Friday 22 November 2019

Eilis O'Hanlon: We kowtow to masters in Berlin and Paris instead of the Empire

Why did we ring to say sorry to the Germans for putting them to the trouble of robbing us blind

Eilis O'Hanlon

SINCE the abolition of the death penalty, the maximum punishment for treason in Ireland is life imprisonment, with a minimum sentence of 40 years before parole; but it would be well worth bringing back the noose for a while for all those Irish people who reportedly rang the German embassy in Dublin to apologise on behalf of the nation after the recent Anglo Irish tapes showed the goings on inside the doomed bank prior to the bailout.

At least, if execution is out of the question, they should be ostracised as Irish soldiers who deserted these shores in the Second World War to fight against the Nazis were for many years afterwards. Perhaps in a few decades' time, their descendants can campaign for the inherited shame to be lifted from their shoulders for giving succour to the enemy, but don't get your hopes up. Those who fought for the Allies against fascism were belatedly recognised as heroes. Those who sucked up to the Germans during our very own financial Emergency won't be so fortunate.

Of course, we don't know who these people are, or even how many of them there are out there.

All we know is that the German ambassador, Dr Eckhardt Lubkemeier, told RTE radio last week that a "considerable number" of Irish people had made sympathy calls to the embassy in Dublin after the scale of the deceit inside Anglo Irish prior to its final collapse became apparent, presumably in the belief that those nice hard-working Germans wouldn't have had to kindly give us so much of their own money if we hadn't been so naughty in the first place. He in turn apparently assured them that Germans did not blame us collectively for what had happened and knew what was heard on those infamous tapes was "in no way indicative of the views of the Irish people".

How generous of them. Perhaps next time the ambassador could also remind callers wishing to feel Berlin's pain that the Germans are being extremely well paid in return for their contribution to our bailout, and that it wasn't only our banks who behaved disgracefully, it was theirs as well. The big difference was that we were the mugs who got landed with the bill for the gargantuan debts of the toxic banks of our European "friends".

It's not really the Germans with whom we should be cross. They're only doing what they can get away with. As long as it works for Hans, what should they care if the economic masterplan causes misery to Paddy Irishman, Carlos from Costa Del Broke, and Zorba the Greek? It's ourselves who need to get a grip.

What is wrong with us as a people that we continually seek the approval of foreigners, even when those foreigners are no better than we are? How lacking are we in self- confidence that we're so willing to shoulder the blame for things that are not our fault? It's doubtful that "considerable numbers" of German people were ringing the Irish embassy in Berlin to apologise for the fact that their government has forced every man, woman and child in this country, for this generation and the next and who knows how many after that, to be sunk in debt in order to pay back debts run up by German and French and British banks who also lent billions of euro that they didn't have in order to give it to people who couldn't pay it back.

It's always the same old story. Our national lack of confidence doesn't so much rear its ugly head every time as peek nervously over the parapet in expectation of being pelted with stones from our supposed betters. Even in the midst of the Celtic Tiger we never really believed that we were as good as everyone else. We had the money and we could use it to temporarily inure ourselves against feelings of inadequacy and depression, the same way that we do with drink. But it never penetrated that thick Irish hide or got into the soul.

It was surface confidence, and, the moment the money went, that fake patina of self-assurance shrivelled away faster than a rain drop in the Sahara, to be replaced by the familiar abject servility.

It could be that this is a whole post-colonial thing going on here, which makes us feel second best when set in the shadow of bigger, more powerful nations; but few post-colonial nations can have so readily replaced one foreign dominant power, the British, with another, the European Union.

Now we kowtow to Berlin and Paris but convince ourselves that somehow this is different, it's better, because we might be no more equal now than we were in the old days of the Empire but at least our masters don't speak in clipped upper crust accents anymore like the toffs in Downton Abbey. They make us feel inferior in German instead. That's progress.

That sense of cultural servility was lurking away in Bono's speech last week when the U2 frontman flew to Paris to add the title Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters to his numerous other awards. There he told the French that they were a nation of "liberte, egalite, fraternite", but that he came from a land of "arse, feck, girls".

The Father Ted reference was a joke, obviously, and Bono dutifully went on to list the great musicians and writers that Ireland had produced over the years, but that, in its own way, was just another cliche. This is the one that says we're a nation of poets and dreamers and drifters, innocent and otherworldly. It's only a short step from that to the one where we're essentially feckless and irresponsible, not be taken seriously, not like the Germans, not like the French.

Bono meant none of that, but it's a dead cert that this is what European leaders are internally translating to themselves when they hear the familiar stereotypes. We're a people so away with the fairies that we'll even pay their debts, then ring up to apologise for putting them to the trouble of having to rob us blind in the first place. It's just as well these so-called Irish people weren't around during the Famine or they'd probably have called the British embassy to say sorry for eating so much.

Irish Independent

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