The Celtic Tigger looking for the bounce back

Celtic-tigerI arrived in Dublin to speak to Publicis QMP clients there at an event the agency had put on. Steve Harrison the much decorated creative and founder of HTW was there to speak about the power of big ideas. What really caught my attention was the briefing by Damien Heary and Jane Reidy about the state of play in Ireland after the financial crash which effectively bankrupted the country. Ireland was the first EC country to go into recession. The government stabilised the country by underwriting bank losses. Ireland now has the world's highest external debt at over 800% of GDP. Much of the banks' exposure comes from their property investments – and property prices have collapsed with everything else.

The result can be seen in housing estates on the edge of Dublin where one or two houses in the street are occupied with the rest abandoned or repossessed. Streets of half built houses left derelict.  Ireland has depended on its workforce being able to travel elsewhere in the EU to find work. Now that work has dried up the workforce sit at home. Unemployment amoung the 18-24 age group is running at 70%. And resentment is very strong. This is a blue collar recession – downtown offices are getting refinanced so the impact is disproportionate.

And as I caught the taxi into the centre the radio was relaying the findings of the report into the Catholic church hierarchy's cover up of sexual abuse. A 700 page report which had been made public 60 minutes before I landed. How the Garda had referred complaints directly to bishops and done nothing themselves.  So the loss of trust in the establishment: government, judiciary, church is very great.

But only a matter of years ago Ireland was touted as the Celtic Tiger – "the country with the best quality of life in in the world" said an Economist report. The real problem is the lack of a narrative. The boom which membership of the EU brought has led to a gigantic bubble which will take a generation to get past. Ireland doesn't want to go back to basics – all of this happened because they thought this was a viable route away from poverty, insularity, overdependence on construction and agriculture.  And it has turned out not to be. So where to now?

Declan O'Reilly who runs AskChili (Publicis online research unit) debriefed a major survey which not only took a reading on how the Irish are feeling as a nation after one of the most battering years in their history. But crucially how they feel looking forward  2010. AskChili draws on techniquies developed by Brainjuicer that uses a system of facial expressions to allow respondents to convey their mood as they look back on 2009 and as they look forward.

Its hard at this point to offer much reassurance but I finish with this story told me by an executive from Dublin council. Recently he attended a conference on the application of branding to cities. At the end of a session he said he had a question. First tell us where you're from said the speaker. He never got to ask his question – the rapture greeting a representative of Dublin distracting the speaker and audience entirely. Most countries would kill for a city with the brand that Dublin has. I must confess that whenever I get asked to work there the pleasure of going plays more than a little part in my calculations of earnings, cost and time. Ireland's cultural capital is as strong as ever despite this knock to their confidence. They'll be back. 

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