Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Reflections from the Frontline and Adventures in PR - Day Three in Ireland

The American mortgage crisis has found a soul mate in Ireland. The Irish economy is experiencing strikingly similar issues as the U.S., created by the same swirling potion of over-inflated real estate prices, subprime lending and a lack of government regulation.

Last night I was an audience member of RTÉ’s The Frontline – a current affairs show hosted by Pat Kenny. The experience was incredibly laid back and polite audience participation was encouraged. The topic of discussion for the evening revolved around Ireland’s financial troubles and the pros and cons of a solution called the smart economy.

The show’s debate panel consisted of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin, Deputy Leo Varadkar and economist Colm McCarthy. A documentary called Aftershock, featuring journalists Matt Coooper, Richard Curran and Justine McCarthy, was shown prior to the discussion. The reporters were also on hand in the audience to join in the debate.

The premise of the smart economy is simple at its core – provide more technical jobs in research and development. This will produce a trickledown effect that will create jobs in skilled manufacturing. Yet, each journalist and politician argued about the way in which initiate the plan.

Martin, a member of the Fianna Fáil party, was on the defensive against the journalists and audience. There was a prevalent current of resent toward the government for not doing more to right the tanking economy. One audience member pointed out that one of Martin’s foreign affairs offices was run out of Limerick, but he was never there to oversee it. He attempted to counter this point and explained that he delegates tasks to those below him.

The lack of support staff for Irish politicians was a point brought before Prof. Bob O’Gara while he was being prepped for a potential question during the show. O’Gara pointed out that American politicians have their own think tanks to provide insight and to take care of everyday tasks. Irish politicians on the other hand were said to spend too much time filing out passport paperwork and worrying about local complaints.

This was reflected in the next morning’s talk with Gerry Davis, the chief executive of the Public Relations Institute of Ireland. He addressed our class at the Buswells Hotel in central Dublin. He explained that politicians are much more accessible in Ireland, which has its positive and negative sides.

“You can probably find your [county] representative at the pub having a pint,” said Davis.

Davis went on to discuss the public relation boom during the Celtic Tiger years and the decline in the industry since the recession. He did end on a positive note that no PR companies have failed yet.

Davis said that there still is expansion happening in the social media market, however, journalistic skills are as important as ever.

“It’s still all about the writing,” said Davis.

Amen, sir. Amen.

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