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McWilliams regurgitates

But it’s only his own old articles

by Emma Gilleece

David McWilliams has been a household name since 1999 when he invented the term Celtic Tiger. Except he didn’t. Later that year he conceded it was an ex-pat City of London-based analyst called Kevin Gardiner who used the term in a Morgan Stanley report published in 1994. As late as 2005 the Irish Times was still reporting “that McWilliams coined the term ‘Celtic Tiger’”.

An article in Village earlier this year postulated that, after this, McWilliams – a prolific and entertaining, though largely value-free, social commentator – seems to have privately resolved that no Celtic-Tiger-derived phenomenon in Irish society would go unnamed by him. So in his book the ‘Pope’s Children’ (2005) he introduced us to social icons like Breakfastroll Man, DIY Declan, Speedbump mom, Kell’s angel, Hi Co, Bouncy Castle man, Carrot Juice Contrarian, to Robopaddy, Low GI Jane, and The Expectocracy; and to phenomena of the time like the Wonderbra effect and Deckland. He was also famously the force behind the bank guarantee, though not of course as it was eventually implemented, and of the Global Irish Forum which achieved very little with a great deal of noise for the dark years from 2009 up to 2015 before quietly being put down.

An academic from Trinity drew attention some time ago to issues with McWilliams drawing inspiration from well…himself. He reuses material from one organ in another. This might be forgiveable in a low-budget magazine but it is reprehensible in a star columnist, as McWilliams has for many years been. He currently has a prominent weekly column in the Irish Times Weekend Supplement.

On June 30 McWilliams wrote a lengthy feature on the creative class in the Weekend section: ‘Ireland needs to nourish its creative class’. Its thrust was the same as a piece he wrote in February 2016 in the Irish Independent in. Both articles contain the phrase, “There is, and has always been, a strong correlation between tolerance and wealth. The more open, tolerant and irreverent a society, and the more foreigners and non-mainstream people living in it, the more effervescent the economy”. A little earlier both articles contain the following: “In contrast, cities with a much higher blue-collar population are stagnating and are much more susceptible to competition from the third world, particularly China”. On and on he goes (in both: “For example, in the US, there is a strong positive link between the creative class and the “gay index” (the concentration of gay people and the relative tolerance of legislation in a city or state). The reason for this is gay people are much more likely to feel comfortable settling in tolerant cities, and these places are also much more likely to display soft economic power. (This is not to say gay people are more creative, but where you see a significant presence of a creative class, you also see more gay people.)”. His thinking does, let it be said, sometimes evolve. In 2016 he felt Gays were ‘the last Outsiders” but by 2017 he noted that they were Outsiders “until recently”. A piece in Gay Community News in 2015 (Outsiders still) made the same arguments in the same phraseology.

McWilliams’ articles on moving Dublin Port (one from the Irish Times in 2018: ‘David McWilliams: Dublin Port is a waste of space. Move it’ and the other from the Irish Independent in 2017: ‘Move Dublin Port and create new city on the water’ too are very similar. Perhaps there’s only one thing he wants to say about it.

In the end McWilliams seems to have been pulled up on his compulsive repetitiveness by the Irish Times. However, as recently as 2 October an article ‘Why Ireland leads in tolerance towards immigrants’ borrows extensively from a paragraph from McWilliams’ blog ‘To fight far right we must help Muslims to fit in’ from 26 February 2017.

In 2012, media watcher noticed that the blog of a new New Yorker staff writer’, Jonah Lehrer, “Why Smart People Are Stupid” copied, at times verbatim, three paragraphs from Lehrer’s 2011 Wall Street Journal story “The Science of Irrationality. In the end The New Yorker added editors’ notes to all five blog posts that “paragraphs,” “portions,” or “details” originally appeared in earlier Lehrer works.

Perhaps plagiarism does not harm: perhaps people don’t mind paying for articles that are plagiarised; one only helps McWilliams isn’t paid for it.