Data on labour market outcomes are fragmented and research on VET (vocational education and training) is scarce. The wide range of VET programmes has not been systematically evaluated." SOLAS, the FÁS successor, has yet to prove itself and the current OECD survey report says: "Although much of the workforce is well qualified, many have insufficient skills to obtain sustainable employment. The OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) signals that, despite improvements in recent years, adults in Ireland have lower skills than other OECD countries, especially regarding numeracy and literacy skills."

The OECD suggests that social mobility is as low as in the United States:

"New data compiled for this Economic Survey shows that about 43% of tax units remained in the same quintile income groups between 2004 and 2012 (Kennedy et al., 2015). Less mobility occurs at the low and high ends of income distribution (47% and 58% of tax units remained in the lowest and highest quintile groups), while mobility is more frequent in middle income classes (on average 37% of tax units remained in the same quintile group). This is similar to the United States."

These issues are important as they confirm the benign neglect of the domestic economy and why Ireland is not a wealthy country as stated above — Ireland's per capita standard of living below the Euro Area average in 2014, close to Spain and Cyprus.

Nevertheless, despite the challenges facing the FDI sector, unless a government is willing to address the shortcomings of the indigenous sector, there will be no choice but to hope for the best on the FDI front.

Two huge economic crises in a generation have not triggered significant change.

Five years ago, reform of legal services was a condition in the international bailout agreement and two years ago the OECD recommended in its 2013 Economic Survey, evidence-based policy making with outcomes tested and evaluated. "To promote effective evaluation, ensure all innovation and enterprise supports have sunset clauses," it said.

There has been no legal services reform nor improvement in the poor tracking of policy/ enterprise scheme outcomes — See: Ireland: Best small country for business in 2016?

Improving the export performance would be a hard slog over two decades and we can see already that scaling up knowledge economy firms is not happening as big firms rely on buying startups to maintain their innovation leads — Sales of Irish tech firms create 300 millionaires in 15 years and no scaleups.

Besides, most surviving tech startups that are not acquired do not grow and a jobs engine depends on a small number of high-growth firms.

Accountants are sometimes hired to produce business plans to support funding requests and it's not a surprise when the aspiring entrepreneur says the startup has no competition as the service or product is unique. It's also not uncommon for official Irish reports to ignore SWOT analysis: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. In a 2013 report on manufacturing the words "strength" and "strengths" appear 44 times but "weaknesses" or "weakness" were absent.

Ministers seldom acknowledge downsides and combined with the lack of what George H.W. Bush, the former US president,  called the "vision thing," long-term planning is rare.

It's striking that the genesis of the modern Irish economy resulted from an active policymaking eco system that is a contrast to what exists almost 60 years later with the absence of a credible long-term strategy for the economy.  

We began with a 1957 quote from T.K. Whitaker and we end with a 1987 quote from him, which helps to explain the poor standard of Irish policymaking in recent decades:

Prof Frank Barry of Trinity College in a 2013 paper, 'Politicians, the Bureaucracy and Economic Policymaking over Two Crises: the 1950s and Today' compared Irish policymaking of recent times with the times of giants like T.K. Whitaker, who was appointed secretary of the Department of Finance in 1956. "As far back as 1987, T.K. Whitaker said that he would like to see 'a restoration of the old (civil service) principle that you were independent of ministers. You gave your views on any new proposals fearlessly, critically, honestly. You did not care whether your views were likely to commend themselves to the minister, whether for their own sake or politically. Once a decision was taken by minister or government, however, you carried it out as loyally and efficiently as you could. That was my understanding of the function of senior civil servants but I’m afraid it has been undermined. The young men who are preoccupied about this generate deep disappointment in me by telling me that that was an old world that has vanished. In the new world, the civil servant is all the time trying to please the minister, over-conscious of what might be politically acceptable, arranging the options so that they will appeal, rather than in strict order of eligibility.'”

Related Sept 2015 content on startups: Startup Ireland: Evidence-based revolution to make a difference

*A first wave of what is termed globalisation came to a halt in 1914 and in 1992, Paul Krugman, Princeton University trade economist and New York Times columnist, wrote : " 19th century standards, the world is still not an exceptionally integrated economy. The US now imports about 12% of its GNP. But Great Britain imported more than a third of its GNP under Queen Victoria. We are considerably less dependent on foreign trade, in fact, and probably always will be, than Britain has been since the Napoleonic wars."

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), the British economist, included a famous passage in his searing indictment of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles,  on what contemporary globalisation meant to a well-off Londoner on the eve of the First World War:

"What an extraordinary episode in the economic progress of man that age was which came to an end in August, 1914...The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep; he could at the same moment and by the same means adventure his wealth in the natural resources and new enterprises of any quarter of the world, and share, without exertion or trouble, in their prospective fruits and advantages; or he could decide to couple the security of his fortunes with the good faith of the townspeople of any substantial municipality in any continent that fancy or information might recommend. He could secure, forthwith, if he wished it, cheap and comfortable means of transit to any country or climate without passport or other formality, could dispatch his servant to the neighboring office of a bank for such supply of the precious metals as might seem convenient, and could then proceed abroad to foreign quarters, without knowledge of their religion, language, or customs, bearing coined wealth upon his person, and would consider himself greatly aggrieved and much surprised at the least interference" — The Economic Consequences of the Peace (London, 1919).

In terms of peak jobs, the biggest Irish FDI project since 1900 was the 1917 decision of Henry Ford to build a tractor plant in Cork City. His father William Ford (1826–1905) had been born 30 miles west of the city and the family had emigrated to Michigan in 1847 during the Potato Famine.

The Ford plant in Cork had about 7,000 employed in 1930 before the Depression took its toll with high tariff barriers followed by a trade war between the Irish Free State and Great Britain, triggered by a suspension in 1933 of payments of Irish land annuities to London. See here and here.

Why Invest in Ireland in less than three minutes from IDA Ireland, Ireland's Investment Promotion & Development Agency, responsible for the attraction and development of FDI: