Cowen’s first crisis
When Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair last summer, he was hit by the floods and then the foot and mouth outbreak — and went up in the polls. Brian Cowen might need a similar trend over the next couple of months. With Lisbon and the economy already looking like the hot potatoes of what should be a honeymoon period, today brings news that will have major symbolic impact — that the long-rumoured shift in Guinness operations out of St James’s Gate could be announced tomorrow. According to RTE, corporate parent Diageo’s CEO is flying in to make an announcement, which suggests it is not a run of the mill press release. So what does it mean [UPDATED]?
No doubt Diageo will have a well-flagged set of arguments that have some justification. Irish people don’t drink as much Guinness as they used to. The net job loss is small because they will shift operations to a new site in Dublin. The St James’s site is far more valuable for other use than as an industrial operation.
But the cultural significance won’t be lost on anyone. One of Dublin’s iconic sites, producing the nation’s iconic drink, is going. And the shift of jobs and life out of central Dublin will continue (a trend that the last census clearly revealed). The timing in terms of the economic cycle is not good.
It will be interesting to see how much of the public reaction will be at the general level of identity — is the closing of the brewery just an incidental side-effect of modernisation, or does it capture a broader loss of distinctiveness as the country becomes more European? At least the newspapers don’t have to worry about how they’ll the fill the column inches once they’ve exhausted the Bertie tributes and Cowen profiles.
UPDATE: It’s bad news for Kilkenny and Dundalk rather than Dublin. St James’s Gate will be retained, but on a smaller site. But brewing is ended at the two other sites. As Colm says in comments, it’s more job losses outside Dublin.