required to set foot off the soil of Ulster to get some work done, the
worthies get up in arms about "junkets", as if a trip to San Diego is
just a holiday. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-15882358
for info, if you want it. Don't get me wrong - San Diego is a lovely
city, and it's warmer than Augnasheugh, but it is also a place where
you can Get Stuff Done, and where there is some spectacular R&D
getting translated into economic benefit.
Another economy, whatever one's views of the general situation there,
that is making serious waves is Israel, and it is here that I think
Northern Ireland needs to get some big lessons in how to grow an
economy. This BBC report http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-15797257
demonstrates how Israel has become a global technology and business
start-up giant, even given its meagre population of 8 million. No
other country has produced so many science Nobel prizes per head of
So what is Israel's secret, and how can Northern Ireland learn from
it? Well, for one thing Israel has a pioneer spirit. Sometimes that is
a very bad thing, as we have seen in the aggressive behaviour of
illegal settlers in the West Bank and formerly Gaza. However, it is
often a very good thing - people are prepared to take risks and to
roll up their sleeves to try to make life better and make their
country better. Another thing, perhaps one of the most remarkable and
admirable legacies left by Judaism over the centuries, is a profound
respect for science. Science is rewarded in Israel. It is a mark of
major prestige to be a scientist, or for your child to go into
science. The fact that this translates into technology and business
success is not an accident.
Now there is no doubt that I am generalising hugely here, and my
Israeli friends will no doubt inform me that Israel puts nowhere near
the right emphasis on science that it should. There are deep
inequalities in Israeli society, with a cadre of plutocrats jealously
clutching the dosh, and failing to allow this to trickle down to the
ordinary population. This was the seed of the massive street protests
earlier this year, and the problems are far from fixed.
However, we in Northern Ireland have a broken society too. But we
concentrate far too much on our legacy of the past. The pioneer spirit
that built Kentucky and Tennessee seems to have emigrated from our
shores. The attitude that made such a success of our engineering
industries in the previous century has been replaced by a maudlin
backwardness that prefers to write morose poetry, rather than to
explore and understand the universe.
So, Basil, please do take the committee to San Diego, but also take
them to Tel Aviv. Invest in our educational infrastructure; destroy
the sink-holes that are sapping our young people into a life of
perpetual stupid; boost the sciences, boost engineering, boost
technology - not just in investment (because this will come), but in
terms of social prestige. Let's get this country off its knees.
And perhaps people will even enjoy doing it.