February 3, 2008

Ireland must enhance its own industries as US firms pull out

Posted in Celtic Tiger · 17 comments ·

Forty-three per cent of Ireland’s exports are dependent on the sexual urges, flabby boobs, thinning lips, laughter lines and crumpled foreheads of America’s millions of insecure baby boomers.

You’d never have guessed, watching the cosmetically enhanced creatures in Desperate Housewives last Tuesday night, that a boob-job factory could be in danger of closing.

On the contrary, such is the roaring demand for plastic surgery, expansion in Arklow rather than closure seemed more plausible. Yet last Wednesday morning, Allergan announced that it was moving its breast implant business to Costa Rica.

This is a worrying development because Allergan only bought the business two years ago. Up until then the silicone implant factory was run by a company called Inamed. Why, after only two years in a new plant, would the highly profitable American pharmaceutical giant decide to close?

Before we try to answer this question, let’s have a look at Ireland’s most profitable, yet most secretive industry – the pharmaceutical business. Most people can name Dell, Microsoft and Intel, but can you think, off the top of your head, of the names of the leading players in Ireland largest export industry? Well let’s take a little tour around the country to see where one of our most important industries is located.

Take Westport. Here in this small beautiful upmarket town the neurosis of millions of women has been eased. In the shadow of the mountain where St Patrick banished the snakes, a new miracle-maker banishes lines and frowns. This is where Joan Rivers will go when she dies.

Botox, the world’s fastest-growing drug, is made from minuscule amounts of the botulinum toxin and Westport is the Botox capital of the world. A discreet pharmaceutical building just off the Dublin Road, surrounded by trees, houses the original Allergan factory which manufactures the world’s most loved cosmetic treatment. Eight hundred people are employed in Westport and the factory’s turnover is over $1 billion a year.

Botox is the biggest employer in the town. Every time you turn on Desperate Housewives and marvel at Wisteria Lane’s smooth faces, pert boobs, lineless mouths and full lips, thank the Lord for middle-aged America’s neurotic fear of growing old, because it pays for your child’s classroom.

The cosmetic industry is one of Ireland’s biggest sources of tax revenue. Every time you hear Bree, Lynette, Gabrielle and Susan marvel at the great sex they are having with someone else’s ex-husband, count your blessings too because the Viagra that this stud is popping pays for our A&E wards.

Ireland is at the centre of an industry that is based on making Americans look and feel younger. We are a new age Tir na nOg – a mythical country that produces the elixir of life for another country that is afraid to grow old.

And it’s not just the Desperate Housewives. Six of the world’s top ten blockbuster drugs are made in Ireland, including the number one bestselling drug in the world, Lipitor, all of which is made by Pfizer in Ringaskiddy.

Last year the sales of Lipitor worldwide topped $13 billion, dwarfing Pfizer’s better known Viagra, which sold $4 billion. Viagra was originally developed to increase blood circulation to the heart to help prevent heart attacks in children.

After an adult trial in Wales, the impressive side effect became obvious and we haven’t looked back since. It’s turning up in the most interesting places: you can buy handfuls outside rugby matches off the same aul’ wans who sell cans of Fanta and Twixes out of prams. That’s the free market in operation. The boss of Pfizer in Ringaskiddy told me that apparently there was a roaring trade in Viagra at Puck Fair last year – which gives a new meaning to the expression ‘horny old goat’.

Pfizer is the biggest pharmaceutical company in the world with 10 per cent of a $500-billion market. The company invested $1 billion here in 2001. It costs $50 million a year to maintain it. The Ringaskiddy plant is a 24/7 operation where the staff work two days and two nights a week. Forty million tablets of Viagra are produced here per year. The active ingredients come in the front door and the Viagra goes out the back door, straight out to the docks for export, mainly to the US.

Of the top three drugs sold on the internet, Ireland makes two of them; Viagra and Sibutramine. Sibutramine is produced in Sligo – the surfing capital of Ireland. Just down the road from Strandhill, a cross between Hawaii and Bray, with surfers battling bumper cars for dominance of the seafront, the Abbott factory churns out millions of pills for the world’s Desperate Dieters.

