Sunday 11 December 2016

'Managerial elite' immobilising Ireland

Published 14/03/2010 | 05:00

Ireland is immobilised by a "managerial elite" who speak gobbledegook and strangle innovation, and "PR smoothies" who prefer emails rather than first-hand encounters, according to UCD professor Declan Kiberd.

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In a hard-hitting polemic, the leading academic and commentator takes a withering sideswipe at the new Ireland and its impenetrable management-speak which means nothing.

"Everywhere, one hears stories of how the new mandarins invoke bizarre laws which make the cost of doing business simply prohibitive.

"Administrators are accused of blocking necessary medical operations in the public health system which doctors want to perform. Managers are telling educators with decades of experience exactly how to teach their classes.

"Yet these managerial elites, while talking constantly of 'innovation', have a truly impoverished notion of how knowledge is shared; they tend to prefer e-mails rather than complex first-hand encounters," Prof Kiberd writes.

"Ireland is at present immobilised by what Francis Wheen has called "process morons with Blackberries and iPhones". They assumed critical mass in the years of the Tiger, frustrating many people both inside and outside the public services. It is arguable that even in those times of relative affluence we could not afford them. It is certain that we cannot afford them now," the academic blasts in an essay published in The Irish Times.

"These were the years in which gobbledegook about a 'stakeholder economy' and a 'stakeholder society' was cut and pasted into every second press release. The new mantras were all about 'centres of excellence', 'innovation' and 'smart economy'. PR smoothies, who wouldn't be found near a church on Sundays, ransacked the language of religion for 'mission statements' and 'ethical testing'.

"A vulgar, heedless populism led to an assertion that unrestrained market forces were somehow compatible with excellence and ethics, and to a widespread distrust of those with real professional expertise.

"As gesture took the place of structure, the very people who now call for regulation were just a few years ago the ones baying loudest for deregulation of everything from transport to health services.

"The feel-good gobbledegook was the sort at which Irish people of all backgrounds would have hooted in derisive laughter just one generation earlier, but now it was taken up by managers who called for 'sound business models'," he states.

Prof Kiberd gives the example of trainee primary teachers who are expected to draw up detailed printed plans for eight lessons in a single day while also providing self-assessment reports on each of the eight lessons given already on the same day.

"Applicants for academic fellowships were instructed to declare what the precise 'outcomes' of their projected research would be, even before their work had actually begun. Waiters in tea shops were trained to punch into a retrieval system the number of customers sitting at a certain table before they could dare to say 'good morning'."

In a tart commentary about the state of the nation during the Celtic Tiger years, he says that people were seized by the crazy idea that information is knowledge and that everything worth knowing could be measured.

"They became so busy using the new technology to document life that many of them lost the art of living it or of thinking straight," he laments.

Prof Kiberd observes that before the Tiger years, Irish people understood that the quality of life lies in things which cannot be quantified.

"The notion that market forces are vital is plain common sense, but the idea that money should determine everything is a rather recent and barbarous development.

"So is the proposition that people can express individuality through designer labels. For most of their history, Irish people have felt connected to traditions of compassion for the young and old, for the poor and infirm, and money has been subordinate. Our grandparents understood Einstein's maxim that 'what counts can't always be counted and what can be counted doesn't always count'.

"Those with good ideas cannot get their hands on the money to give shape to them, while those who continue to reward themselves with big money operate systems designed to block off unconventional, fast-track ideas. Sean Dunne put it pithily: 'the people with money have no balls and the people with balls have no money.' An over-statement, perhaps, but only just," Prof Kiberd notes.

Sunday Independent

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