Anyone confronting that question in Ireland faces the same structural issue as someone trying to build a computer games company, a pharmaceutical enterprise, or an energy provider. We all have to meet the needs of the people we serve, in the region and the country. If we are to be sustainable, we can’t only meet those needs.
Irish audiences, publics and markets are too small to support the kind of division of labour and specialisation, or the level of quality, we need to be sustainable. In the modern era, the first sector to understand this was literature. Irish literature is so good because since the late nineteenth century it has looked for, and found, its readership around the world. We now take the standards set for writers almost for granted, but we should be aware that those standards, and the talent pipeline they inspire, are precious resources that have to be maintained.
Where literature led, industry followed. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) matches capital to talent to address international markets. Irish society, and individuals, have internalised a capacity to adapt ourselves to the need to trade internationally and to acquire the skills necessary to survive in those contexts.
As a country, we haven’t quite managed to reach the next level of adaptation to international competition. We do not have a great record of growing sectors, and networks of indigenous SMEs, to international leadership. The same is true for our universities and our research. Here is Galway and across the country, we have researchers and practitioners producing globally significant work. We now need to identify where we as a community can make sustained contributions at scale, so that we can drive international research agendas. As a university and as a country we cannot contribute at scale across all the domains we would like to. Both nationally and locally we will have to be brave enough to devote resources where there can be no guarantee of success.