‘Your Country Needs You – Patriotism in the 21st Century’ Speech by Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Paschal Donohoe TD, at the Parnell Summer School 2014

11th August, 2014

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Your Country Needs You. Apparently spoken by Lord Kitchener at the outbreak of World War I and immortalised in an army recruitment poster designed to ignite patriotism in his fellow Britons as it went to war in continental Europe.


Or not, as a book published last year suggests.


In his book, James Taylor – the historian, not the singer- argues that the poster was produced for a magazine, with an offer of postcard size versions of the now famous imagery. Though interestingly, the original image featured Kitchener’s face with the words ‘wants you’, rather than ‘needs you’, etched below.

Every story has two sides. And in the relationship between the State and its citizens, we must be sure that both sides have their story told.  Because while your country – this country- certainly needs and wants you; that reliance works both ways.

What I want to do today is explain why I believe this to be true.


Middle men

Patriotism is sometimes viewed as an old fashioned concept. Old ideas of patriotism, such as blind loyalty and unquestioning obedience do not sit well with us, and for good reason. History shows that powerful institutions – like church, State or business- must be challenged and scrutinised, so that they work for the common good, and not their own interests. To do otherwise can lead to scandal, corruption or dysfunction.


Seismic shifts have occurred in our everyday lives, brought about by education and technology, that minimizes the potential for blind faith.


Disintermediation, or ‘cutting out the middle man’ is a dominant force. Social media means we have a direct route to the story and communication technology means that near boundless consumer choice is only ever a click away. The ‘middle man’ is rarely to be found.


However States exist as a middle man in a world where empowered people are increasingly eager and able to act on their own behalf, often breeding skepticism of those same institutions originally set up for their benefit.


So it is timely that we have this debate on what patriotism should mean now and for the future.


A new, globalised world

It is not unfair to say that this country is emerging from a national break-down. With economic growth resuming and joblessness falling, our national confidence is slowly returning.


But that is not to say that we are assured of our place in the world. We find ourselves, having done the hard work in getting back on our feet economically, facing a very different world than that of even a few years ago.


This is because more than ever, our future, both individually and as a country, depends on the actions of others. We rely on everything from Russian gas to German retail sales for our continuing prosperity. As the years pass, this interdependence will only increase and though it also brings benefits, it brings uncertainty.


The Butterfly Defect

Globalisation refers to the pervasiveness of this interdependence and its profound consequences on our daily lives. It offers opportunities and risks. Ian Goldin and Mike Mariathasan in their book ‘The Butterfly Defect’ argue that ‘globalization has shaped our lives and options for the future…The defining characteristic of our age is increasing connectivity’.  Deeper connectivity means that contagion and contact are now two sides of the same coin.

Examples of this abound. By 2015 global mobile phone usage is predicted to have multiplied 26-fold above 2010 levels. Global mobile data traffic in 2010 was three times greater than total internet traffic across the globe in 2000. It is expected that there will be nearly one mobile device for every person in the world, 7.1 billion devices for 7.2 billion individuals.

This is our Industrial Revolution, with comparable consequences on the opportunities and risks for everyone.


With globalisation comes the need for a new role for the State. Patriotism in the 21st century should see the State act as a tool for allowing Irish individuals to prosper and be secure in a globalised world; a profoundly changed world. This is the contemporary rationale for supporting our institutions of State.


And for the State fulfilling its part of the patriotic deal.


A two sided patriotism where the institutions of State are something we can be proud of and where interaction with those institutions is something we see as being in our own personal interest, especially in a changing and uncertain world.


The challenges for countries, for small countries and for Ireland

Ireland today is one of the most globalised countries in the world and it is certain that small countries like ours face a particular set of challenges and opportunities in the new globalised order. But not in the way you might think. It is tempting to believe that the big forces of globalisation could overwhelm small countries, but there is much evidence to the contrary.


The Credit Suisse ‘Success of Small Countries’ report, published just last week, shows that, amongst other things, small countries do exceptionally well in the  league tables of education, health, income equality and openness to trade.


This is because small countries score particularly well when it comes to intangible infrastructure – that is the social, political and cultural forces that encourage economic growth. Life expectancy, framed by health outcomes, education standards, political stability – all of these must be in line for us to grow and thrive. I believe the relative intimacy of smaller countries creates greater agility in response to huge forces. James Robinson and Daron Acemoglu refer to many of these forces in their work ‘Why Nations Fail’ when arguing that inclusive political institutions create the best possibilities for successful economic institutions. Maybe there is a relationship between this inclusivity and the size of a society?


The massive increase in Irish living standards over many decades, in response to massive changes in the European and global economy offers, I believe, evidence of how small countries can successfully navigate big forces.


The difficulty for small countries is that despite these findings, residents feel increasingly unsure. That is where governments and institutions of State, here and in other small countries, can find their place in the new patriotism. By offering their people more certainty and more security in this new world.


Patriotism in action – health, wealth and public services

So how do states – small countries like Ireland- do that? How do they hold up their side of the patriotic bargain?  I believe that the ‘bargain’ must have four foundations.


First – our State must be able to pay its way. Taxes must cover, at all times, the cost of public services that people need or want. The un-funded tax decrease of today is the savage tax increase of tomorrow. Asking other countries to pay for our hospitals and schools through borrowing their savings is not a long-term recipe for security.


Second – sources of national economic growth must be varied. If one engine falters, another can accelerate. This is one of the many reasons that I am excited to be serving in my new role.


Third – our public services, whether education or health, must relentlessly focus on equipping our people with the skills and abilities to cope with change. No State can ensure outcomes for their people. The best equipped States can enable them.


Fourth – our political and social institutions must be strong to respond to the concentrations of interest that this profound change inevitably causes. That is why recent changes in whistle blowing legislation, freedom of information legislation and in the registration of lobbyists are so important.



According to the Credit Suisse report I mentioned earlier, we are seventh in the World Bank’s Human Development Index league table. This coincides with Ireland ‘topping the table’ in most measures and indices of globalisation. Those two performances alone show that globalisation can be a force for good if it is properly harnessed.

In a globalised Ireland, foreign direct investment brings jobs. Foreign tourism boosts spending. Foreign trade enhances our quality of life.


But this interconnectedness brings uncertainty.  Foreign conflicts have ripple effects. A banking crisis here is a banking crisis throughout Europe. An Argentinian default has consequences elswhere.


Patriotism has the potential to lessen that uncertainty. It can offer people the security they need and the support they deserve to better themselves. In return for the people paying their dues, obeying the law and serving their country as is appropriate, the institutions of State do their bit, pay their way and, most importantly, serve their people.

In a connected world, we all need that.