This drug is marketed as Reductil and is the world’s most popular slimming drug. It works by inhibiting the signal from the brain which tells us we are hungry, suppressing the appetite and prompting rapid weight loss. Over eight million women are currently using it.

So it is easy to see that 43 per cent of Ireland’s exports are dependent on the sexual urges, flabby boobs, thinning lips, laughter lines and crumpled foreheads of America’s 78 million insecure baby boomers.

Ireland hosts 13 of the top 15 drug companies in the world. Their operations are substantial. In total there are 83 facilities, usually on hills outside major towns, employing more than 17,000 people. The IDA’s strategy of following the British garrison policy of concentrating foreign factories like garrisons all around the country, means that most parts of the island are involved in the pharma game.

The reason the Allergan decision is worrying is that, despite all this activity, Ireland is obviously losing its competitiveness. So what do we do? We can’t cut our wages to keep pace with Costa Rica – that would be nonsense. The objective of running a successful economy is to get the best wages for the most people.

The Allergan decision means that we have to innovate, we have to finance our own start-ups and keep the research component here. Now more than ever, we need domestic industry and domestic entrepreneurs to step up to the plate.

Over the coming years, there will be more Allergan announcements and the best way to respond to them is by building our own companies. Many people argue that the best thing that ever happened to Galway was the closure of the Digital plant because so many of the laid off Digital workers started up their own businesses using the skills they had learned.

Let’s try to do the same thing in Arklow and turn short-term defeat into long-term victory. It’s time for a new enterprise plan for Ireland.

  1. b

    We have no history of supporting Irish business. Its not in the ethos of the visionaries that founded the state. The ethos is the complete opposite. Keep people ignorant and bowing to the master is the name of the game.

    We have a history of making it as difficult as possible. My grand aunt who is 30 years dead had a huckster shop in the 50s and was forced to close down early so as not to compete with the unionised 9-5 shop down the town. She was one person working part time in a housing estate shop and was deemed to be a threat to 20 working full time in the centre of the town.

    I have been involved in trying to expand and bring business to the South East but have got such a kicking from the dead hand of government there is no point bothering to expand and will have to be content with being a small business. We made the mistake of looking for broadband but were told in no uncertain terms that the nearby village wasn’t demanding broadband and so the businesses can go sing. We tried for five years and got nowhere on this.

    Unfortunately we cannot move the business. It is based in a piece of so called infrastructure called a port. No information connection to the outside world and when we looked for a bit of help we were told to get lost. By its nature a port is at the sea and when it is being constructed no heed is paid to where Eircom have an exchange. This is nonsense. Irish style.

    The private sector can get things done in 2008 but when you have to interact with the State be prepared to deal with the pinhead thinking of 1952.

    The dug up the railways and if your business wasn’t there at the foundation of the state or on the way to a politicians house you can forget about a bus service. I could stand on the railway lines into one Irish port for six days and nights and be in no risk of ever seeing a train. One train can take 40 containers. 40 trucks that you will see on the M50 later that day and cost you a half hour in commuting and degrade your quality of life.

    We are LIGHT YEARS behind Korea, China and even the Philippines in public transport. In the Philippines a third world country you can get from point A to point B no matter where the two points are and you don’t have to go through the city centre on every journey. Yes we are behind third world countries on this. I won’t even mention Singapore or Scandinavia.

    When we try to compete the political powers that be shoot our best players in the ankles so as not to “get ahead of themselves”. The political classes have nothing to gain in a country where things work. They are out of a job and lose power.

    What we get is discarded second hand half arsed copies of failed, obviously defective systems. When they fail to work or are foudn out we get some politician with a neck like a jockeys bollocks bullshit us on liveline about how it is world class.

    In the public sector apart from some brave fools in some sectors we wouldn’t know world class if it jumped up and bit us in the nether regions. Even with a huge sign pointing to it they wouldn’t know it. it is practically illegal to copy things that work in other countries.

    If we were given a free hand we would be a world beater with our own industry but with the losers we keep electing and the fat, lazy and overbearing nonsensical system of quangos and department of scratching their arses that we have put in place any indigenous company making a success here deserves all the spoils and plaudits they get.

