Sunday 25 August 2019

It's time we played the patriot game, comrades

Martina Devlin

Martina Devlin

Where have all the patriots gone? There was a time we had people willing to lay down their lives for Ireland -- now we can't find anyone to knuckle down and do a day's work.

Irish Nationwide Building Society can't seem to unearth a decent candidate for chief executive at €360,000 a year. That's a thousand euro a day, but it's being sniffed at.

Have financiers unleashed their inner supermodel -- won't they unbutton their jim-jams for any less than Linda Evangelista's notorious $10,000 a day?

Surely we can rustle up a few big wigs to steer us through our economic doldrums at a fair salary for a fair day's work. Which doesn't mean earning enough to fund an imperial lifestyle. Those days are gone. Hail and farewell.

Then there is the trade union movement. Its attempt to shepherd members towards a national strike was dangerous and delusional. It was the equivalent of scribbling obscene graffiti over that 'open for business' sign the Government has been drilling into place, notably in the US last week.

I believe in unions. But it's power with responsibility, not power with a two-fingered salute. Those were beggar-my-neighbour policies, and we can thank the 'no' votes from IMPACT and the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants that good sense prevailed.

It's astounding a strike was even on the cards. Has union leadership lost all sense of reality? We are face down in the dirt: lenders have started repossessing people's homes, dole queues are lengthening daily -- anyone with a job counts themselves lucky.

Any more of this recklessness, and the Government will end up holding its Cabinet meetings in Abrakebabra. Because Leinster House will have been sold to a private equity consortium to cover the State's bad debts.

Comrades, we need to fight the economic war -- not the class war. The writer HG Wells was on the money when he said human history "becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe".

Nothing but catastrophe could follow union plans to shut Dublin Airport. This hare-brained scheme made even Michael O'Leary sound reasonable. He said the Irish people's international reputation had suffered enough, without dragging it through the mud any further.

We are seen as a nation of losers run by a cabal of chancers. Charming but feckless: back to 'The Irish RM' stereotype. Can't argue with that assessment -- except I'd add 'selfish' to the list. But it's not too late to take a reality check.

This is where a show of practical patriotism comes in. By practical patriotism, I mean working together for the common good -- remember that idea? A sense of community?

The daft brand of patriotism advocated by Brian Lenihan was never going to persuade anyone -- wrapping himself in the tricolour as he urged shoppers not to spend money in the North. The electorate rightly interpreted that as 'let yourself be ripped off for the good of Mother Ireland' -- and voted with its feet.

But there is a version of patriotism which could make a difference now. One whereby key people -- who could earn more money elsewhere -- sacrifice income, time, or both to share their expertise with us. That's who we need to help us through this "economic Pearl Harbour" described by billionaire Warren Buffet on US television recently.

I can't believe the Celtic Tiger years siphoned off every vestige of patriotism. There must be experienced, able people among us waiting to be approached.

Let's put together a kitchen cabinet of wise owls with valuable suggestions to contribute by way of a solution.

Some will have retired from industry, finance and politics, but will still have insights to share. Not every former CEO wants to spend his twilight years on the golf course, or puttering off to board meetings as a non-executive director.

They may be persuaded to accept nominal salaries to cover expenses; we can repay them by naming a housing estate after them (Make that re-name a housing estate -- no new ones will be built for a while).

Other candidates will have jobs, but may trade them in after listening to an appeal based on patriotism. We can't match their salaries. But not everyone is motivated by money -- try asking them what they would be tempted by, instead.

Recently the Economist Intelligence Unit, provider of industry and management analysis, recommended the Government should appoint former EU Commissioner Peter Sutherland to the Senate. Then he could be drafted in as enterprise minister, bringing his considerable talents to Cabinet to sort out this mess. Excellent thinking.

I'd extend that proposal to include others in the world of business, co-opting some of the brightest and best. Willie Walsh would be a catch, if the British Airways' boss surrendered his current role. Entrepreneurs including Martin Naughton of Glen Dimplex and Eddie O'Connor, formerly of Airtricity, would also enhance any think-tank.

In that same interview, Warren Buffet spoke about the paralysis caused by widespread fear and confusion. "We are in a very vicious negative feedback cycle . . . I don't want this to be the last line of the movie."

His solution was threefold: win the economic war, win the economic war, win the economic war. To do that here, we need the right commanders.

Leaders who quibble about their remuneration packages, leaders who try to march their troops over the precipice -- these are not the generals for us.

But heavy-hitters are available. Let's ask them for help: they might say yes.

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