Sunday 4 December 2016

Clinton is voice of reason as forum lifts air of gloom

Published 10/10/2011 | 05:00

THE Global Irish Economic Forum ended on a high note this weekend with Bill Clinton's rhetorical skills and charisma lifting spirits.

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His offer of another conference in New York to drum up investment in Ireland was a reminder that meetings like this can lead to real change -- even if the change takes time to trickle down to the rest of us.

Other ideas, such as a truly ambitious scheme to encourage people to learn about Asia and a 2013 tourism campaign centred around 'The Gathering' also seem sensible and likely to yield dividends.

Now that the Clintons, Bonos and business leaders have returned home and the forum is over for another two years at least, our political leaders and the voters will have to get back to the business of coping with everyday life.

Learning from outsiders is always a difficult business and this conference was no different. There was a telling moment during a workshop on Ireland's reputation when several well-heeled audience members at the conference in Dublin Castle chided the media for allegedly peddling a gloomy agenda.

RTE director general Noel Curran gently remarked that sometimes it is harder to be optimistic when you are struggling with the mortgage and your neighbour loses his job.

His remarks were a necessary reality check for some of the participants who live outside Ireland and see nothing but opportunity amidst the ruins of the Celtic Tiger.

There seemed to be two dominant themes at the forum which require practical action, and one commonly expressed view which is much more difficult to remedy.

The first theme was our inadequate education system. This is hardly original but it was interesting to see the Taoiseach and Tanaiste listen intently as participants dismissed the system as barely adequate.

The other theme was our failure to tap into what is happening in Asia at the moment.

Here, Kenny and Gilmore appeared defensive, but we all know that the reality is Ireland has been looking so hard at the US and Europe that we have so far failed to exploit this shift in the world economy.

Asia has arrived and this presents real opportunities to an English-speaking country inside the euro but only if we learn the languages and culture. So far, we have done very little in that direction.

Message

These two, almost trite, themes were matched by a third theme; that we are beating ourselves up over the entire banking crisis to an extreme degree.

The message that came over loud and clear was that Ireland is not the world's laughing stock. Other countries have their own problems and most of them are a little too busy right now to sneer at us.

Sometimes, we need to hear things with an American accent to really sit up and listen. Maybe this is why Mr Clinton's words seemed to catch the mood when he brought the forum to a close on Saturday evening.

"There's no such thing as an unbroken line in the life of a person or a country," he told the room.

Irish Independent

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