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Mark Fielding – No Vision People Perish

A speech worthy of a wider audience,” was how Tom Noone, the acting Master of Ceremonies, ably described it on Saturday night last, on the occasion of a banquet, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of Thurles Credit Union. Fully supporting Tom’s remark, Thurles.Info is proud to publish, in full, the text of this speech, made at this event, by Guest Speaker, Thurles born, Mark Fielding, Chief Executive of ISME.

Note: ISME is the independent organisation for the Irish small and medium business sector, with in excess of 8,500 members nationwide. ISME’s mission is to independently represent, promote and support owner/managers of small and medium enterprises and be vigilant, decisive, and direct in promoting and defending their interests, while helping members to better manage and grow their business through the provision of excellent information and services.

If you are a small business presently seeking direction, a Minister or Politician (regardless of your party affiliations) a Union organiser, then this text is a must read in full, and at least twice. For in this text Mr Mark Fielding amply expresses the most intimate thoughts and feelings of the people of Ireland today, especially in the light of our current financial state.

Read Mark Fielding’s Address:

Where there is no vision the people perish.

“The founders of Thurles Credit Union in 1961 had a vision. I would like to congratulate the Thurles Credit Union, Board, Supervisors, Management and Staff and the members themselves on your anniversary, and on the valuable work that you have carried out since the inception of the organisation in 1961.

Mark Fielding, Chief Executive, ISME.

Credit unions are economically important as they mobilise household savings as loans, and socially important, as that they help create community social capital. Guided by that philosophy, the fundamental business purpose is to provide high quality financial services at fair prices to anyone who wants them. By excelling at this purpose, they build the capital reserves needed for sustainability. They are a vital store of intergenerational capital and a facilitator of community social capital.

In time consolidation may see the network consolidate down to less than 100 larger, sustainable credit unions, while maintaining most of the existing branch footprint. Wisely used, state funding will restructure credit unions into a modern credit co-operative system.

Some local politicians have accused Mathew Elderfield of driving people into the arms of loan sharks.  Perhaps they should consider why so many credit unions are in financial trouble and why others like Thurles CU are in rude health; why lending has been restricted in some and continues to grow in places like Thurles.  It is important to distinguish between a credit union and the people who govern and manage them and here again Thurles is an exemplar.

With the Government and Central Bank intent on stabilising the sector, credit unions need to realise the opportunity it proposes and through prudent management, become a leader in the sector.

When I was asked to speak on this occasion I began to think about what I would have said to a gathering of Thurles people back in 1961, the year of the birth of this fine Credit Union. So Imagine, if you would, what someone like me would say about the FUTURE, back there in 1961, allowing our fancy take flight, looking forward to the next 50 years, back then.

Imagine

Imagine an Ireland where every household owned a colour TV set or two, and a stereo system, an iPod, iPad and a fridge, and a microwave and central heating and double glazed windows and where every person had a mobile phone or two and enough money for a family holiday.
Can you imagine an Ireland where an unhappy couple or one unhappy part of a couple was allowed a dignified exit from that marriage, through no-fault divorce.  Imagine an Ireland where no questions asked contraception was freely available to everyone.  Imagine an Ireland where the stigma of single parenthood had largely disappeared.

Imagine an Ireland with a woman President, or better still, two women Presidents.  Imagine a female Tanaiste or two.  Imagine a female chief justice and a brace of female Supreme Court judges, imagine female Ministers for Health, Education, Tourism, Social Welfare, a female Ombudsman, female Secretaries General of  Government Departments, a female Assistant Commissioner of the Garda Siochana, a female editor of the Irish Times with letters that begin with ‘Dear Madam’.  And then I compound your amazement by telling you that the female minister who will hold two of those offices is in primary school in the Presentation Convent Thurles. In the next 50 years the secretary to three presidents and the secretary to three Taoisigh and the chief of staff of the army are all in Scoil Ailbe, Thurles. They are just the guys in my class.

Imagine an Ireland where the all-pervasive power and might of the Roman Catholic Church has withered.  Imagine schools and hospitals run almost exclusively by lay people; imagine the transformation of once great convents and seminaries and mother and baby homes and industrial schools into apartment complexes and car parks.  Imagine a clutch of Sinn Fein TDs in Leinster House.  Imagine Ian Paisley in Dublin for tea and talks with an Irish President and Taoiseach.  Imagine Aer Lingus being dwarfed by an airline founded by a railwayman’s son from Thurles.
Imagine the choice of coffee.  Imagine tall skinny lattes, and short, robust, espressos, and cocoa dusted cappuccinos and Americanos with shots, all made by trained baristas.

