I had the pleasure recently of delivering a talk to a group of visiting media and journalism students from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
The group were just a small cohort of the 25,000 students that attend the Mid-Western US university and had spent a couple of weeks taking in the sights and sounds of Ireland as part of their undergraduate studies.
The occasion was a momentous one – not because it saw a UCD graduate on his feet in the Jonathan Swift Theatre in Trinity College Dublin – but because it came just days after Ireland’s historic 'yes' vote in the marriage equality referendum.
Following an hour long talk about the evolution of reputation management in Ireland over the last decade or so, the first question from the audience was about the impact of the 'yes' vote on Ireland’s international reputation…
What struck me from the discussion that followed was that, despite having only been in the country for a very short period of time, the outcome of the vote had already had a hugely positive influence on the students’ perception of the country.
In the preceding hour I had brought the group through just a snapshot of the reputation rollercoaster that Ireland had endured since 2005 – from the heady heights of the last days of the Celtic Tiger, to the uncertainty of the property, economic and banking crisis, and the lows of the EU/IMF bailout and the arrival of Mr. Chopra and his team in Dublin.
The majority of international headlines had not been kind to Ireland during this period. The questionable actions of various individuals, organisations and groups at the heart of the crisis negatively influencing the reputation of Ireland in the eyes of the vast majority of global commentators.
What was unique about the marriage equality referendum however was that, for the first time in a long time, it was the Irish people as a collective that had an opportunity to define what modern Ireland was all about and to positively impact our international reputation. For the past 10 years the Irish population have played the part of helpless spectators while a small number of bankers, politicians, religious orders and others brought our international reputation into disrepute.
On May 22nd last the power to influence our international reputation was back in the hands of the Irish citizen, and the majority enthusiastically grabbed it with both hands.
While the main thrust of the reaction rightly focused on Ireland’s advancement in terms of equality and fairness, the Taoiseach did speak afterwards about advancements in Ireland’s reputation standing internationally as a result of the outcome of the vote.
The positive headlines globally have helped to put our reputation back on track – now the task is to build on that. The students of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln - international journalists and media opinion formers of the future– are certainly positively disposed…