A great little country cursed by 100 years of a self-serving and inept political class
Published 22/03/2016 | 02:30
Last week, I took part in a radio discussion about what it means to be Irish and what, if anything, we should be proud of. The conversation continued afterward and it was interesting to note that while the various contributors had wildly differing ideas about what we should be proud of, or what being Irish 'means', there was one unifying thread - a sense of weary contempt for the political class.
This is a week which sees the nation run the risk of contracting collective neck strain as we obsessively stare at our navels trying to figure out what it means to be Irish a century after the Rising. We all have understandably conflicting ideas about our national identity - if, indeed, there really is such a thing. But it is instructive to note, as the recent election of so many Independents proved in stark detail, that we don't trust our politicians, we don't like them and, most importantly, we don't respect them.
Presumably, that's one of the reasons why the leadership of the 1916 uprising are still venerated.
After all, under any rational analysis, there are startling parallels between the men and women of 100 years ago and modern terrorism - their goals are obviously different but they both subscribe to the idea that violence is an acceptable way to achieve your political ideal and they were devoid of a democratic mandate.)
Yet when it comes to remembering the main agitators from that fateful Easter weekend of a century ago, there is the rather depressing sense that they were the first, and last, generation of modern Irish political idealists and such idealism, even when it's as destructive as theirs proved to be, is always a more attractive proposition than the Mé Féinism of the people who followed them.
There are plenty of things which should make us proud to be Irish.
We enjoy global respect for our writers, artists and musicians - often to the detriment of recognising the contribution of so many groundbreaking Irish scientists - and anyone who has ever been abroad on St Patrick's Day will know just how huge that celebration really is. Indeed, it was interesting to note that all of the American news channels made their usual effort to mark the day this year, with anchors and contributors alike wearing some green attire and all of them quick to claim some Irish connection. In fact, the only other comparable celebration in the USA is Cinco de Mayo. Unlike that Mexican festival, a lightning rod for racial tension in the US, St Patrick's Day is a unifying occasion (with the obvious exception of the arguments over who gets to appear in the New York parade) and while we may be forgiven for scoffing at the sight of Americans draping themselves in the shamrock and dying both their rivers and their beer green, it is proof we're a small country which punches above our weight when it comes to international recognition.
How can such a country be so consistently ill-served by its elected representatives? Blanket contempt for politics and our politicians is understandable when you're younger and think everything older than you are is either stupid or corrupt. But it's hard to quibble with such cynicism when confronted with the fact that so many of our leaders have proved to be a combination of both.
It's interesting to note that the most popular of the all leaders of the Rising remains James Connolly, whose legacy stands untouched by the stench of Catholic fundamentalism which characterised so many of his peers. It reminds, us that, rightly or wrongly, Connolly was a true idealist who was more concerned with putting food in the bellies of the poor and destitute than establishing the repressive theocracy which followed.
We overthrew foreign rule from London only to start tugging our forelocks in the direction of Rome and even when we finally escaped the shackles of the Church, we promptly replaced that with subservience to the EU and the punitive whims of international financiers who arguably have had a more devastating impact on this State than our previous overlords.
The reason for the success of the Independents a few weeks ago is simple - they stand for something. They may stand for something you don't agree with, or even think is dangerous folly, but they wear their idealism on their sleeve.
The Irish political establishment consistently reminds us that they stand for nothing other than perpetuating themselves. They look on idealism as a sign of immaturity; a childish naivety which should be abandoned once the business of running the country kicks in. The fact that they managed only to run the country into the ground seems to escape our supposed betters.
If you removed the party branding from all those election leaflets which have been plopping through the letterbox for the last few months, you would immediately know the 'fringe' parties from the content of their manifesto. You certainly couldn't say that for most of the TDs from the main parties, who remain utterly unencumbered by anything more noble than simply retaining their seats and behaving like parish pump councillors with access to a bigger slush fund - all the better to bribe their constituents with.
That's the depressing reality of Ireland 2016 - few of our politicians have any real ideas, and those who do have bad ones.
But the Irish being the Irish, we're happier to look back at the last 100 years than at the next 100, and if we really want to 'honour' the legacy of the Rising, we'd be best served using the events of this week to drive a stake through the heart of its memory and move on to deal with the here and now, rather than the what could have been.
Some politicians who aren't stupid, corrupt or simply mad would be a nice start.