Friday, March 24, 2017

CHANGING OF THE GUARD


Ruairí Quinn
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"The Irish State is facing its biggest challenge since 1939"
So said Ruairí Quinn at an IIEA function marking the retirement of the Institute's current Director General, Tom Arnold.

Ruairí emphasised that the response to the earlier challenge had the advantage of a strong Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera, and an equally strong Minister for Supplies, Seán Lemass. Today the political situation is more diffuse.

The starkness of his example struck me forcibly: Dev kept us neutral in the face of serious imperial pressure to join the war, and Lemass kept us fed and alive in the face of extremely adverse circumstances.

And in case anyone jumps down my throat and says that's not how it was, I should point out that Ruairí's comment came at the end of the speeches and not at the beginning. But they made a big impression on me and it is something I took away with me from the evening.



Tom Arnold

Tom Arnold held the key position of Director General in the Institute during the recent restructuring of the board and he was much praised for how he handled that whole process. What he brought to the Institute was a set of diplomatic skills, a wealth of revelant experience and a vast network of contacts which have been of huge benefit to the Institute.

He made a gracious speech in the course of which he thanked everyone who helped him during his period of office, not forgetting the office and hospitality staff.

He is handing over at a time when the Institute was never more needed. Its research staff, analysts and writers will be expected to make a significant input into the Brexit process, in terms of critical analysis, policy advice and informing the public through firmly evidence-based events and publications. This is the sort of thing it has been doing since its foundation but current developments are seriously upping the ante.



Barry Andrews

Barry Andrews, who is taking over from Tom, made a short "acceptance" speech indicating that he had already been sussing out the territory and was ready to hit the ground running. His own excellent qualifications apart, he comes from a family with a long tradition of public service to the State.

I didn't get a chance to talk to him, but if I had I would have mentioned a minor, but significant, action by his father in procuring for me from the then Justice Minister, Brian Lenihan Snr, a certificate to import four banned books. I have referred to this elsewhere online.



Brendan Halligan

Brendan Halligan was the founder of the Institute in 1991 and has been its Chairman ever since up to the beginning of 2017 when he handed over to Ruairí Quinn. So with the recent revamping of the Board and change in the positions of Chairman and Director General, a re-envigorated Institute is ready to face what may be its biggest challenge yet.

Brendan made one particular comment which stayed with me. He was musing on how people are chosen for a position like DG in the institute. He had been searching for a word to describe the process and had finally come up with "emerged".

I was very taken with this as it implies a wide consensus on a tried and trusted candidate who will be up to the job. You wouldn't get away with that sort of a process in many areas of the public service which are now stitched into competitive interviews as a safeguard against jobbery, but you can see the benefits of the "emergence" approach in a job like this.



To mark the occasion Tom Arnold was presented with a copy of Carla King's biography of Michael Davitt, a book I will have to read myself at some stage.

Davitt was an amazing individual, founder of the Land League, courageous investigative journalist, hero of Jews as well as nationalists, a Mayo man who lived for a while in Ballybrack, and I could go on.

Below are a few of those in attendance. You can play your own guessing game. I only know who half of them are myself.






If you want to follow up on the Institute and its publications, including a very concise mini-briefing note on Brexit, you can go to the official website and wander round it.

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