We Irish have enduring traits but they're not what you might think
Published 14/03/2014 | 02:30
ACROSS the world this weekend, we are told, there will be celebrations of all things Irish. In the US, 36.3 million Irish-Americans will celebrate and commemorate their antecedent Gaelic culture of literature, art and sport – well, they will celebrate everything green, like their beer, leprechaun hats and ghastly ginger beards. Romantic notions of an emerald isle are fondly remembered by 'plastic Paddies' across the world, who may never have even visited the country, but retain Irish citizenship, passport or ethnic identity.
Our re-connection with the diaspora is mostly harmless nostalgia or entertainment. For others, the pain of disconnection through enforced emigration is a sharp reminder that modern Ireland is not so idyllic.
There is no better time than St Patrick's weekend to reflect introspectively on what are the enduring traits of being Irish. What are our defining qualities?
An abiding love and respect for family and community, bordering on gossipy nosiness; innate decency; self-deprecating humour, laced with irony and perpetual slagging; humility from being a small nation, without a former empire to brag about. We are not sufficiently insecure that we cannot indulge in candid critical analysis and self-flagellation about our national failings – especially those of Official Ireland.
I submit, we have three perennial failings:
* We verbalise rather than resolve problems: Column inches, hours of broadcasting, informed heated debate and fulmination about controversies of the day regularly rage to a point of eventual public consensus. As we move on to the next topic, it is generally assumed that because the problem is no longer in focus then it has been dealt with. Yet months or years later, we starkly discover that little or nothing has changed. Many examples abound of profound resistance to reform. A decade of debate about transparency, accountability and unacceptable self-regulation preceded enactment of the Charities Act 2009. It still hasn't been implemented, just left gathering dust. Rehab still refuses to accept reasonable levels of public scrutiny in return for public donations, tax exemption and €82m of taxpayer funds. No law compels it to conform.
The Morris Tribunal drew a line under garda failures to monitor themselves, promulgating an independent police authority. The 2005 Garda Act spurned that opportunity, instead, establishing a Garda Inspectorate Office, Garda Ombudsman and Garda Confidential Recipient. But the Chief Inspector of the Garda Inspectorate doesn't receive reports from the Garda Commissioner, has never met the Justice Minister and has marginal relevance. The former confidential recipient (a pal of the minister) cautions whistleblowers to desist in their own interests. GSOC is not empowered to investigate the commissioner, rendering it redundant if cops insist what they did was under orders from the top man. We're left with politicised policing and administrative loyalty to the force.
The country has been convulsed since 2008, with repercussions of dysfunctional regulation of the banking sector. Despite everything, one wonders if anything has really changed. It still requires Professor Morgan Kelly to tell us that despite banks' published accounts of last week, there lurk unsustainable and unrepayable loans to SMEs of tens of billions of euro. The Central Bank doesn't have the recapitalisation resources to fill black holes, so prefers to wear the green jersey.
* It's never about what it's about: We have an unquenchable desire to establish 'hidden agendas' in every controversy. Behind every story, there's a back story; behind every plot, there's a subplot. It's always based around personalities. Ensuring effective external supervision of policing becomes about Shattergate, where the personality of the minister is both attacked and defended as if it is the key issue, rather than reforming systems. Those advocating change are attributed with party political motives. Intricate and complex crises in Anglo Irish Bank degenerated into being about a round of golf between Brian Cowen and Sean FitzPatrick.
Rehab's obfuscation is now all about Enda Kenny's mentor and pal Frank Flannery. CRC equals FF, Rehab equals FG. We seem congenitally incapable of separating policy or issues from personality or labels – it's an ingrained village mentality.
* Our national sport: stonewalling.
Within elites of the Irish Government, professions, religious and business, there resides a conviction that secrecy is sustainable. If you don't tell it, it won't be known. Cover-ups are endemic in the handling of clerical sexual abuse, medical misconduct, accounts audits and state service provision. The 'drip, drip' approaches to revelations, which have to be painfully extracted, are repeated ad nauseam.
Frank Flannery achieves an Olympic gold in blindly telling us all that we have no right to any information about his partially public-funded pension, consultancy arrangements or other emoluments paid through foreign subsidiaries of Rehab. This charitable organisation may be not for profit, but the executives are entitled to personal platinum remuneration.
It's time we had an honest appraisal of collective personality traits that we have tolerated for too long. Our excessive reverence to cute hoors, successful insiders and charming chancers retards this nation and limits our people.
Expatriates don't focus on these familiar flaws. We, remaining here, can't afford such continued innocent tolerance. Trust provides no basis for transparency.
Those in authority, by their self-serving actions, have undermined their own credibility. As we reflect during our national holiday, it's time to redefine our Irishness with some Anglo-Saxon rigour.
Evolving Irish societal modernisation, involving secular and cosmopolitan trends, must ditch in-built native naïvete.