Thank you to everyone for attending the event today.
We are here today because we all have one thing in common: none of us wants to look back, in years to come, and think: ‘We missed the opportunity to embrace change’.
Consider this unprecedented era we live in.
Developments in technology have shortened distances, erased time zones, connected absolute strangers.
There is no doubt that we live in exciting but uniquely complex and challenging times.
These contrasting phenomena are crystallised just by reflecting on the smartphone we all carry in our pockets – and can now be extrapolated to the technology so prevalent in your home, in your car, at work, and every service provider and manufacturer you come in contact with.
The pervasiveness and connectivity of technology will lead to profound change for all. .
This will include us, your government.
As the author Jamie Susskind observes in his superb recent book ‘Future Politics’, ‘how we govern, store, analyse, and communicate our information is closely related to how we organise our politics’.
In a world where algorithms will increasingly be used to determine the distribution of important public goods, including work, loans, housing and insurance, the underlying digital code that powers these algorithms will increasingly organise economic and social activity.
So while digitalisation is ubiquitous, so too is the social transformation increasingly brought about by this technological revolution; the social, political and economic arrangements that will govern this new world are still under construction.
In developing these new structures of governance, we must ensure that digitalisation becomes a catalyst for inclusive and sustainable growth and that we build a new social contract that underpins this.
At a minimum this must seek to deliver inclusive prosperity, sustainability and an economy and society that is predicated on well-being.
With this in mind, any government that coasts along delivering the same services, just applying a selected sample of new technology advancements, will simply fail.
Any government that is too slow to adapt, will undeniably have forsaken engagement with society resulting in the lost trust of its citizens.
Any government that fails to involve their citizens as architects in these changes, will merely be delivering a technological solution, and will have failed to secure a new social contract.
Because as we become increasingly aware of new technologies and how they transform and improve our well-being, we naturally come to expect the same effect from every other touchpoint in our lives.
We expect our government to adapt and evolve, just like we ourselves do.
Delivering public services is the bedrock of government’s responsibilities.
Expecting public services to be delivered in an inclusive, sustainable, secure and consistent manner is every citizen’s prerogative.
Only thus can governments truly fulfil their roles as providers of public services and honour the trust bestowed upon them by the people.
Let me pose a more direct question: Is your digital experience with our public services a happy one?
The International Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) measures the digital economy performance of the EU28 Member States and compares it to 17 non-EU countries.
In 2017, Ireland (and Spain) progressed the most, a movement of almost 5 points, as opposed to an EU average of 3.2.
Overall, Ireland ranked 6th, behind Denmark, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
We delivered improvements in human capital and integration of technology by businesses; we have strengthened our research and development capabilities and made progress in digital public services.
I am very proud of Ireland showing such a vast improvement. It is a testament to the hard work carried out in this country to continuously raise the bar, both in broadening access to digital services and increasing human capital.
But is it enough?
Is it sustainable?
Are we deploying new technologies in an optimal manner?
Are we leaving anyone behind?
Are we engaging the best minds and experience to deliver the changes that are required?
As I said earlier, I believe that a government today, in order to succeed, must offer public services that meet with citizens’ expectations, maximising the potential that new technologies bring.
The Blockchain Opportunity
Against this backdrop, I would like to reflect on two initiatives: both are multi-faceted, both share the same goals, each complement the other.
First, GovTech, which is born out of the Future Jobs Ireland initiative.
Soon, we will hold its first ever summit; bringing together start-ups, entrepreneurs, SMEs, academia, venture capitalists and key Government decision-makers.
We expect this core group to collaborate and develop a high quality and meaningful plan to embed GovTech in Ireland, creating opportunities to maximise the use of digital and emerging technologies across Government, and thus deliver faster, safer, cheaper and better interactions with citizens, businesses and the public sector.
We would like to have you involved and help us deliver this next era of the Irish economy.
Secondly, I would like to reflect on the work undertaken by the department’s Working Group on Virtual Assets and Blockchain.
We created the working group 15 months, and I am very encouraged to see tangible results already. I look around this room and I am reassured that we are building a solid base for the blockchain ecosystem in Ireland.
We are collaborating and cooperating, private and public sector, research centres and academia, start-ups and established companies. You are helping us understand the technology, its advantages and current shortcomings, you are showing us how it can be put in practice and used not only to improve business processes, but to deliver social impact too.
We are learning to be more inquisitive and flexible, and to open new ways to engage and work.
We bring this shared knowledge to the table at fora and policy discussions, and together we give Ireland a presence and a voice, at EU and at global level, be it in discussions around policy and regulations, or potential use-case applications for pan-European public services.
Most important of all, we are actively, constantly, monitoring developments in the technology and regulations globally, so that any potential policy changes will be crafted from a balanced, measured and carefully laid out review of risks and opportunities, both to consumers and to the economy.
Who in this room would have believed, 15 months ago, that over 80 participants in the Blockchain community in Ireland would come together like this today.
That the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, together with the Department of Finance, would be running a Blockchain hackathon for public services.
That Ireland would be hosting the ISO TC307 plenary in Dublin.
That we would be staging Blockchain Ireland week, with over 40 events across the country.
That through the hard work by Skillnet, DCU would be launching a Masters in Blockchain.
That the Institute of Banking and Deloitte, together with Bank of Ireland, AIB and Ulster Bank, would be collaborating to deliver a new platform, the first of its kind in the European financial services industry, to support the verification, tracking, direct access to, and management of, regulatory, professional and education qualifications.
That the FintechFusion fund, part of the ADAPT centre in Trinity College Dublin has 4 research projects looking at Blockchain.
And a further 2 projects are underway in EIRC, ENERPORT and CENTS, in the Tyndall institute, in Cork.
That the recently launched IFS2025 strategy would include Blockchain specific actions.
Or that we have built a self-aware blockchain ecosystem and indeed have a census of its stakeholders, adding to almost 50 companies since we started the census in April 2018.
I look back at these last 15 months and I see a lot of activity and results, and I wanted to use this opportunity today to openly acknowledge the efforts by everyone in Ireland working with this technology.
The outcomes, traction and direction of these combined efforts are yielding results. Tangible and solid, as they are born from the best each one of you has contributed.
We have collectively delivered a significant amount of progress in a short period of time. I believe this is testament to the commitment to a better future, for everyone. And the willpower to forge that future by us, for us, together.