An Irishman's Diary

 

Heard of ad-hockery?

Is it an Olympic sport? One of those middle-of-the-night ones you couldn't make head nor tail of over the last few weeks?

Well, not really. Not yet. But it's something the Irish are the best in the world at.

Best in the world? The Irish? Now I know you're joking. Our swimmers nearly drowned, our runners are probably still out there somewhere looking for the finishing line . . .

Ok, enough. We all know the past few weeks haven't been a triumph, but that's why we need to get on to the Greeks and see if we can add ad-hockery to the Olympics in Athens in 2004.

So what is ad-hockery?

Well, it's simple really. Just think of what it's like coming to Ireland from abroad for the first time. You've read that it's now a wealthy country, that income per head here is the second highest in the EU. But what is it that the tourist is really taken with?

Well . . .

Right attitude

It's how easy-going we are. You know, so the transport sys- tem is not the best, but if you're friendly to the taxi-men and bus drivers they'll be friendly back. If the road has a few bumps or a few holes it keeps you awake at the wheel. We still have the best of the old world: we can have our few drinks and if you can give the policeman a good answer, even a witty one, he'll see you right. The main thing is to have the right attitude . . .

Hold on, hold on. What you're talking about is the stuff that's disappearing. When we get properly set up the transport system will get better, and something will be done about the carnage on the roads and the drink-driving . . .

"Something will be done." That's more like it. That's the heart of ad hockery. The attitude. Waiting lists in the hospitals? Sure aren't we all going to die sometime and when your time comes your time comes. It may take an hour to get to work, but it's all for the good, it's progress. And that guy digging up the road is going to be the last . . .

Now you're annoying me. What you're saying is that the Irish just put up with things. But they don't. We can demand better standards. We live in a democracy. We're able to throw out governments, and we do. Yes. Now that's just the other side of ad-hockery. The clever politician knows that stuff about standards is just guff that the newspapers indulge in. Does the good politician take on the big guns, the unions, the taxi-drivers, the big builders? No, the good politician knows he's liable to get kicked out next time out anyway. So the main thing is to make the announcements, turn up when there's glory going, defuse the worst crises, keep the loudest shouters quiet, and depend on that world-class Irish attitude to do the rest.

Bit of glory

But this is terribly defeatist. You're saying that, basically, we should put up with being mediocre . . .

No, not really. Look at the national soccer team, or Sonia O'Sullivan. We'll revel in their bit of glory, but we're generous enough not to ask them to actually win anything. We'll still be there to welcome them home . . .

Home? Sonia doesn't even live here; she's been based abroad for years. And as for the soccer team . . .

Now you're being defeatist. You can't be too literal when you're a little nation with limited resources.

But we can't use that excuse any more. Look at all the tax money coming in.

But do you really think the money is going to bring fundamental change? Really? Actual productivity per worker in the Irish economy hasn't gone up all that much at all over the past few years, something Brendan Walsh in UCD pointed out only a few weeks ago. Basically the foreigners have brought the money in, and when they leave they'll take it with them and we'll be back where we started. Look, we'll all take the extra holiday if we can get it, spend a few bob on the horses or on meals out. But we might as well be ready. Not lose the right attitude.

But productivity has to do with investment. The Government and Irish industry have to put in the investment, try to harness the talents of everybody, not just think of how things look now . . .

Long-term thinking

Ah, there you go again. Now you sound just like those boring sports people. Invest. Build up facilities. Grow the interest from the bottom. Set targets and give rewards for reaching them. All this "long-term thinking" stuff. But do you really think we'll ever be there winning bags of medals at the Olympics? Not at all. What we're good at is sports supporting. Have a pint, a bit of a laugh. Choose someone like Manchester United, that way you get the bit of success. And you can do it all indoors. Do it at home or in the pub. You need never even see the team in the flesh.

But what about the new stadium? There's a bit of long-term thinking, surely.

Now you're talking. We'll be able to tell the world we have two of the biggest stadiums in Europe. So what if there's no big soccer teams, no big athletics names in the country. We can offer incentives to foreign teams, bring them in.

Ummm. We might even get Manchester United.

Now, that's the attitude.