Monday, May 23, 2011

Paddywhackery and the Death of Irish Ambition

POTUS arrived today - I've just watched Barack Obama land at Dublin airport with an aerial entourage of Chinooks and Blackhawks larger than the Irish Air Corps. This visit, like that of the Queen last week, represents a major opportunity for Ireland to portray itself as a modern nation, and not just the newest, most bankruptiest lander of Germany. But unlike the visit of Her Majesty last week, it seems we are intent on squandering the exposure of Obama's trip on cheap paddywhackery.

Her Majesty's itinerary included a visit to the Tyndall Institute in Cork, a leading research facility in Ireland. She went to the GAA's headquarters, Croke Park, which is the site with great historical resonance of course, but also exhibits the abilities and capabilities of one of Ireland's greatest civic organisations. Even when we did play the old "luck of the Irish" card with Lizzie, we brought her to places like the Guiness Brewery and the National Stud, which while playing up to the national stereotypes of the Irish as hard drinkers who like the races, at least also exhibit Ireland's industrial prowess in two commercial sectors in which we have real form. In Britain, Ireland has been portrayed as a great place to visit - but also a perfect site for investment or research collaboration.

But where will President Obama go? I don't spite the people of Moneygall in Co. Offaly their visit from the leader of the free world - the visit will do great things for their area, and I hope the capitalise on it (I see one entrepreneur is doing great business selling T-Shirts to the US printed with the phrase "Is Feidir Linn" - the Irish for "Yes We Can"!) . But on the way back to Dublin could we not see if Marine One would drop in to Intel? Or maybe into Microsoft in Sandyford? True, I know that a Democratic president might be reluctant to highlight American companies investing in jobs abroad - but such a stop-off on his tour would at least highlight that Ireland offers Amercia more than just pubs and great, great grandfathers.

All the talk around this visit has been about boosting tourism, encouraging American desires to visit Ireland. In the short term that is a laudable goal, and will bring some money into the country - but nations do not get rich on tourism alone. The world leaders in tourist numbers last year were France, the US and China. But, to take China as an example, tourism has not produced that nation's stunning economic performance - rather, the growth in its tourism sector has been fuelled by gains won in other sectors first. Ireland should encourage tourism - but we need to develop all sectors of our exporting economy. After all, we all know what happened the last time our economy became a one-trick property pony.

Ah, maybe I'm just being cranky. I suppose I just don't like the leprechaun cliches too much - especially as the stereotype never seems to extend to the Irish having pots of gold.

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