Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe delivered a guest lecture at the Technological University of the Shannon (TUS), Athlone, recently, where he spoke about the challenges and opportunities facing Ireland and the EU amid a global energy crisis and shifting geopolitical landscape.
Minister Donohoe, who is also president of the Eurogroup, spoke about the “economic and political dimensions” of change – from the impact of Covid-19 on society to the “human consequence” and economic fallout of the war in Ukraine.
During his lecture, he explained how volatility and uncertainty is “now embedded into our global and national economies” but stressed that that doesn’t always mean “the worst is inevitable”.
“We are now living in a moment of economic and political transformation,” he said, before going on to explain how the three E’s – EU membership, Energy and Education – will enable Ireland build up a “deep resilience” to help navigate “these moments of change”.
“For the first time in our history [through the EU], we were able to build up a political coalition which enables us to deal with events that at other times in our history would have proved so difficult, if not too difficult for us to contend with.
“That alone is a reminder of where we need to invest and where we need to place our hearts,” Minister Donohoe said of Ireland’s membership of the EU.
His words come as Ireland celebrates 50th years of EU membership and 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, both of which Minister Donohoe referred to as “moments of celebration and reflection”.
Minister Donohoe also spoke about the “economic opportunity that awaits Ireland” in terms of renewable energy, specifically wind energy off Ireland’s Western shore.
Out of all the countries in the European Union, Ireland has the highest supply of renewable energy as a share of its total energy, second only to Denmark.
“If we drive our access to that energy and are willing to invest in it, I believe Ireland has the capacity to be an exporter of energy to the rest of the world, with that energy being clean. With extraordinary economic opportunity,” he said.
Lastly, he spoke about the importance of education – from primary right through to tertiary – and commented on the progress that’s been made in higher education over the last 50 years, notably the development of technological universities.
“The very fact that you are all here,” Minister Donohoe said, addressing students and staff, “in an extraordinary educational environment that didn’t even exist few years ago, doesn’t it show the value we place on education and how we learn and how we’re willing to make changes?”
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs Peter Burke, who also spoke at the event, said Ireland is “very proud” of Minister Donohoe, who was re-elected for a second term as president of the Eurogroup December last.
“It’s a very important and influential position for our country, and it’s great for Ireland having an individual of that caliber at the core of it,” he said.
He also said that Ireland is facing a “cliff edge” in terms of Irish people working in the top institutions of the European Union due to retirements and called on students to consider putting themselves forward for careers in the EU.
This, he explained, is because “some of the most groundbreaking decisions in terms of their impact in our country happen in the major institutions throughout Europe.”
TUS President Professor Vincent Cunnane called it “a great day” for students to hear from “not one, but two ministers” and spoke about the importance of “connecting internationally”, which forms an integral part of TUS’s brand-new strategic plan, ‘Connecting & Creating’.
He pointed to TUS’s own role in Europe as a founding member of RUN-EU, a pan-European university alliance network established in 2020, consisting of 76,000 students and seven European universities.
“We were a European university and recognised by Europe even before we were a technological university,” he explained.
Prof. Cunnane called the European network a “likeminded community of regionally-based universities”, integral to TUS’s strategy and said the work being done through the RUN-EU network is “hugely important” and “having a regional impact”.
Only five per cent of higher education institutions in Europe are part of a European alliance.