Imagine Top Shop and Marks and Spencer’s and Miss Selfridge and Next and Tesco’s in Thurles and Sunday shopping and 24 hour, 7 day shopping all year round.  Imagine waiting lists for Hermes hand-bags.  Imagine Brown Thomas on the other side of Grafton Street.  Imagine the Kildare bypass, the Drogheda bypass,the Athlone bypass and the Motorway from the Horse and Jockey to Cork, to Galway, Belfast, Waterford, the restoration of tram lines in Dublin, the bus lanes and dirt cheap air travel and great big cars with DVDs on the ceiling and with windows that go up and down when you tell them to.  Imagine the beginning and ending of the plastic bag epidemic.  Imagine smoke free airports and bus terminals and shops and offices.  Imagine, ladies and gentlemen, smoke free pubs, in Ireland.

Imagine all of that and imagine what, you the audience, would have said in response.  It sounds too good to be true. UNBELIEVABLE, FANTASTIC.

Remember Thurles

I would also like you who can remember 1961 to recall what Thurles was like back then and compare them with what you have now. Think of the improvements made to this town, by dint of your hard work and determination. Too often we think of the negatives and allow them to overcrowd the achievements. When I spoke about ministers, chiefs of staff and government secretaries from Thurles, I do that as an example of the excellence that has been exported from Thurles. What about the excellence of the people who stayed and made their livelihoods in this fine town. You, the backbone of the community, you the workers, public servants, business people of Thurles. So often we look at the headline grabbers and tend to forget the real people, the life and soul of this great country, who are entitled to a better life and who will have a better life, because you will work to achieve it.

That is why it is so important that when you rightly give yourselves praise for your achievements over the last 50 Years, we must also take an honest look at the challenges in the coming years and face them as opportunities to better our lot.
NOBODY KNOWS what will happen next – not even our leaders. We walk as a community in darkness down a strangely unfamiliar road, into a new landscape for which there are no maps.

Fifty years ago, there were senior civil servants who tore up a postage stamp to reimburse the State whenever they made a call on the office phone to a member of their family. The public services are still run by honourable and honest people, but those days of efficient patriotism are gone. The period when the health system could be run by five senior administrators is now barely a memory.

Ireland is at present immobilised by “process morons with Blackberries and iPhones“. They assumed critical mass in “the years of the Tiger,” frustrating many people, both inside and outside the public services. It is arguable that even in those times of relative affluence we could not afford them. It is certain that we cannot afford them now.

Everywhere, one hears stories of how the new mandarins and their trade union side-kicks invoke bizarre laws which make the cost of doing business simply prohibitive. Administrators are accused of blocking necessary medical operations in the public health system, which doctors want to perform. Managers are telling educators with decades of experience exactly how to teach their classes. Unions stop the use of new tech with old thinking. Yet these managerial elites, while talking constantly of “innovation“, have a truly impoverished notion of how knowledge is shared: they tend to prefer e-mails and memos rather than complex first-hand face to face encounters.

Ireland Full Of Talent

The country is full of talented, creative persons; but many with a wisdom based on years of experience feel frustrated. Those with good ideas cannot get their hands on the money to give shape to them, while those who continue to reward themselves with big money operate systems designed to block off unconventional, fast-track ideas. It is true to say: “the people with money have no balls and the people with balls have no money.” An over-statement, perhaps, but only just, and I of course exclude our hosts tonight, the Credit Union Movement.

Every time a restaurant with a complex menu or a grocer with a beautiful range of produce falls victim to closure, this isn’t just a bad, single moment in the lives of the proprietors and customers. With each closure is lost a marvellous, possibly irreplaceable store of knowledge.
Every time a surgeon is told that an operation cannot be performed, the wisdom of a team of experts, arduously assembled over years of considered effort, is set at naught. Architectural practices have gone from 100 to seven practitioners in less than three years – the loss of such lore is heart-rending.

Ireland is filled with naysayers – often on fat mileage allowances – telling people why they can’t do this or that. The banks – which a few years ago, were throwing money indiscriminately at all comers – now refuse to support well-costed and sensible projects. The busted banks may well be rescued, but if so, why are they still allowed to treat our Government with disdain; sabotage the economy and why are they allowed to withhold the reduction in interest rates?

Despite all the special advisers and spinners, the political system is remarkably unresponsive to actual human needs. The salary-proofed group of senior public servants must include many who facilitated or propounded some of the weirder policies of the ‘Tiger years,’ and are now still finding €3.6 billion down the back of a sofa. The looting of the public purse by Fás executives has been well exposed, but has anyone explained why, in a time of full employment, Fás was deemed necessary at all?

These were the years in which gobbledegook about a “stakeholder economy” and a “stakeholder society” was cut and pasted into every second press release. The new mantras were all about “centres of excellence”, “innovation” and “smart economy.” PR smoothies, who wouldn’t be found near a church on Sundays, ransacked the language of religion for “mission statements” and “ethical testing.”

A vulgar, heedless populism led to an assertion that big business and unrestrained market forces were somehow compatible with excellence and ethics, and to a widespread distrust of those with real professional expertise. As gesture took the place of structure, the very IBEC people who now call for regulation were just a few years ago the ones baying loudest for deregulation of everything from transport to health services and allowed public sector benchmarking create a cadre of overpaid senior civil servants.