  2. GK


    Check out sattelite based broadband. A couple of different providers do it. Google “Satellite Boradband Ireland” on your Snail Paced “PSTN” link. The 1st hit that comes up promises 100% coverage in Ireland. I believe it works quite well.

    It is expensive and I agree that you shouldnt have to resort to such a thing but it may allow you to expand your business in spite of BS merchants in the employ of the state.


  3. VincentH

    But would not the same conditions apply to the Irish startup as to the old IDA installed one.
    Anyway, I think that you may be over-egging just a tad. One of the main reasons that the businesses would leave, is not the costs to themselves -leastwise not direct costs- but the cost to their workers. And the downturn in property should reduce these costs very nicely.
    In the US, the businesses used to cluster round the big northern cities, but with the advent of the fat Gov’ contract the heads of Sen/Congress committee held sway as to which and where in a state these would go. But this gave them a feel for the climate which was about to fuck up.
    We are very like a poor US state, and any who think otherwise has had their head crushed by to many scrums. The nearest we are to NY, MLD or NH is marked on the bag, SNN, Shannon. We are a poor state with all the things that the they can recognise as their own.
    We have a situation here, where the lawyer -either blackhall or the inns- having taken the bar exam for NJ, does for the remainder of it’s life believe that it’s only step away from the riches of Wall St. While the medico who has taken the US boards, onwards the Mayo Clinic. If four from each year could do it, at the top.
    But the point is that they are billing as if they were.
    Never forget that those companies are in this society, and that the nasty little slimy beliefs and practices are lit on the inside like the well of a lighthouse.

  4. John Q. Public

    Why don’t we consider giving home-grown small start-ups the same tax benefits and help as the big multi-nationals? God knows we waste so much money in this country, a few grants and expert advice should be given to paddies with good ideas but no start-up capital. The Irish government have not taken note of the fact that all the poorer countries can offer cheaper labour for the foreign companies that are here.
    We could run our own Allergans and the like, we have the educated workforce so what’s stopping us? It is too ingrained into the Irish psyche that Uncle Sam will be our saviour. We wait for one mesianic arrival after another from America to employ our people. Is there a Dept. of enterprise? If so what do they do?

  5. Sean

    I hear you, b. I attempted to set up my own business twice in Offaly and was met with blank faces and closed doors both times.

  6. b

    In Ireland we “consider” everything and do bugger all about it.

  7. b

    And we have tried all the broadband options.

    Eircom told us to move closer to the exchange. Idiots. The Department of non Communications were useless too. This in spite of it being brought to their attention many many times.

    We have a problem of the State wanting to conttrol everything and by keeping us small and weakened they can control the small market.

    Companies like Ryanair and their fleet now being 5 times Aer Lingus show up the Government as a shower of gobshites who couldn’t run a bath. They ban everything they can get their grubby little paws on. We are a disgrace for electing these losers time and time again.

  8. Rob

    I would have to say that it does amaze me that people with very little acumen/knowledge end up in charge of massive departments. We the people, elect this shower. What does surprise me is that people don’t vote for this change and given the economic downturn that is on the way people might be afraid to vote for change next time around. If there appears to be a problem with a particular issue, for example broadband, the solution seems to be commission a report and then bin it. What are the solutions? Maybe an economic downturn will actually force us to confront some of these problems?? Ryanair doesn’t have all the answers but they certainly have shown up Aer Lingus and perhaps saved Aer Lingus by forcing it to modernise.

  9. Philip

    B, tis clear you do not have pull. This is how this place works. Necessary for all small business plans. 1 pull = 5KEuro. Once you have pull, you can open a nuclear processing plant – grant aided practically – under the guise of a cancer clinic..and when you get up and running, ye can fire all them ungreatful employees and outsource to Costa whatever with no legal backlash. Great country. Stop whinging and get on with it.

    Joking aside (?) the complete lack of respect this country’s civil service and politicians have for the “general public” is hard to understand. People have learned to tow the line here and be subserviant while looking incorrigible – we are sad clowns. Resistance and being upset about it is useless.

