In a recent international survey Ireland was ranked 33 out of 100 countries in terms of its brand value globally. This is a remarkable achievement for a nation of four million people but it reflects some profoundly important facts about the state of our nation too, writes Joe Gill.
When living inside any company, family or country it is often hard to see the wood for the trees. The demands of daily life and the environment in which it is lived often magnify supposed negatives while positives can be taken for granted. When you step back from the bubble that perspective changes. It was when I worked for a bit outside Ireland that the importance and value of my home country flared up in my brain.
This survey, by Brand Finance, is a useful wake-up call in this context. Ireland is located between the two most powerful economies on earth — Europe and North America. It has strong linkages to both, politically and economically. We live in a democracy defined by a set of political parties that reside somewhere around the middle of the political spectrum. In a world where populism and extremism are winning new political advocates a parliament that opts for balance may not be such a bad thing.
Just look at what the shift to extremes is doing to civil discourse and society in Britain and America. Instead of hard fought but respectful debate mobs are dominating the airwaves, purveying bile and invective that belongs locked up in a locker room. That produces a series of mean and cynical decisions that aggravate difference and dilute the value of community.
Ireland can and, in certain cases, does choose to do things differently. Is that what helped bring in the smoking ban, something that leads the way in public health policy globally on the killing associated with smoking? Would the same sex referendum have passed if zealots had adopted hardline attitudes in the Dáil?
No one is suggesting it is all sweetness and light in Ireland. A relative of mine working in Asia was telling me how tough it is to consider relocation back to Cork or Dublin given the punishing rent and house prices that prevail. The health system needs aggressive attention. Infrastructure bottlenecks are showing up again around Dublin and in the provision of broadband. Yet, all of these must be weighed against the attributes of Irish life that make it a good place to live.
For the vast flow of globally-mobile investments stability is considered gold dust in a world where geo-political tensions have escalated in the past two years. A place that offers consistent taxation policies — at both personal and corporate levels — and provides a safe location to house, educate and protect families over the long-term is coveted by decision makers. Sprinkle on to that a community that has very low levels of violence and access to a clean pollution-free environment to construct a package that can be compelling for potential investors.
In a period where there are voices suggesting Irish political debate is not sufficiently divided and contentious it is worth asking some questions.
Does more extreme political disagreement suit media headlines? Do commentators and analysts who make a living observing politics have a vested interest in political cat fighting? Are challenged media business models desperate for controversy to drive eyeball numbers? I suspect the answer to these questions is yes and, accordingly, those with the means of making headlines have to be challenged more robustly when complaining about Ireland and its body politic.
A stable and predictable society may not suit some vested interests but could be a major plank in navigating Ireland beyond Brexit and Trump in the coming years.
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