On Echoing Irish Voices Congruent with Irish Values…

My hope/wish/prayer for 2018 is that Ireland will be a safe place for a #Whistleblower and an increasingly unsafe place for politicians who take cover with “it’s what’s legal” vs. “it’s what is ethical, proactive and kind”.

A government that is far more congruent with Irish values.

To create that Ireland, we need to find our voices. We need to speak up, shout out and demand better leadership. Our silence serves only those who would lie to us, steal from us, and oppress. That individual and collective behaviour in law it is called ‘willful blindness’ and it is actionable.

Action requires embracing our entitlement to a ‘legitimate sense of outrage’. Or call it ‘righteous indignation’ over our leadership’s major failures and small slights.

Major failures among which are:

  1. closing rural Post Offices and locating a new Children’s Hospital in the centre of Dublin (a 5 hour drive from Donegal, 4 hrs from Kerry)
  2. ignoring a tri-city/county regional economic development approach to Cork/Limerick/Galway by continuing to drive Foreign Direct Investment primarily to Dublin
  3. failing to gear up for the additional housing required by post Brexit growth of financial service sector jobs relocating from London – creating more upward pressure on housing costs

…and only one of many small slights

  • a citizenry that accepts that it’s okay for taxpayer funded RTE to make you wait over 1 minute through advertising to hear an RTE Player broadcast of newsmakers interviewed on all the the above

The bold texts links to articles or videos of interest; for more information on the work of ordinary citizen activists –

Homelessness – @Right2Homes; Website; Founder, Brian J Reilly
Healthcare – @Bumbleance; Website; Founders, Mary & Tony Heffernan
Education – @IRLChangED; Website; Founder, Frank Milling
Corruption in Banking – @WhistleIrl; Website; Jonathan Sugarman
Legislative Oversight & Abuse of Powers – @ChangeisUptoYou; Website, Founder, Tom Darcy
Willful Blindness – @M_Heffernan In her book and TED talk

Not one person here is in it for the glory! Most are reluctant activists, they have worked individually and collectively, doggedly determined, while cajoled, undermined, harassed and in some cases bankrupted, to speak up and give voice to others.

Pick a cause, focus and support their efforts. Each have made great strides, advanced new agendas and empowered change. Follow, engage and if it resonates, support their efforts. Or bring forward your own.

*David McWilliams’ testimony references findings published in his 2005 book The Pope’s Children.


On NI, flags & the ‘je ne sais quoi’ of leadership…

Thank you to Alan Carson for suggestion my attendance and to Stephen Gough for organising “The State of the Union; Beyond 2021” event in East Belfast this week. The impression I left with was that we are all aching for great leadership.

This is the first of two posts I will offer on my insights from the session.fullsizeoutput_161

Mother’s Day, Martin & Me

“If you want to understand any woman you must first ask about her mother and listen carefully. Stories about food show a strong connection. Wistful silences demonstrate unfinished business. The more a daughter knows the details of her mother’s life – without flinching or whining – the stronger the daughter.” Anita Diamont

Mothering, all parenting – is not a benign undertaking. We give as good as we got. Well mothered children grow up to be parents who can offer the same. For less well-mothered children, even in spite of our best efforts, our woundedness becomes inter-generational, having rendered us less than perfect parents.

English paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott addressed this in outlining the concept of good enough mother. He was writing 50+ years ago, so it’s fair to read ‘mother’ as ‘parent’.

Dr Jennifer Kunst describes Winnicott’s ‘good enough mother’ as:

… sincerely preoccupied with being a mother. She pays attention to her baby. She provides a holding environment. She offers both physical and emotional care. She provides security. When she fails, she tries again. She weathers painful feelings. She makes sacrifices. Winnicott’s good enough mother is not so much a goddess; she is a gardener. She tends her baby with love, patience, effort, and care.

And in a TED Talk, Why good leaders make you feel safe, the author Simon Sinek compares good leaders to good parents.

“The closest analogy I can give to what a great leader is, is like being a parent…What makes a great parent? We want to give our child opportunities, education, discipline them when necessary, all so that they can grow up and achieve more than we could for ourselves.

Great leaders want exactly the same thing. They want to provide their people opportunities, education and discipline when necessary, build their self confidence, give them the opportunity to try and fail, all so that they can achieve more than we could ever imagine for ourselves.”

I’d like to pitch the idea of “good enough leadership”.

