I met some nice American guys the other day. They were here for a football match, of all things, between two American colleges, Notre Dame and the Naval Academy, and they had decided, along with something like thirty thousand other Americans, to use the game as an opportunity to visit the land of their ancestors.
What can be bad about this? Nothing, in my opinion. Thirty thousand people with goodwill towards this country visit us, they have a good time, they watch a game in Lansdowne Road and they go home with positive memories of their trip to the Old Place.
It’s all good, and furthermore, Americans aren’t the slightest bit fazed by elevator pitches. It’s part of their culture. Not only are they used to a hustler button-holing them with a plan for a business or a great investment, but they actually like it. They’re comfortable with that, unlike us. For the most part, Irish people struggle with the idea of asking for something, or even complaining in a restaurant. We tend to be diffident.
Did I hear some insane figure on the news this morning? Something like 300 private jets flying into Dublin Airport for the game? That’s mind-boggling, especially since it doesn’t include the rest of them flying into Shannon and Cork, but what does it tell you? It tells me that there is serious money involved in these Gathering events, with really influential people buying into the concept. And there’s nothing better than influential Irish-Americans out of their suits, in baseball-cap mode, with a beer in one hand a hot-dog in the other, because that’s when we’re at our best communicating.
Despite the front, we’re not great at formal meetings. Put us in a business suit and we start talking ridiculous Harvard-speak with an added Irish layer of pomposity. We are simply not suit material. But put us in a pair of old jeans, with a fishing rod in one hand and a guitar in the other, and suddenly we’ve got the seeds of a relationship germinating.
More of this, I say. Much more of this. The Gathering won’t solve our economic problems, but where’s the harm in fostering goodwill among people at the top of US business, when those people feel an emotional attachment to our country? Even in business, sentiment has a place, because we’re all finite human beings, including American business leaders. Not everyone is as cold as Gordon Gekko.
So let’s continue to welcome these visitors, and let’s go on showing them what’s good about our country. Apart from anything else, we might be able to persuade Notre Dame that the fighting leprechaun logo isn’t such a great image of Ireland.
Let’s keep explaining the advantages of investing in Ireland, and every now and then, when the decision is teetering in the balance, let’s remind them where they came from. It would be naive to think that any outside agencies can fix what’s broken in Irish society or our economy, but it’s no harm to have powerful allies in the States.
Let me put it another way: it’s a lot better than having enemies there.