I gravitated towards an interesting looking character at a business function in Portlaoise recently. He was about my own age and wearing a good suit and tie in the manner of a man who does a days work for a living. I joked that we had the same tailor. He replied that it looked like we also shared a barber. Common ground quickly established, economics and politics- locally- we then explored at length. Fianna Fail were hammered in Portlaoise in the Locals; the state of the local small business sector is dire; Cowen was at an opening in the town recently and spoke well, impressed many and left a feeling of optimism in his wake- what the hell is going on up in hq Fianna Fail?- Why isnt he visible, involved, spreading that feeling nationally?. I have debated these and similiar questions, over a pint or at work or at cumann meeting, many times recently.
Guards and prison officers, civil servants and teachers, these are the voters who punished the local Fianna Fail councillors in Portlaoise, Newbridge, Naas, Athy, Tullamore and of course Dublin itself. The backbone of the country and the frontline workers of our social and public sector who must now take a cut to help correct the foolish inflationary spiral driven forward by a Public Private Partnership of one dimensional trade unionists and Politicians who learnt their economics on the election canvas in Clara and Clonliffe Road. The PPP with its annual increments served Begg, OConnor et al and which now can be shown to have done its beneficiaries a disservice.
My Portlaoise small businessman had a workforce of twenty in a small engineering works which served the building trade and grew to a fleet of 5 jeeps, with often several on-site projects, and two units in a business park noisy and busy for the last eight years. The owner himself, then managing and supervising relished an expanding universe and the opportunity afforded by the climate of the time. He told me with a smile that he is now back on the machines and enjoying it again. The forty year old midriff spread will soon be shed as all bar one jeep are handed back and the office chair wont be warmed as much in future. He was stung badly by a few builders and had to let most of the lads go, as the bank took his overdraft and put it on term loan. He wont let out as much credit in future and wont take on big staff numbers again unless the serious contracts reappear.
Morale is a vague concept. Some people need it to be given to them by some equally vague concept of leadership. Morale can be high or it can be poor. The National morale is now said to be Low. Myles Na gopaleen could have some fun now with his encyclopedia of cliches- The man whose morale was Low; The Man who said we needed Leadership.
What you dont hear now though is the real truth which is that ordinary people, not Leaders, not Obamas, just workers, make their own morale. The story you need to hear now is the story of the man who took off the suit and went back on the machines, or who left the office and got back on a digger or who went from the big auctioneering firm to the dole queue to learning to write software to designing websites.
Media can say what they like about leadership until it becomes a cliche in itself. In the upper corporate world, high performing companies are often said to have a culture of self- leadership.
The generations of Irish who escaped the dreary wet deprivations of their youth and emigrated to build better lives and contribute to other societies knew self- leadership. But they would have just called it survival.
A hero of my youth, an icon of eighties Ireland, Barry McGuigan is now bizarrely choreographing a reality boxing show. Ten middle class symbols of the Ahern era including actors, Tg 4 stars, a builder, A former GAA star, a comedian, are putting aside their comfortable success after an easy expansionist Ahern decade to be trained to leanness and to fight in a ring under McGuigans mentoring. McGuigan had an innocence. The innocence of the kid who took no credit for his own greatness was typical of the Ireland before Riverdance, of the Irish who had to take their own chances with a boat or a plane, and bears no resemblance to the urbane cosmopolitan, confident irish sportsman of today who Expects.
I think this incongruous mix of nostagia and grit is no accidental metaphor. I believe the generation now reeling a little and now holding the private sector together with their fingernails were reared lean and learnt to work hard. They took all the advantages of tax breaks and a perfect expansionist economic climate to create the Celtic Tiger, a cliche to burn now on a ceremonial bonfire of the celtic Vanities. I believe that now this generation, now barely forty perhaps have the best working years of their careers still ahead of them. This generation of men like me- and the ten gobshites on TV who McGuigan is going to train- to whom Barry McGuigan was a representative icon of Irish fighting spirit in the face of social, political and economic adversity in the late eighties. A generation who will make their own morale and provide their own leadership are once again fit and ready to start at their beginnings. Ready to rebuild.
Eye of the Tiger!