This week’s coverage of death of Martin McGuinness – Northern Ireland’s former Deputy First Minister, IRA Commander, and one of the main architects of the Good Friday Agreement – reminded me of the Diamont quote.

Praised by many who knew and empathised with the details of his life, vilified by others – his legacy was and will be debated for decades. I’m choosing to see it her way:

“The more a [people] know the details of [a leader’s] life – without flinching or whining – the stronger the [people].”

Those who saw him as a great leader, experienced great leadership and benefited. Those who saw him as a good enough leader, also benefited.

And I’d like to believe that the impact of “good enough parenting” and “good enough leadership” is not what it says about us – but rather how it may benefit the next generation.

Because even those who have vilified him – having suffered horribly as a result of his paramilitary leadership, are now experiencing the benefit of a generation of Northern Irish Nationalists reared to be unwilling to take up arms.

Rationalisation? Perhaps – but on this Mothering Sunday, 2017, I’d like to believe that ‘good enough’ really is good enough because for all our missteps, we shared a commitment to providing:

… opportunities, education, discipline… when necessary, all so that they can grow up and achieve more than we could for ourselves.

Do something! Complacency is failing us…

"Do what is beyond your strength even should you fail sometimes."

“Do what is beyond your strength even should you fail sometimes.”

As the brilliant documentary “Older than the Ireland” so vividly illustrated, 100 years is not a long time.

It does, however, highlight how action taken today can significantly impact the Ireland of 2116.

I for one think we need to seriously adjust the trajectory.

Heartened and inspired by the leadership evidenced in the stories shared at Tangible Ireland’s Ambassador Summer School – 48 hours later I was faced with the critical need for a seismic shift in the expectations of the citizens of this island.

The state of Dublin is a disgrace.

We’ve invited the world to share in our commemoration, to witness our progress and experience our energy.

I joined an American tourist, spouse of a convention goer, who had no intimate knowledge of the Irish or Ireland. And I was deeply ashamed.

Navigating the streets, even outside the GPO is near impossible. Construction, broken pavements and crowds of pedestrians detoured around significant destinations, were confused, huddling over maps and tripping on obstacles.

Public transport is rerouted, the place looks dirty and disheveled.

It was a bit like being invited to a wedding when halfway down the aisle the bridal party decided that a change of hair, makeup and dresses was in order. And then they changed right there.

Let this serve as a call to action: We’re better than this!

Our emigrants have built cities all over the world. The children of this island have gone on to impact excellence in military, political, business and civic leadership all over the world. And we tolerate less than mediocrity here. I propose that we proclaim that:

The days of “whatever you say, say nothing” are over.
The days of “ah, sure they’ve got the run of themselves” are over.
The days of “sure, it’s grand, besides, you’ll never change it” are over.

Take action. Use digital media to bring examples of the unacceptable to light. Deficits in the delivery of public services, entitlement programs and long term planning can be brought to the attention of us all. Use the airwaves and Twitter-sphere to highlight failures and abuses of systems. Hold the names- just tell us what ought to be and is not. Use the hashtag #BetterThanThis. If #Shameful suits, use that too.

We’ll amplify each other’s frustrations, research and post the wisdom and experience of those who have overcome similar challenges and together we can bring the ideals of the founders to fruition in this our second century.

Alternatively, use and follow #PositiveIreland for the good news stories.

Let no one less than Charles Stewart Parnell inspire the call to action.

“We have never attempted to fix the ne plus ultra to the progress
of Ireland’s nationhood and we never shall.”

On Education, testing not required…

…or even relevant.

The links provided will offer a view into what system changes are succeeding elsewhere. The video below says it all.

Let’s get out of their way, stop lecturing and test less. Let’s motivate and challenge our young people to show us what they can do!

In Ireland, both in the Republic and in Northern Ireland we accept the unacceptable, which looks like:

What needs to change?

Noted education expert Sir Ken Robinson has written and spoken extensively on the subject. Changing Education Paradigms is an excellent summary of the issues at hand.

In Ireland, I invite you to follow the work of ChangED a new think tank focused on challenging us all to drive reforms in education across the island.

ChangEDYou can follow their work on Twitter @IRLChangED and watch for their position papers to be published this fall. The papers will address:

  • Mental Health in Education
  • School Admissions
  • Technology in Education

You can help:

Follow the good news stories, and when a school or a group distinguishes itself, please bring it everyone’s attention. People fear change and nothing alleviates that fear like the success stories.

