Your Country, Your Call: A Tuppenceworth Perfect Storm

Your Country, Your Call launched a week ago. Its self description “a competition to ignite your imagination and reward your thinking” might have you scratching your head.

Didn’t we already go though exactly this already? The Ideas Campaign was an almost identical effort run by PR firm AMAS’s Managing Director Aileen O’Toole in March of 2009. (AMAS counts the Department of Finance as one of its clients, along with 28 other public bodies)

That earlier effort to radically change the nation was launched in a blaze of publicity. Editors, journalists and producers, hungry for anything positive to report after months of misery uncritically gave the Idea Campaign space to promote its primary message- If only we could harness [insert noun of your choice] Ireland could rise again- without having to actually confront what had happened to the country. They described it as wanting to “focus on solutions, not problems”.

Radical ideas, it seemed, were required to avoid the pain of change.

Well, as you’ll all have noticed, despite boldly proclaiming on their front page “Ideas Campaign fulfils its goals” Ireland has continued on much as before.

The list of 17 ideas the Government declared it was going to implement are a mix of things already done (“Facilitate career breaks and shorter working week in public sector”) and things so vague as to be meaningless (“Make changes to job seekers’ allowance to incentivise placement of graduates”). This is not because the country has no ideas for improving. It is that there are no ideas that this government could implement, without self destructing.

Fergal has written better than I can on the paroxysm of Magical Thinking which has gripped Ireland for the last year. I hope he might even revisit the subject again.

Only vested interests, boosters and snake-oil salesmen demand we look to the future and not try to revisit (or identify) the mistakes of the past. For the rest of us, ‘Let’s do something to fix Ireland’ is an impossible position to take without defining what is wrong.

Aware of this, the government has enthusiastically embraced the catch-all responsibility avoiding phrase “we are where we are”. The Ideas Campaign and now Your Country, Your Call are a manifestation of the same empty demand. Other magical thinking projects come to nothing because there is no there there. These ‘official’ projects go further.

Nothing will come of them because nothing is meant to come of them. Nothing is exactly the aim.

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