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Monday 19 March 2018

Here's to the return of gombeen man -- our own fault, to be sure

Jason O'Brien

Jason O'Brien

BEGORRAH! A horse and cart trundles past a Bank of Ireland building right in the centre of Dublin, right in the middle of the biggest economic crisis in the history of the State.

The Associated Press photographer's luck was in earlier this week, although a cynic might wonder how long he waited patiently outside Trinity College before this particular, apt image of contemporary Ireland could be sent around the world.

Kudos to him, because apt the photograph certainly is, with ponies, pints and pathetic shamrocks once again shorthand for Ireland in the international media.

It seems this crisis is licence to take more than the economy back in time.

Not only that: there is a hysterical aspect to the international reaction, with some practically salivating at the prospect of Ireland having to take a bailout on our rapid return to the Dark Ages, and a tangible air of disappointment yesterday that it hadn't come to pass (yet).

Put simply, the idea of Ireland as an economic and cultural backwater has gone 'viral', with various international news outlets feeding off each other and shaping their stories according to prejudice or what they expect to see. And so we're back to the gombeen man, while the fact that Ireland didn't apply for a bailout has only disappointed those already toasting the end of the Blarney Stone.

For example, late last night on the respected business channel Bloomberg, the news anchor introduced the latest headlines on Ireland flanked by a graphic of a young man with a red beard and a flat cap, hoisting the Tricolour.

There was a border of shamrocks around the graphic in case the audience was a little slow on the uptake. Bejaysus, would you look at the state of Ireland?

And the BBC is able to take up the slack for those with viewing difficulties. Its 'Today' programme is amongst the most popular morning radio shows in Britain, attracting audiences of over six million.

On Tuesday morning, presenter Evan Davis filed a report from Dublin, and bravely didn't leave a cliché unturned as he dug for the 'real' Ireland. "There used to be a joke: 'We're arriving in Dublin, please remember to turn your watch back 200 years'," he began, clutching his sides.

Our recent trajectory was downwards and fast, Mr Davis said, but he did find a Romanian taxi driver who found living here better than living under Ceaucescu in the 1980s. Phew!

The international picture agencies aren't helping our image hugely either. It's only a couple of years ago that the 'International Herald Tribune' was talking of Dublin's "stylish veneer" and the 'LA Times' spoke of Ireland having combined "talent and technology to catapult an agrarian economy into the digital age", with pictures of the digital hub and gleaming new docklands buildings.

But this week, it's been women selling fruit out of boxes in front of boarded-up shops, beggars on O'Connell Street and -- snigger -- "Luck of the Irish" leprechauns from the likes of Reuters and AP.

Continental Europe had taken a more paternal tone throughout, with 'Das Spiegel' headlining yesterday, "Stubborn Irish alarm eurozone" and 'Le Monde' saying we were dragging our feet.

But the take from Sydney this week? "Ireland's troubles are all its own, to be sure," claimed the 'Sydney Morning Herald'.

They are not, to be sure.

Irish Independent

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