Remarks by Seamus McDermott at Trinity Signing Ceremony & Launch of Seamus McDermott Scholarship
August 23rd 2017
Over the last 35 years I am frequently asked why did I get involved or set up the Liffey Trust. I usually avoid answering directly and change the subject. Perhaps now is a good time to give a brief explanation.
In 1984 unemployment was 17¼% ; 75,000 people were emigrating. In our inner cities there were households where people had not worked for three generations. Unemployment in some areas was 50%. Ten years earlier productivity in Ireland was 75% of the UK and wages levels were 72%. We were a low level wage economy of sorts.
There was a period of inward looking and little entrepreneurial or management training or education. In the 60’s there were only 8,000 students in third level education. Confidence was lacking and if one endeavoured to set up a business the attitude was “who does he or she think they are”.
To fully register a new business and to comply with bureaucratic rules and regulations, one had to call to six different government departments and none of them knew the location or the function of the others. It was thought, incorrectly, that if you sought aid for the IDA, a superb organisation, you had to prove two things
(a) you did not need help in the first place and
(b) you could not be Irish.
There was no Enterprise Ireland, no county development officers, no enterprise boards or no enterprise centres. There was no help from private industry. There was no assistance to prepare business plans or to obtain production space (at a reasonable rent) or no help to seek financial aid. If one failed it was frowned on and no one seemed to realise that failure, if handled correctly, is only training for a second attempt.
In these circumstances we may think we understand the stigma of being unemployed but believe me we don’t. To want to work and be unable to work and watching your neighbours emigrating and seeing no future is sole destroying and degrading. It was a privilege to be asked by a number of community groups to help them with their unemployment, housing, vandalism and drug problems. It was not an altruistic feeling or conversion it was a huge compliment that others thought you might be able to help even in a small way. The Liffey Trust was born as a charity and a research college.
We wanted to change attitudes, to get people to help themselves, to get community groups involved and we realised from day one that while we would accept help from individuals or organisations we knew that eventually we had to become self-financing. Hand-outs are unlikely to be permanent or eventually achieve your objectives.
Seeing solutions, achieving objectives, implementing plans with speed and dedication are all fundamental. Getting things done and individuals being held responsible are basic management tools. A plan that is 100% right but not implemented or brought into fruition is valueless.
The Trust got involved in helping people setting up their own businesses. We showed them how to evaluate their projects. How to write business plans, we ran educational and training programmes. We identified sources of finance and educated them on the different types of business structures. Our self-evaluation “kit” of your business idea, even after 30 years, has not be bettered. Now several organisations, including banks, have published ways of preparing a business plan. The presentation of a business idea to would be investors is a fundamental concept in the education and training of entrepreneurs. Mentoring of projects was also considered as a useful and helpful part of having a business developed.
The Trust was also asked to speak and inform many community groups throughout the country. We held deeply the concept that job creation was the responsibility of all of us. The Government, help agencies, educational establishments and industry needed to co-operate fully with each other to devise, develop and implement and bring a strategy of job creation into our daily lives. All of us have to work together and learn to respect and admire the concept of entrepreneurial development and strategic management. Education and innovative thinking across our entire educational facilities is essential.
If I may quote from a recent article in the Sunday Business Post by the Management Director of Microsoft:
“Ireland’s education sector is at a turning point. Advances in technology have opened up an ever increasing range of opportunities for our young people with a resulting shift in the skills profile required to support the jobs of the future. The European Commission estimating that 90% of tomorrow’s jobs will require digital skills. Ireland’s talent pool must have them. Regardless of the sector our young people choose to work in, one thing is clear: digital technology is the new reality. The responsibility is now on policy makers, industry and the education sector, to work together to ensure that we educate our students to future proof them for the new world.”
We must also give them the know how to utilize their new skill set and educate them to be able to manage and develop new industries. In other words they must also have an entrepreneurial outlook.
Being able to identify a problem, apply lateral thinking develop the knowhow of implementation and taking responsibility of the consequences are all absolute necessary. It is not change we have to get used to it is the accelerating rate of change that we have to embrace.
The Liffey Trust was nothing more than a small catalyst in the late 80’s and having many others adopting some of our principles was an integral part of our philosophy. The development of our educational system and to be here today with the top University of Ireland and with the academic staff of one of the finest business schools in the world is indeed a privilege. The beginnings of our partnership with such a prestigious college like Trinity College will, we believe, have far reaching a long term benefits for Irish society as a whole. It will be up to others to take it from here.