There are reasons to be cheerful is message
PERHAPS the most telling moment during yesterday's IBEC conference on how well the economy is doing came when the master of ceremonies, former RTE presenter Mark Little, asked delegates to indicate how confident they felt about the future through a show of hands.
A clear majority indicated they believed things were worse this year than last year and an even larger number signalled that next year would be more difficult still.
The show of hands was a perhaps unwitting example of why IBEC felt it was necessary to host such a conference and just how little confidence there is at every level in Irish society. From boardroom to street corner, it seems we all lack faith in our future.
While confidence is in short supply here and overseas, everybody agrees that it is a prerequisite for growth. IBEC's Danny McCoy made a good stab at giving us a dozen reasons to be cheerful but he was upstaged by a perky little video (which can be viewed on IBEC's website) that was perhaps the star of the show. Packed with statistics and a cheerful tune, it reminded delegates that the country was still home to many multi-nationals as well as a thriving food and drinks industry.
Aer Lingus boss Christoph Mueller, who has done much to turn the airline around, seemed at times not to have understood the conference organiser's wish for upbeat analysis.
"I wanted to put up a shamrock on my building. It took six months to get permission. That cannot go on," he said in a voice quaking with frustration. Like many other delegates, the Aer Lingus boss attacked the media for allegedly focusing on the negatives.
In truth, a day spent in a darkened room with around 300 chief executives who had paid €400 each to find reasons to be cheerful was a day well spent. The basic point, that many businesses are surviving and even thriving in adversity, is an important one and often not heard above the drumbeat from the bond markets and the banks.
That the chief executives in the room also bear some responsibility for the present crisis, a point made by several speakers, is also something that is said all too rarely.
This was probably not quite the message that IBEC had hoped to convey but it was perhaps a realistic and holistic analysis that could help us inch our way toward the sunlight uplands that IBEC says is around the corner.