News Analysis

Thursday 2 October 2014

Is a hapless former FF minister really the right person to inspire a cultural revival?

Eamon Delaney

Published 15/04/2014 | 02:30

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Former Fianna Fail Minister Noel Dempsey. Photo: Collins
Former Fianna Fail Minister Noel Dempsey. Photo: Collins

News that former Fianna Fail minister Noel Dempsey is to head up an agency to revitalise the somewhat tawdry Temple Bar area is enough to make the heart sink.

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At a time when we want fresh and original personalities to drive the transformation of all aspects of our society, from the nation's finances, to the capital's showcase 'cultural quarter', here we are getting landed, again, with a hapless former minister from the old regime that led us into a bankruptcy and bailout for which we will paying for generations to come.

Hardly an inspiration.

It's not that we begrudge the veterans of the former Fianna Fail regime the right to a renewed career and to make a living, not that they need the money, given their pensions, Dempsey's included.

Former ministers Barry Andrews and Peter Power have both gone into high-profile roles as directors of Goal and Unicef, respectively. People will say, 'well they weren't centrally involved in the overheating of the economy and the collapse in our finances'. But then, who in FF was?

Poor old Bertie is demonised, but he had already left before the rot really set in. Cowen was there for the fall, but then he inherited a mess and was poorly advised by asleep-at-the-wheel public servants. So, really they are all to blame, or none of them are.

One could say that Dempsey, an affable, diligent Fianna Fail man of the old school, was not in the reckless mode, but he was the minister who famously told us on national radio that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were not coming, when they were already at the airport.

For that, Dempsey, and the other 'IMF-denier' Dermot Ahern, will always be remembered.

Either Dempsey was misled or just not informed, all of which would make him the sort of person who should be encouraged to continue sitting in the shade enjoying his pension and not be hauled out to head up the transformation of our 'artistic capital' – in both senses of the phrase.

The company of which he is to become chairman has a mission to 'revive and promote' the area, but surely what Temple Bar needs now is not a commercial upgrade, but a cultural one, and one that restores it to something of its original vision as a Left Bank for Dublin.

The Temple Bar Company (TBC) represents the interests of the businesses in the area and although it also sets up street celebrations and concerts, its remit is essentially commercial.

And the reality of that is that what was once a vibrant cultural quarter has recently been vulgarised into an intense drinking den and fast-food outlets. This is a far cry from how Temple Bar was originally envisaged, by Charles Haughey in fairness, when it was planned to capitalise on the existing cultural assets (Project Arts Centre, Temple Bar studios) and before any burger joint had opened.

But then who was minding the cultural aspect? The Temple Bar Cultural Trust, a separate entity to the TBC, has been scrapped and had its functions taken over by Dublin City Council in the wake of highly damaging controversies.

With the Trust gone, what Temple Bar really needs is someone fresh, with a strong arts background, or an actual entrepreneurial reputation who could oversee the balance between a cultural quarter and a tourist play-pen.

Instead, we get an old FF face, after a lifetime in public service. TBC director Martin Harte said that Dempsey's work in the early days of the Temple Bar transformation had given him "considerable experience and knowledge about the area". But this might be a reason not to give him the job, given what has become of Temple Bar. Apparently, Dempsey has been involved in consultancy since leaving politics and will receive a nominal fee for his work. But Temple Bar is our cultural quarter, a valuable national public asset, and not some anonymous corporate company to whom his like can 'consult' discreetly and privately.

But it's also about a fresh start, and giving someone else a turn. And yet so many of these FF faces insist on crawling back into public life, and cannot see how this will get peoples' backs up.

And as for Dempsey's knowledge of the arts, he will always be the man who told the Irish public that the impending arrival of the IMF was a 'fiction'. Clearly, here is a man for whom a work of fiction and the brutal reality of the economic truth is just a matter of words. If only the bailout was a fiction, the long-suffering Irish public might have forgiven him.

Irish Independent

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