    I tire of this nonsense on Innovation. It is complete rubbish. R&D needs serious infrastructure to really get going. It’s very systematic and requires HUGE cmmittment. We do a lot of good stuff on a small scale. Never enough to run a full country. And if you do get revved up, you operate somewhere else – i.e. China etc. Germany’s R&D and US R&D etc are based on a sense of who they are NOT on making moolah. R&D & innovation is probably as much about national pride as making a few bucks.

    What you have to realise is that there will be no change here – ever- until people realise they can make a difference. I put my faith in the immigrants and the new blood who have none of the baggage we have now. They are already getting in there. They have a sense of self and faith in their goal to make life better – becasue they know it can be a lot lot worse. They have a sense of history and tradition. Irish need to re-develop a memory of how bad things can get and see where they are now and what they’ve achieved. David’s diaspora idea is a sense of that- but there’s a lot more I think.

    We need to understand that we are good enough, if not better than most. We need to loose that charming feckless irish image and replace it with something a little more bite and self assuredness. That’ll only happen when we start voting on issues rather than personalities and insisting on accountability. (on Lisbon, I like the issue focus – I worry about accountability) Until this happens we’ll be washed around by the ebb and flow of economic tides.

  10. David

    I wonder how long Botox will be on the market.

    Last year the FDA had reports of 16 fatalities linked to injections of Botox.

    full story:

  11. John

    David, I know its of but its very good. Thanks to Spiked Liberties
    Dear Ethan,

    Is there something wrong with me…? Every time I read an article or hear a news report about the coming recession, a little part of me jumps for joy. Indeed I find myself thinking, ‘Come, recession, come…’ The rational side of my brain knows it will mean people losing their jobs and possibly their homes… but the other side thinks: well, at least it might break our addiction to economic growth! Ethan, is it ethical to pray for a recession???

    Maggie Mayfield
    Edinburgh, Scotland

    Dear Maggie,

    If there is something wrong with you, then there is definitely something wrong with me. Not only have I prayed for a recession (to Gaia, of course, not ‘God’ – yet another arrogant invention of man-unkind who thinks he is so special that a higher being with a beard must have created him! Ha ha ha!) – I have also danced for a recession. Yes, inspired by the beautiful Native American and Maori practice of Rain Dancing, I have created the Recession Dance. Where native tribes stamped and grunted to try to coax rain to come and save their crops, I have taken to chanting and humming to try to coax Recession to come and save our planet.

    Sheba thinks it’s mad. But as I said to her, Maggie: ‘Is the Dalai Lama mad? Is Uri Geller mad? No they aren’t, and they know very well the power of thought over real-world events.’ I’m very pleased to see that my Recession Dance is already bearing fruit: an eco-email alert I received from Reuters this week says that fears of a recession are ‘gnawing’ at the average American’s mindset, making him feel insecure and possibly even ‘in the shit’. Yes!

    Maggie, the best thing that could happen to the planet this year is a recession: a big, beautiful, stock-crashing, Wall St-burning, consumer-baiting, home-evicting, bank-busting recession. Actually, even better than that would be the emergence of a preferably painless but speedily contagious disease that might finally reduce the human population to sustainable levels – two billion at the most, according to my mates in Jonathon Porritt’s Optimum Population Trust (or was it the Church of Euthanasia? One of them said the human population must be more than halved if the planet is to survive… can’t remember which.)

    But as we wait for a planet-friendly plague that might, in the words of Earth First!, ‘bring the human population back to sanity’ and ‘end industrialism… just as the Plague contributed to the demise of feudalism’, we will have to make do with economic shocks to our system, with the economic equivalent of the sniffles before the final big disease – the burning of the planet in a fireball created by the greed of Tesco shoppers, cheap flyers and other lunatics – takes care of ‘us’ once and for all.

    Maggie, the more painful the recession is, the better. Don’t worry about people losing their jobs, silly! People who work in banks or shops will be most affected and they deserve everything they get. Banks are parasites on the arse of Gaia, pumping wads of cash into corporations that plunder her resources or build houses (including mock Tudor monstrosities!) on her surface. As for shop assistants or shop managers… I’m sorry, but why should we feel sympathy for people who make a living out of sustaining the cancer of consumerism by helping greedy people pick out the latest brand of cookie, car or coat-stand without giving a moment’s thought to the billions and billions of trees, plants and natural metals and liquids – Gaia’s guts and tears – that will have been sacrificed for their petty pleasures? Worrying about these people losing their jobs is like saying in 1945: ‘Oh no, the war’s over! What are all those poor little concentration camp guards going to do now…?’

