Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Irish strengths and Irish woes

There is a slight sense of deja vu watching the predicament of Ireland today. I was one of those graduates who left in the early 1980s along with tens of thousands of my contemporaries. Since then I have watched with amazement the transition not just through the economic improvements of the Celtic Tiger but towards a less hypocritical, more open society prepared to confront its demons and adopt more liberal social policies.

And while the Irish economy is in a bad away, thanks to a combination of rotten banks and a massive property bubble, not all that has been gained in the last twenty years has been lost. Ireland's infrastructure is much improved, not least with a decent motorway network and strong air connections. It still enjoys a highly educated population. And - thanks in part to the low corporation tax that finance minister Brian Lenihan is rightly keen to protect - it remains a destination of choice for modern internet, IT, agribusiness, tourism and Pharma companies. With unemployment high and emigration rising, that infrastructure is a solid base from which to recover - provided that foreign investors are not scared away by the current crisis.

But it is not blessed with great government - Lenihan, to be fair, aside - and it is doing a woeful job in selling itself, something that Irish bodies used to excel at. Viewing the country through the UK media, one could be forgiven for imagining that the country had reverted to the 1950s, with photographers presenting images that might have sold well to American tourists as early John Hinde postcards. Veteran editor and foreign correspondent, Conor O'Clery is pretty sharp on this point in an excellent piece in today's Irish Times. Ministers should take heed.

But it is about time that we started telling the positive story to the people that matter; the editors, the publishers and the senior policymakers in the powerful broadcast organisations. To the best of my knowledge, nobody in Government or in the administration with the appropriate competencies has been charged with doing so.

In the early 1970s when it seemed as if the conflagration of the North was going to spill over into the Republic, when cabinet ministers were being rounded up by the special branch and when rumours of coups and crises fed off one another, the government of the day took the initiative with a co-ordinated international media campaign.

Experienced journalists and communications professionals were recruited ad hoc and sent abroad with instructions to brief editors and programme chiefs in world capitals. They worked every contact and network they had so they could get in to where policy and key editorial decisions were being made.

Irish people in senior positions in international media were tapped. A London-based media relations company with good international contacts was contracted. The results were positive. Ireland’s reputation was assailed but the wider, fuller picture was successfully put across.

1 comment:

Terry Connolly said...

It is pretty simply really Gambling Bankers (not just Ireland) have been bailed out by Ireland citizens. Having taken enormous bucks they now expect others to cover the hole they have left behind.