Wednesday 20 February 2019

We claim you as one of our own, Mr President

As we await the arrival of Air Force One, Joseph O'Connor sets out the lay of the land for Barack Obama

Dear Mr President, you are soon to visit Ireland, and we're very excited to welcome you. Although having a politician of style, eloquence and wit among us is of course nothing new -- no, really -- we can never have enough of the finer things of life.

We intend claiming you as one of us, and we hope you don't mind. The fact that you are not actually resident in Ireland need be no barrier at all. Indeed, some of our most successful business people express their patriotic fervour by living in other countries for tax reasons. One of them is said to have a tattoo reading 'Ireland Forever' on his forearm. (The words 'I'm leaving' precede it, in small print.)

It might be useful for you to have a couple of pointers so as to make your visit more enjoyable. Well, Mr President, what can I tell you about our country? To say we're going through some stuff at the moment would be to riot in tact, but then every cloud has its silver lining. There used to be a bit of friendly banter among the natives about whether Cork or Dublin is the true capital of Ireland. But that's all been settled now. It's Frankfurt.

During our recent election campaign, many Irish politicians referred to your strength, powerful oratory and visionary leadership as reasons why we should vote for them or their relations. Indeed, we have a new Government now and when it comes to the matter of standing up to the bondholders, the Taoiseach and Minister for Finance often cheer us up by bravely quoting your famous and inspirational slogan: 'Yes, we can't.'

Recent media reports have stated that you may only be in Ireland for five or six hours, but that should be long enough to take in a brief answer by Bertie Ahern to a simple yes-or-no question about his finances. A highlight of your tour may be your visit to Co Offaly, where your ancestral hometown has recently been renamed 'Nomoneygall'. On your way there, you will pass quite a number of empty apartment blocks and tenantless factories. If you'd like to take a few of them home with you as a souvenir for Michelle and the kids, feel free. Really, we have more than we need.

Dublin is a pleasant city to walk around, or, late at night, run. Perhaps you will be able to take in a visit to O'Connell Street, our gracious main thoroughfare, which contains a fascinating array of burger bars, leprechaun shops, and nearby nightclubs, where the little people get their leg over. Begging has become something of a problem since the downturn kicked in, and you may be assailed by people who come up to you and say 'Buddy, can you spare me an AIB share?' Best thing to do is call for certain members of the Guards. Little joke about rape and we're all chums again.

Ireland has changed a bit in the last few years. It used to be a rather repressive society where politics was conducted with an Armalite in one hand and a Carmelite in the other, but that's all in the past and best left there.

When President Kennedy visited Ireland in 1963, he'd have been struck by its old-fashioned and homely charm. These days it's illegal to smoke a cigarette in a pub, but we can buy porn magazines in a petrol station. So really, a lot of progress has been made.

Here on Brokebank Mountain, we have an economic system with which you may not be totally familiar. It's called Marxism. Groucho Marxism; a form of radical socialism for rich people. How it works is that we citizens own the banks and we give them all our money, and at the end of the week, if they can spare it, and if we've been very, very good little girls and boys, they hand us back a couple of euros for ourselves.

The Seanad elections are going on, and that's delighting us all. You may find it an unusual system, but really it isn't. Yes, a number of seats in our parliament can actually be given by the Taoiseach to anyone he wishes to have one, and then we have other seats you can only stand for, or vote for, if you've been to a university. But what could be fairer than that, Mr President? As a person who has experienced discrimination yourself, I know you will find this a perfectly normal state of affairs. We don't want just anyone having a chance of becoming a senator. Sure, that might lead to a country having problems.

Joseph O'Connor's bestselling novel 'Ghost Light' has just been published in paperback and is Dublin's One City One Book novel for 2011. The full programme of events celebrating the novel is available at www.dublin onecityonebook.ie

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