BaileNuachtCartlann Aitheasc agus Preaseisiúintí

Speech by the Taoiseach, Mr Brian Cowen, T.D. at the UCD Foundation Dinner, Friday, 6 November, 2009


Ladies and Gentlemen,

President Brady, distinguished alumni and guests. I am honoured to have been invited to join you here this evening for the 5th UCD Foundation Dinner.  I hope you will all have a fantastic evening.

When the Catholic University of Ireland was established back in 1854 few could have guessed the role that UCD, as it later became, would play in the development of modern Irish society. Throughout its evolution, UCD has been actively engaged in shaping the development of our society and economy. Over generations, this university has challenged students to embrace new ideas, become independent thinkers and be at the forefront of innovation and creativity. From the engineers, medics, politicians, public servants and artists it has created, UCD has played an unparalleled role in the creation of the modern, dynamic, vibrant society that is 21st Century Ireland. UCD - a national idea – is now truly a world-class university. I would like to pay tribute to President Hugh Brady who has proved himself to be one of the true leaders in Irish higher education and research. It is a great credit to him and all of the UCD community that this university has surged up the rankings and, this year, has broken into the top 100 in the world.

The Universities and the Economy

Our higher education institutions have served this country well and have contributed greatly to our success in attracting such significant levels of inward investment over the last two decades. Five years ago, less than one-tenth of IDA multinational investments were in R&D. Last year, this was 40%. More importantly, those R&D jobs anchor the presence of the multinational companies.

Last December, the Government launched our Framework for Economic Renewal, ‘Building Ireland’s Smart Economy’. A Smart Economy is a ‘high-productivity’ economy. Productivity is the key driver of economic performance and economic sustainability.

The announcement earlier this year of an Innovation Alliance between UCD and Trinity was a very welcome development in this regard.  The Alliance will bring together expertise from these two very successful institutions in two areas which are vital for economic growth – human capital development and innovation and enterprise creation.

This initiative underlines the changing culture in our higher education institutions, where once traditional competitors have been persuaded by the powerful possibilities of partnership. It reflects a realisation that our real competition is global and that in order for Ireland to prosper in this global knowledge era, we have to think and act differently from before. It reflects the reality that the Irish system is small by international standards and that we must all work together to pool our resources and expertise if we are to compete successfully on the world stage. Most importantly, it ups the ambition we now have for how the university sector can contribute to economic renewal. This initiative was timely and welcome and enjoys the full support of the Government, the business and the education communities.

Ireland’s Challenge

John Henry Newman once said ‘Nothing would be done at all if one waited until one could do it so well that no one could find fault with it’. It certainly took great vision and courage to even contemplate the establishment of a university in 1854. In the current economic climate, vision and courage are required now more than ever.

Ladies and gentlemen, I do not need to tell you that we stand at a point where our decisions now will determine the future living standards and employment prospects of ourselves and our children. It is imperative that we take the correct decisions now and that we take them together in the national interest.

Our tax revenues have fallen sharply back to 2003 levels. This means that we will have a deficit in the region of €22 billion this year. To bridge this gap, we are borrowing over €400 million per week.  This cannot continue.

If we do what is right in the short term, we can get through this.  If we take the correct policy choices, we can beat this global recession.  But to do that, we have to be brave enough to make the right choices; and we have to be prepared to take short-term pain for long-term gain. 

I want to say to you here tonight: It will be tough. Sacrifices have to be made. But I am determined, come what may, to see us through this and back to economic growth in 2011.

Optimism and Pride

Living through these difficult times when cynicism and negativity are easier to come by than optimism, we shouldn’t lose sight of just how great a country Ireland is. We are facing difficult short-term challenges. But, if we face them head on, I know that Ireland has a very bright future. Optimism and potential are words we need to hear more of. Many Irish men and women worked hard for many years to put Ireland up on the world stage.

At the Global Irish Economic Forum, which took place in Farmleigh in September, there was widespread recognition that we have the right strategy for medium-term development. The high level of optimism expressed by many international business and cultural figures about Ireland’s prospects and potential were heartening.

Sometimes, those of us living here can lose sight of what we have achieved. We lose sight of what is most important to us. We forget the pride we should have in our country.

The Importance of Sport

If UCD has bestowed more than an unrivalled legacy on the academic and professional life of the country, it has not fallen short in its contribution to sports.

In my youth I enjoyed playing and watching all sports.  Now I just enjoy watching and there is no doubt that our elite athletes, particularly those playing team sports, are an inspiration to our younger generations.

Brian O’Driscoll is one such man.  The rest of tonight’s event will, quite correctly, focus on the value of Brian’s achievements.  The success achieved by Irish rugby in recent years has been phenomenal. Munster and Leinster have dominated the club game in Europe. And, as a Leinster supporter I was particularly proud to be in Edinburgh last May to witness the team lifting the Heineken Cup.

The national team became so consistent, we all became blazé about winning triple crowns. 

Then last season - the “pièce de resistance” – Ireland wins its first Grand Slam in 61 years and tonight’s award winner secures his standing as Ireland’s greatest ever rugby player.

Sporting success matters.  It matters a great deal in different but complementary ways.  Sporting achievement is a source of national pride and –for our younger generations in particular – a source of inspiration.

Youngsters in Kilkenny spend countless hours pucking balls imagining they are Henry Shefflin. In fields all over Kerry, kids are scoring endless goals and points as Kieran Donaghy or the Gooch in All-Ireland Finals. And, in recent years, the Ferris’s, D’Arcy’s and O’Connell’s have inspired legions of young supporters, in all parts of this island, to follow their lead.

And none more so though than Brian O’Driscoll.  Tonight’s honouree personifies courage, commitment, creativity and determination on the field.  He is honest and sporting.  In short, he displays precisely the characteristics we want our young people to display whatever their field of endeavour.


Ladies and gentlemen. Times are difficult. But we can be proud of our country. Proud of what has been achieved. UCD has a lot to be proud of. And it can be particularly proud of one of its most famous alumni – Brian O’Driscoll.

Each time the Ireland and Leinster teams line out, they engender remarkable pride and passion in their legion of fans. And, amongst them, Brian has stood out as one of the finest ambassadors not only for the game of rugby but for Irish sportsmanship generally.

He has risen to the toughest challenges against some of the most formidable sporting talent in the world. He has been a humble winner and a gracious loser. In a remarkable career, he has already given us a store of great memories - of triumphs and disappointments, of courage and perseverance.

On and off the field Brian commands respect and admiration and he is an heroic figure to sports fans young and old. I have no doubt that his legacy to rugby and Irish life will endure for many years to come.

Brian, congratulations on the award you will be receiving tonight. We look forward to sharing many more of your triumphs and successes as we look forward to the Autumn internationals and the upcoming Six Nations.

Thank you very much.