The Global Irish Economic Forum is being held the weekend after next in Farmleigh at a cost of €300,000 to the taxpayer. This forum sees a gathering of Ireland’s elite business people based at home or abroad, with a view to informing government strategies to build a smart economy. As I examine the participant list I’m struck by the absence of heavyweights from the Internet sector in Ireland.

Now, there are some Internet people there  such as Bridget Cosgrave from DigitalEurope (whose website is down today), William McKiernan from CyberSource, Paul Rellis from Microsoft Ireland and Brian Thompson of Global Telecom & Technology. For each of these the Internet is core to their business. While for many of the others the Internet is certainly an important part of how they do business, it is worrying that we can identify only four or five out of an attendance of 150 who live and breath the Internet.

A smart economy is one that relies on clever and efficient uses of technology to compete globally and to improve the lives of its citizens. Ireland wants to be a smart economy and the government sees it as a hook to speed our recovery from the recession. Building on the goodwill and connections that exists worldwide between Ireland’s business giants and our more successful diaspora is not without its merits. However, with broadband penetration in Ireland in 2009 almost half that of countries such as Denmark  and still below the European average (Comreg), we have some more fundamental things to get right.

If a few more local people with a vested-interest in the growth and development of the Intenet here, I would have more hope that the Farmleigh gathering would output some practical recommendations for this sector. I’m thinking of Irish Internet businesspeople playing on an international stage such as; Pat Phelan of Cubic Telecom, Colm Lyon of Realex Payments, Ray Nolan of HostelWorld, Mark French and Ciaran Bollard from MuzuTv, Breon Corcoran of PaddyPower.com, Barry O’Callaghan of Riverdeep (now HMH),  Colm Long from Facebook and Gareth Davis of eBay, to mention but a few.

We’re not short of them you see, but perhaps our political leaders have forgotten how productive this sector has been over the past few years, focusing instead on the interests of other sectors. I’ll leave you with a quote from Laura Slattery, writing in the Irish Times who asks:

Is there such a thing as the dumb economy?

Yes, see Ireland 2002 – 2007.