The feel-good gobbledegook was the sort at which Irish people of all backgrounds would have hooted in derisive laughter just one generation earlier, but now it was taken up by managers who called for “sound business models”.
Waiters in cafes and tea shops were trained to punch into a retrieval system the number of customers sitting at a certain table before they could dare to say “good morning”.
People were seized by the crazy idea that information is knowledge and that everything worth knowing could be measured. They became so busy using the new technology of CRM systems to document life, that many of them lost the art of living it or of thinking straight. Too many of us rolled over and let these things happen.

Before the Tiger years, Irish people understood that the real quality of life lies in those things which cannot be quantified. The notion that market forces are vital is plain common sense, but the idea that money should determine everything is a rather recent and barbarous development.

Also is the proposition that people can express individuality through designer labels. For most of their history, Irish people have felt connected to traditions of compassion for the young and old, for the poor and infirm, and money has been subordinate. Our parents and our grandparents understood Einstein’s maxim that “What counts can’t always be counted and what can be counted doesn’t always count”.

There is no point therefore in seeking to return to the spirit of Tiger Ireland. The country needs to make not just a single step forward, but a series of quantum leaps. These will be based on new ideas, combined with old-fashioned values, propounded mainly by those who work outside our sclerotic political system. And that system is sclerotic. It is forever fixated on small details rather than big pictures. It seems unlikely that a political class, which allowed so many problems to germinate in the days of plenty could offer many real answers in a time of austerity. Only a completely new political movement, in tandem with youth sections of the current parties, could tackle the challenges.

It may be that you, the medics, scientists, business people, architects, engineers and educators will, through sheer frustration, provide the nucleus of such a movement. In a coalition also composed of stymied business people and the shamefully treated young, who are being driven away by our failed policies; you could constitute a formidable force. Your calibre would in all probability be superior to that of our current politicians, many of whom cannot think for themselves without the assistance of polls, special advisers and spin doctors.

Importance Of  Youth

The young will have to be brought into politics, but many people now over 50, who have memories of past setbacks and how they survived them, would like to share their knowledge with the community before passing on. There must be thousands of people in businesses, schoolrooms and social services who want something better, not just for their children but for themselves – and right away. One can live with austerity for a few years but only in the certainty that the leadership has a real and viable plan – like the democracies of Western Europe after the Second World War.

There are good people all across the public services who are frustrated by current blockages and who have creative ideas. But we need political leaders who can locate and unleash such people. We need An Smaoineamh Mór and we need to create good ideas. But the necessary reform of the political system, which may be a condition for the implementation of some of those ideas, is not likely to happen solely from within. Most of its beneficiaries are too well embedded to challenge the codes that have produced them.

Our abilities as individuals as businesses as a community as a country are being tested. The key to our success lies in our response to the challenge of change, responses that must be imaginative, resourceful, skillful and bold.

In the end, it’s our ideals, our values that built Ireland — values that allowed us to forge a nation despite 700 years of tyranny; values that drive our citizens still. Every day, we Irish meet our responsibilities to our families and our employees. We take pride in our labour, and are generous in spirit. These aren’t Fine Gael values or Fianna Fail values, nor Labour of Sinn Fein values that we are living by; they are not just business values or labor values. They’re Irish values.

Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions – our churches, our big corporations, our media, and, yes, our government — still reflect these same values. Each time a churchman or woman remains silent, each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, each time a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people’s doubts grow. Each time politicians tear each other down, instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates to silly arguments, big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away.

We Need Change

Ladies and Gentlemen, we need change — change we can believe in. But remember this – no one ever suggested that change would be easy. Democracy can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That’s just how it is.

Our politicians in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths and pointing fingers. They can do what’s necessary to keep their poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what’s best for the next generation.
But I also know this: If people had made that decision 50 years ago, or 100 years ago, or 200 years ago, we wouldn’t be here tonight. The only reason we are here is because generations of Irish were unafraid to do what was hard; to do what was needed even when success was uncertain; to do what it took to keep the dream of this nation alive for their children and their grandchildren.

Our country has had some massive setbacks this past 4 years, and some of them were deserved. But I wake up every day knowing that those are nothing compared to the setbacks that families all across this country are facing every day. And what keeps me going — what keeps me fighting — is that despite all these setbacks, that spirit of determination and optimism, that fundamental decency that has always been at the core of the Irish people, that lives on.

It lives on in the struggling small business owner who told me of his company, “None of us,” he said, “…are willing to consider, even slightly, that we might fail.” It lives on in the woman who said that even though she and her neighbors have felt the pain of recession, “We are strong. We are resilient. We will keep going.

The spirit that has sustained this nation for more than a millennium lives on in you, the people.  We have come through a disastrous 4 years. But we will rise out of this recession, we will be in a better place. A new period stretches before us. We don’t quit.  Let’s seize this moment — CARPE DIEM — to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our great little country once more.

I started out by quoting “Where there is no vision the people perish.
The fight-back starts here with you, with your efforts, with your resilience, with your vision of a better future. It is up to us.”    [End]

 

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