Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s digital vision for Ireland 

Ireland is fast becoming one of the world’s most innovative technology hubs. At the forefront of leading Ireland to take its place globally is Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who believes that the country is fully committed to embracing digital disruption and new technology. Briony Richter reports

At Temenos Community Forum in Dublin, the Taoiseach spoke in depth about accelerating the Irish economy, harnessing new technologies and regulations, and the impact that Brexit will have on the country.


Speaking to RBI, Taoiseach opens with:

“The transformation of our economy over the last half-century has been remarkable..


“Today, Dublin is one of the leading tech capitals of Europe. We have our own Silicon Docks hosting the world's leading technology companies. We specialise in progressive innovation in AI, cloud computing, robotics and analytics.”


In February 2018, the Irish government launched ‘Project Ireland 2040,’ an ambitious €116bn plan to prepare for a future society which will have approximately one million extra residents and 660,000 more people at work.


Instead of focusing on bricks and mortar, Project Ireland 2040 takes a very different approach by committing to social, economic and cultural development. The plan is one that aims to balance rural and urban investment. Much of that will go into teaching digital skills for a new generation of workers.

Economic Digital Transformation 

Ireland is already competing in an ever-increasing digital world and the government will need to drive up the level and pace of digital development to enable further innovation and growth.


Identifying and addressing the skill gaps within the financial industry will accelerate digital growth across all sectors. That will be a critical part of the Irish government’s plan to accelerate Ireland’s digital ambitions.


Speaking about digital economies, Varadkar highlights:


“We all now realise that digital transformation involves much more than the uptake of digital technologies. It also involves the transformation within society and within business that is needed to turn new technologies into economic and social opportunities. That is very much where our focus in Ireland is today.


“The Government’s strategy is to provide a coherent vision to enable us benefit from digitalisation. We are aware of the challenges: the inclusivity of digital transformation; the impact on the workforce, the fear of the new. Our response is to be flexible and agile and to embed trust. We want to strike the appropriate balance between security and privacy and usability and innovation.”


Whether or not governments and businesses are ready for it, the digital footprint is everywhere and is rapidly expanding its reach. The most critical role of the Irish government over the next ten years will be to provide the infrastructure that can support and drive digital innovation.

Financial Ecosystem

The fintech space has been exploding across the world. Ireland has continued to place more focus on fintechs and the developments of digital technology that drive their success.


Ireland has become globally recognised for driving the fintech sector, with 200 Enterprise Ireland-backed companies at the end of 2017.


There has been a boom in challenger banks entering the Irish market; one that is breaking down barriers is KBC Ireland. The challenger is focusing purely on customer needs and well-being, while adopting innovative digital solutions to pick up the pace in areas like payments, onboarding and customer experience. The bank also believes that human interaction is critically important and its ‘hubs’ across Ireland are designed to make customers feel comfortable and welcome.


On expanding the fintech space, Varadkar notes the strong commitment Ireland has to accelerating it even further.


“The government is determined to ensure that Ireland stays a very competitive location for global fintech investment, and we recognise that there is always more that can be done.

“A census of the fintech sector is currently being undertaken which will allow us to compare ourselves with leading fintech hubs and highlight areas which need improvement.”


He adds, “Later this year, our Central Bank will launch an innovation hub and an industry engagement programme. This will ensure we keep pace with the evolving fintech and regulatory landscape. We have also recently commissioned research to look at the current position in payments, analyse recent trends, and benchmark Ireland against other countries.


The Irish government must work to build connectivity, strengthen awareness and combat the threat of cybersecurity to ensure that a fintech ecosystem can flourish and keep up with the competition.

GDPR 

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect on 25 May amid much anticipation. Institutions will now need a more intimate form of consent from consumers when storing their data. The need to strike a balance between security, privacy, convenience and innovation will be critical for financial companies in the next five years.


Speaking on GDPR, Varadkar states: “I believe that our approach to data protection should balance appropriate regulation with a need to stimulate innovation.


“We know that the GDPR brings significant changes and some challenges for us all. We should not fear this. I believe, the GDPR fosters the trust that will help us realise the enormous potential of digital technologies.”


Although GDPR has been keeping businesses up at night, the regulation has many benefits. Cybersecurity is becoming a massive problem globally, with hackers working faster than the tech trying to stop them. Developing a secure ecosystem through GDPR will help significantly reduce the risk of cyberattacks.


Getting GDPR compliant will improve the accuracy levels of data stored in a company’s database. Customers not only give transparent consent to financial companies having their data, but they will be able to validate the information held.

Ireland and Brexit 

There is deep concern across Ireland over Brexit negotiations about the real damage it could do to Irish trade. The UK is the second biggest buyer of Irish goods and Ireland shares a land border. The uncertainty over tariffs, impact on agriculture and economic growth is fuelling some panic. Furthermore there are an estimated 30,000 people who travel across the border for work to consider.


The freedom to move safely between Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland was a critical element in negotiating peace at the end of The Troubles.


Speaking about his own concerns on Brexit, Varadkar, highlighted: “We cannot predict exactly what impact Brexit is going to have or the broader international shift in attitudes toward trade and globalisation.


“We welcome the conditional agreement on the term of the transition period, running until the end of 2020. We think it is important to give companies certainty, to give public services time to prepare, and citizens too. But of course, this transition period is not guaranteed. It will only happen if the UK government honours the commitments that it gave last December and again in March on there being no hard border on the Island of Ireland.”


Summing up, Taoiseach concludes by referring to one of Ireland’s most famous writers, Jonathan Swift who argued that ‘technology should be used to improve people’s lives, otherwise we were floating in the clouds’.

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