The above line is taken from a bronze plaque on the base of the Statue of Liberty. This statue has become an iconic symbol for the masses of emigrants who sought a better life in the USA. A very large percentage of these emigrants came from Ireland. You would expect that a country whose people were welcomed with open arms in the USA would at some later stage be eager to return the favour….
Fast forward to 2012. Ireland is in the throes of the worst economic depression in at least 30 years. The FG/Labour government is issuing press release after press release on how our future is in the tech industry and how we need to attract foreign investment, knowledge and entrepreneurs who will create fantastic amounts of jobs to compensate the 400,000 odd unemployed people in Ireland.
And then a Brian Flanagan arrives in Dublin airport. Brian is visiting Ireland from the US as he is looking to hire 15 people to work for a company called “New Context” . He is clearly the type of person who we need here! But no, the Immigration Officer on duty decides in his infinite wisdom that Brian’s reason for visiting is too vague and refuses him entry to the country. See the document below:
Now the company that Brian works for is not some fly-by-night outfit. One look at the people involved will tell you that. Take for instance Joi Ito the Co-chairman. Joi is a very well-known activist, entrepreneur, investor, director of MIT Media Lab, Chairman of Creative Commons and more. Obviously this was not something that the immigration officer was aware of. No, he refused to let Brian into the country. He was told that it was impossible that someone as young as him was here to hire people. Absolute ignorance. Following the refusal Brian was locked in a holding room awaiting further processing.
Paddy’s tweet was retweeted by a number of people and the story started to spread. As is so often the case with Twitter the story was picked up by a few people in the media and political world and I am sure calls were being made and pressure exerted. The result was good news, after several hours in a locked room Brian was finally allowed into the country.
Now while this case ended relatively well it has caused some damage to Ireland’s reputation. I know from my own recent experiences that the people on duty at our borders can do with a crash-course in customer services and manners. They are the first faces that any visitor to Ireland encounters and if these people through lack of training or awareness keep turning people away we will always remain a country on the periphery of Europe. We should set up “Come and do business in Ireland” kiosks in every arrival and departure lounge in the country. Those locations have a captive audience of people entering the country or those who have just visited. If we can capture some of the investment potential of these visitors it would provide a valuable asset to our economy. It’s an idea that would require relatively little investment. Man the booth with a mix of people with public sector & private sector backgrounds and occasionally stick in a high-profile entrepreneur in one. I am sure that the return on investment on such a program would be a substantial multiple of the costs….