Our history: a minor branch of the leisure industry?
The director of a well-known national library (oh all right, The National Library) once told me of meeting an international banker at a fundraising do. When he heard what her job was, he responded “Oh, I see. You’re a line manager in a minor branch of the leisure industry.”
It was just the flashy facetiousness that passes for intelligence among the overpaid, but it has stayed with me. The rhetoric of economic managerialism is now compulsory, ubiquitous in every nook and cranny of public life. “Business cases” have to be made for the simplest decision taken by the lowliest functionary. We are no longer citizens, just customers looking to get what we’ve paid for.
What brings this to mind is the recent announcement by the Minister for Sport and Tourism, Leo Varadkar, about a National Diaspora Centre. In his words, such a Centre would “tell the story of the Irish diaspora overseas . . . the story of how Irish people view the world,” and could be “a major tourism draw”.
The problem is that the business case shows that the centre could cover running costs, but not initial set-up costs, and the country doesn’t have the money to fund the set-up. The Minister’s solution is to ask for “expressions of interest from potential partners to develop and operate” the centre.
The full press release (bit.ly/P0lBYo ) goes into elaborate, nervous detail about how these expressions of interest will ultimately be assessed. The nervousness is easy to understand, because something about this is deeply odd.
Is the Minister offering to franchise out Irish history to the highest bidder? Perhaps to sell naming rights to Ireland’s century-and-a-half long failure to provide a living and a home for millions of its people?
Maybe it might be better to wait until we can afford to do ourselves, and then do it for the right reasons.