Like this one:

CM Schools IntroIn Dublin at Donabate Portrane Educate Together, they’re Teaching Empathy, Leadership & Confidence. It is one of 12 Changemaker schools designated by Ashoka Ireland, an international network of social entrepreneurs.

It is when we demand this kind of innovation in education at every school in all levels that it will happen. Empower teachers, principals and parents by getting involved.
Educate yourself!

There is a wealth of information out there about innovative programs from around the world.

I will close with a summary statement of the goals of ChangED and suggest that it be a goal every citizen embraces.

ChangED aims to ensure that education in Ireland has equality of opportunity, excellence in teaching and learning, accountability, sustainability, a global outlook, wellbeing, resilience and an appreciation of the richness of different cultures and languages as its hallmarks.



On…Continuing Education

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste” images

So goes the very powerful fundraising campaign launched by United Negro College Fund in 1972. It’s one of the most enduring tag-lines Madison Avenue has brought the world. It endures because the sentiment is universal.

Dust off the cobwebs, turn off the talking heads and find out what real people working on the front lines of social, political and educational change, are up to.

The season of “Summer Schools” is underway. It’s a glorious opportunity to surround yourself with the intellectually curious, to have your thinking challenged and be infused with a dose of positivity.

We are sadly lacking mature leadership on the island of Ireland and it has never been more important for all of us to develop ourselves into an active and engaged citizenry.

The McGill, Merriman & xChange Summer Schools are now behind us. There is ample coverage of all available and still time to consider The Thomas D’Arcy McGee Summer School in Carlingford  which will address “D’Arcy McGee, 1916 and Revolutionary Republicanism” and Tangible Ireland’s Ambassador Summer School which covers “Business & Civic Leadership”.


Don’t do it for yourself, do it for your children and grandchildren. Education doesn’t end with “qualifications“, it’s a life-long process. Model it!

Why? Frederick Douglas sums it up perfectly: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men



*(per the 2014 post – and an excellent incentive to mark your calendars for the 2017 events…)  The McGill Summer School will stream its programming on “Reforming and Rebuilding our State”. And there’s still time to plan an outing to Glenties. Audio highlights of the xChange Summer School about “Changing Conversations” are available. Still ahead are the Merriman Summer School where “Emotional Life in Ireland” will be explored; The Thomas D’Arcy McGee Summer School in Carlingford  will address “The Famine in Ulster”; Tangible Ireland’s Ambassador Summer School covers “Business & Civic Leadership” and there are many more.


Forgiving and Moving on…


Not now. For some, perhaps not ever.

How much energy, creativity or progress is lost to us personally, professionally or civically, because we don’t choose to address  this?

Post conflict is complicated, human nature is not.

Holding anger -Crumlin-3

This wisdom is over 2500 years old.

Clearly, our limitations haven’t
eased in nearly 3 millennia.


Ironic that I was propelled here by a shift. A decades long process of forgiving freed for me the energy required to move…

…to this place of unforgiveness.

Accepting what will likely not change is an option. We can put aside forgiving. We must, however, “act as if” we have forgiven.

What would that look like? How to proceed?

Why? Ask yourself one question:

When will we love our collective children enough to consign our ancestor’s hatred to history?

Because it matters.

Culture Change and a “Prosperity Process”

Culture shock comes close to describing my experience as a second generation Irish-American in Ireland.

I was frequently told that I needed to learn how to “act Irish”. Apparently this calls for a combination of politeness, passivity, not being direct, self-deprecation, an avoidance of self-promotion, and a tendency toward begrudgery.

Any attempt to fall back on my US-cultivated cultural norms around self promotion, assertiveness and confidence, earned me the label “cheeky,” or “bold,” or “troublesome.”

ChangeMetaPersonally and professionally, conformity seemed counterproductive at the height of the financial crisis. The negative impact on people’s mental and physical health and well being was palpable. Passivity, while the acceptable default response, seemed a significant part of the problem.

I came to believe that reflecting my contrary perspective, while “bold”, could help others appreciate that:

  • A reluctance to self promote, a propensity to begrudge and a tendency to shame success, do not serve us well when competing in a 21st century global economy.
  • We can catalyse their own personal and communal change.
  • We can take a chance on ourselves.

It’s the message I deliver in coaching and training individuals and small businesses in my private practice and to a wider audience via Neo Ireland.

