As we work through September and another school year, it’s hard to believe that over 53 years ago, the opportunity of obtaining a secondary school education was considered to be just for the elite.
Life in Ireland was very different in 1967. At the time one third of students who finished primary school were dropping out of education. By the age of 15 years, fewer than 50% were still in full-time education and just 20% of students stayed in school long enough to complete their leaving certificate.
This era of poverty in Irish society was about to change on the 10 September 1966.
The then Minster for Education Mr Donogh O’Malley took the enormous and courageous step to announce his plans for free secondary education for all children in Ireland, at a press conference in the Royal Marine Hotel, Dublin.
The minister believed education was a human right. The idea had been debated in government, but not made into a reality. So, with the exception of Taoiseach Sean Lemass, the government were unaware O’Malley was about to make this life-changing announcement on this day. He knew once it was out, there was no going back.
Whilst no recording of the speech exists, it was recently recreated in an advertising campaign entitled “We cover courage” for Allianz Ireland by the advertising agency "In the company of Huskies".
Allianz Ireland wanted to recognise and celebrate true acts of courage by Irish people, whilst reminding their customers that they are there to support them as they face challenges every day of their lives – reconnecting their idealistic roots of insurance.
What is most remarkable, is that the actor playing Donogh O’Malley was his own son – Daragh O’Malley. A talented and well experienced actor in his own right, Daragh captured the moment perfectly and said it was one of the proudest moments in his life.
In just over 50 years, this incredible move helped bring about a massive shift in social and cultural mobility. Today, education is very much part of the Irish psyche with over 90% of children completing their leaving certificate each year. With such a highly educated workforce, we have created and developed world-wide leading centres of excellence for technology, pharma amongst other sectors.
Nowadays, companies also talk about having a purpose and in communicating this message in their marketing. To me, this campaign is what responsible marketing is all about. It’s about having decent values, portraying them and living by them through all communications and marketing.
I certainly believe that sometimes in life it takes a special person to have the vision and gumption to make a brave decision to bring about such dramatic change.
This campaign certainly has a purpose – to remind us that wonderful people like Donogh O’Malley should not be forgotten. We need to celebrate the lives of these exceptional individuals. I applaud Allianz Ireland, the creative team from In the Company of Huskies and Daragh O’Malley for reproducing this wonderful historical moment.