    The fact is we need something to stop us raping the planet, and the recession might just be the chemical castration for the job. We have become so addicted to ‘stuff’ that anything which reins in consumerism is a good thing. Did you see the New Year sales, Maggie?!! All those Burberry-clad product-addicts stamping on each other’s heads and stabbing each other with knives – literally! – as they hunted down the latest kettle or crop top. The consumer society has turned us into savages. Well, not us obviously, but certainly them: people who think that just because they earn £30,000 a year (they actually think that is a good wage, bless them!), they must spend it all on garish décor and monstrous mod cons for their post-council houses or Barratt eyesores.

    On the topic of houses… How can you fret that some people might lose their homes??!! Have you seen these people’s homes? Losing them will be the best thing that ever happened to them! With their garish crazy paving and claddagh brick work; their pointless ornaments in the shapes of dogs and penguins (SPECIESISM), their plates and mugs with pictures of Princess Diana or the Queen Mum on them (when we all know that Prince Charles is the ONLY decent royal, especially since he spoke at a climate conference by hologram this week! Go Charlie, King of the Greens!); their constantly blaring TVs, radios, computers, DVD players, toasters and tea-makers… these houses are more like (VERY badly decorated) prisons than real homes. If the recession leads to evictions and people have to live more humbly – well, hurrah.

    Some psychologists say consumerism makes us mentally ill. Actually, being human is itself a form of mental illness: our brains are programmed to pump various chemicals around our bodies that make us want to fight and destroy and buy, buy, buy. I am confident that evolutionary biologists will shortly discover a gene that triggers the shopping urge; indeed, a scientist friend of mine (don’t worry, he’s a good scientist – his degree is in Climatalogy, Ecosystems and Industrial Terrorism from the University of South-West London) is currently trying to raise funds for his study to discover a Tesco Gene, which he is convinced occurs in malnourished, under-cultured sections of the human race, nurturing in them a pseudo-natural urge to exchange small amounts of money for breadcrumbed chicken legs, strawberry-flavoured milk, copies of heat magazine and other bits of tat from Tesco.

    This is what we’re up against, Maggie: beings that are actually programmed to destroy, to become poisonous bacteria in Gaia’s bloodstream; let us hope and pray (and dance) that a recession will be the antibody Gaia so desperately needs to deal with her human itch.

    Of course, a recession will not cure people of their innate, inbuilt human insanity – but it might help to restrain their shopping savagery and insatiable lust for stuff, and make them a bit more docile. Think of the opportunities for people like us, Maggie, if man-unkind finally, after 30 years of yuppie-dom and the emergence of mass travel – EVEN for Social Class V and VI – becomes a bit more timid and fearful! At last there will be an opportunity for the ethical outlook to take hold! De-cluttered of the demented desire for more and more useless rubbish, the human mind might finally open up to rational arguments for austerity, mass eco-euthanasia and the replacement of ALL light bulbs with CFLs. Only then will we start moving towards a more sensible world, towards the eventual glorious voluntary (perhaps semi-voluntary) evacuation of the planet by the plague that is mankind.

    Maggie, join with me in my Recession Dance and let us speed in the economic crisis for mankind/happy, happy days for the planet. Email me for the dancing details.

  12. b


    We tried pull. It makes no difference.

  13. SpinstaSista


    Your point is exactly what?

  14. John

    Your point is exactly what? Spinstasista.
    Is this a statement or just bad grammar and incorrect punctuation?
    Maybe you should watch less American television.

  15. John Q. Public

    Ah John are you a begrudger? Maybe you don’t like to see people succeed. I agree that we need to lower the population of the planet though. Some of us are going off the rails here and not sticking to what David is saying in his article. There is nothing wrong with wanting a house or buying stuff John after all it creates economic activity/employment. The point is let’s make our own stuff, think for ourselves and stop having babies we can’t afford.

  16. Thaigah

    Dear Ethan

    I take it you’ve been reading “The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman. Dontcha just love it?

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