To that end, Neo Ireland*:

  • supports events that serve as an inspirational and educational outreach to SMEs and microbusinesses by providing them with business development support and exposure to wider networks
    • BizCampNI
    • Newry Creates
    • Women that Work
  • supports “Newry Hackers”  by making space available to volunteers who mentor young people to develop their IT skills.
  • echoes the positive stories and challenges the negativity we experience.
  • discourages passivity and inspires a confidence that things can be better.
  • encourages people to demand excellence in leadership across the public, private and third sectors.
  • works to model tolerance, patience and the possibility of agreeing to disagree.

We invite you to join the discussions at any time via Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin.

*Closed in 2015, Empowering Change continues Neo Ireland’s outreach.

Entrepreneurial Ecosystem – Pivotal or Peripheral?

Entrepreneurial ecosystemPeripheral to two capitals that benefit from significant foreign direct investment, policies favouring support of 21st century technologies plus agencies committed to expanding markets, the NI/ROI border region is uniquely placed to focus on just three of these six key pillars.

Human Capital, Supports and Culture

Our task is to develop these to ensure we can fully participate. In an age of a mobile and freelance workforce, geographically peripherality does not preclude our being pivotal to both markets

A skilled workforce is educated, confident, flexible and resilient. Peer to peer educational and networking opportunities serve to showcase local entrepreneurial success stories, highlight opportunities and encourage our somewhat risk averse population to follow their lead.

At the core, programs like BizCamps, Newry Creates, Women that Work among others, address the roots of our collective difficulty with ambition & self-promotion.

We signpost resources designed to provide mentorship among peers, encouraging participants to “pay it forward” volunteering with outreach efforts like CoderDoJo and Drone Academy to inspire and support skill building among young people as well as the unemployed.

Where opportunities may not yet exist we support people seeking to create them.

Learn more…


BizCamp is Back!

On behalf of Neo Ireland, I’m delighted to be coordinating #BizCampAND in Bangor on Friday, 11 September 2015!

Initiated by Paula Ault at the Signal Centre of Business Excellence and supported by the Ards & North Down Council we’ll be gathering at the Clandeboye Lodge Hotel Conference Centre all day.

You can register to attend or pitch a talk here.

Speakers will be determined by a committee two to three weeks in advance of the event. The criteria is to balance talks around skill building, entrepreneurship and motivation across a wide range of industries. Micro-businesses, SME’s and individuals come to learn about what they don’t even know they don’t know!

For updates, information and inspiration you can follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. We will be uploading previous talks and presentations at YouTube and Slideshare. If we haven’t yet uploaded yours – send us a link at BizCampNI@gmail.com.

Here’s a general overview of BizCamp:

A Bizcamp, is a “user generated un-conference” designed to bring entrepreneurs together to share skills and experience.

Opportunities provided include:

  • a chance to pass on what you’ve learned, inspiring and giving a hand-up to new entrepreneurs
  • Bizcamp-Newry-2012-Lunchtime-Lobbyan opportunity to learn new skills, hone dated ones and see what your colleagues (and competition) is up to
  • an opportunity to speak; BizCamp attendees are encouraged share their experiences and skills by pitching a talk
  • an opportunity to network regionally or province-wide

The day is casual. Between 21 & 24 half hour talks run across 3 rooms and “BizCampers” pick and choose which presentations to attend.

Who benefits:

  • micro-business owner/managers who operate their businesses from 9-5 and manage them evenings & weekends
  • unemployed & underemployed people looking for opportunities with growing businesses or who are considering their own start-up
  • managers/owners in traditional business seeking to up-skill and refine their approach to running their departments or businesses
  • SME managers/owners currently handling digital marketing themselves; learn what the experts are doing
  • recent graduates interested in exploring opportunities they may never have know existed here
  • retirees considering opportunities to put their skills and talents back to work, this time for fun
  • anyone needing better presentation skills, a chance to practice their “elevator pitch”, create a wider network
  • everyone seeking to be inspired by the success stories, the positivity and the generosity of professionals sharing what they’ve learned

photoHeld across Northern Ireland we’re delighted to be adding Bangor to our past appearances in Newry (’10, ’11, 12); Belfast (’10, ’11, ’13),  Craigavon (’10 & ’13). Neo Ireland is pleased to bring BizCamp elsewhere in the province as requested. BizCamps provide a regular, regional meet-up to help grow a more collaborative and cooperative business environment in NI.

BizCampers do business with people they know and businesses they interact with frequently. They support each other and the sponsors who make BizCamps happen.

For more information on our commitment to building a dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem, read more.