14 March 2016

The countries ranking best on the Worldwide Governance Indicators published every two years by the World Bank are commonly smallish, with strong Western European values, and traditions of democracy. The WGI evaluate:

  • Voice and Accountability
  • Political Stability and Absence of Violence
  • Government effectiveness
  • Regulatory Quality
  • Rule of Law
  • Control of Corruption

And in other good-government assessments, like Sustainable Government, Media Freedom,  Open Budget,  Corruption Perceptions, Ease of Doing Business, Public Sector Codes of Conduct and so on,  the league of  the well-regarded  changes little.  New Zealand can usually make the top twenty.  The Scandinavians and their similar population-sized, affluent, liberal neighbours and like-minded countries dominate the top ten. But Ireland seems to struggle to maximize its Western European advantages – being now challenged by the likes of Estonia which with the breakup of the USSR is regaining its Scandinavian character.

Size seems to make it difficult for the leading financial and commercial countries to make the top ten with any consistency. Germany and the United Kingdom often appear to be the best ranking of the larger economies.

This time of the year is a reminder of the influences that have shaped the Irish, divided North from South, and given rise to poorer ratings than the United Kingdom “as a whole”.  Why is  Ireland not among the leaders as one of the small, affluent, liberal, Scandinavian neighbours?  While St Patrick will be a cause for festivities throughout the island this week, the Republic  will begin events that will run over the next 12 months to mark the centennial of the Easter Rising, and over the next seven days in Northern Ireland there is a remarkable Imagine Festival. Dubliner’s eyes may be on the Chief Post Office and the beginning of open hostilities by the Irish Volunteers,  Belfastians will have a Festival of Ideas and Politics.

The Imagine Festival –an apolitical provocation in a country which has been sorely troubled by polarised politics – is promoted as a commemoration to explore big ideas in that wee country.

There are 80 events to encourage debate on the big issues of the day – presumably with a nod to the Northern Ireland Assembly election in May and the EU referendum in June.  This list is impressive https://imaginebelfast.com/events-at-a-glance/   The Festival’s events seek to attract many who are not normally involved in politics and to  stimulate discussion on new cultural and political  ideas.

This is the second festival, following success last year.  The festival organisation –a volunteer charity – has the following aims:

  • To provide a high quality showcase for new ideas on politics, culture and activism in Northern Ireland
  • To encourage the participation of under-represented groups in political/cultural debate and discussion
  • To stimulate reflection and debate on difficult and controversial issues
  • To promote free speech.