Wednesday 24 April 2019

We're all aching to believe, Brian

Right now it feels like we've hit rock bottom, but as the Taoiseach discovered, all we really want is to be inspired, writes Brendan O'Connor

IT would be fair to say we're not exactly picky at this point. Metaphorically, as a nation, this is roughly where we're at: It's five to two. It's the last song in the last slow set, we've had a few jars and even the big lad in the suit is starting to look good. We are desperate, desperate for a bit of good news, for some sense of purpose in this seeming freefall, for someone to take charge of us, maybe even to dominate us a little bit.

Look how excited we got at Brian Cowen's Chamber of Commerce outing. Already it is being spoken of as the political equivalent of those U2 gigs in the Dandelion Market. You can be sure the members of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce are dining out on it this weekend. Can't you just see the other guys rapt from the seventh tee to the seventh pint as they ask the guy who was there to tell it again. "Is it true, he's seven feet tall when he draws himself up to his full height?" "We heard that he had notes but he tore them up, said, 'screw my civil service handlers and spindoctors, tonight I'm gonna talk some straight talk, some Brian talk'." Did you hear the ecstasy as various female RTE people who hadn't been there talked about it? Words such as "passionate", "emotional", "off the cuff" nearly had them moaning with pleasure.

Don't get me wrong, Cowen was good the other night. But the most important thing about what happened on Thursday night was our reaction to it. We want to believe. We passionately want to believe, we want to follow, we want to be inspired. Hell, maybe we even want to be lied to. Though, having said that, our reaction to Thursday night showed a huge maturity as well. Cowen didn't give us good news, yet we welcomed it. Finally, it seemed as if someone cared and was being real. And what was important about it too was that it showed the importance of gestures and symbols and moments, and the power to stir men's blood.

Last Thursday night, an unremarkable enough speech, but a seemingly heartfelt one, and one with a bit of passion and poetry, mattered more than months of national recovery plans and countless bodies and reports and committees. It just goes to show, the way to Irish people's hearts is not through their heads. The way to Irish people's hearts? Through their hearts, dummy.

We are, as they say, where we are now. Unquestionably it is not good. We were shocked enough when people like us started losing jobs. Now things have taken an

even more shocking new turn. The new unemployed are solicitors and architects -- people who are better than us. Next, it'll be doctors, or judges. And at times like this we can tend to the traditional Irish reaction to when things get too much, or life becomes too painful to bear, when disappointment is too bitter. That is "taking to the bed", retreating from the world, maybe for years. Or we can tend to run away in other ways.

But this time there is no running away. There's nowhere to emigrate. Even those who have gone to Australia are sending word back telling the others to stay at home, there's nothing there. So we are where we are, and we need to deal with it, and the best way to do it would be the way that Brian Cowen talked about the other night. We need to hang together and we need to fight. We need to fight the way Irish people do. And in ways we need to stop holding ourselves back with rationale and figures and the rest of it. We need to barge in full of piss and vinegar against impossible odds, and we need to triumph. We've done it before and we'll do it again.

But of course in order to do that, we need to regain our spirit. Right now feels like we have reached some kind of a bottom. Not in terms of house prices or the stock market maybe, but certainly in terms of mood. Irish people take crushing lows with the same enthusiasm they go for giddy highs. And we have embraced the recent bad news with all the dramatic pathos we can muster. We've gone through the stages of grief several times a day, we've looked for people to blame, we've lost hope, we've raged and we've cried. But there's a sense that now we're sick of it. Now we're ready for the next chapter and that's the fight, and for that we need to be inspired.

So Cowen and his people need to look at the speech he gave the other night and the reaction to it and they need to realise how cheap inspiration is, and what good value it can be. It's not always going to be as cheap as 17 and a half minutes of tub-thumping at the Four Seasons, however.

And it won't happen by itself.

The Government needs to put someone in charge of inspiration, propaganda, call it what you will. They need a bit of what used to be known as bread and circuses. Look at the buzz that emanated from Croke Park last Saturday night. Why don't we have more of that? Why don't we celebrate the opening of Lansdowne Road with a week of huge events, sporting, musical and otherwise. We'll give away the tickets in a lottery and we'll show it to everyone else on giant screens in public places around the country. And what about that free concert in the Phoenix Park that U2 have tried to give a few times? Would this not be a good time for it?

Could we try and get the Pope to come again maybe? And what about a few national movements? What are the scouts doing these days? Let's get them out at weekends, helping people, doing their bit. Let's get choirs singing on the streets. Let's have music everywhere you go. And let's come up with more sporting events that we can win. Let's have Harrington triumph in some more made-up golf tournaments in Ireland. Let's have our boxers winning a big hyped-up bout in the O2 every weekend.

If there's one thing we know about Irish people, it's that they'll turn up for anything, from fireworks to tall ships to a parade. I remember "Fab Vinnie" Hanley used to come to the Dunnes Stores in Bishopstown and broadcast for Radio 2 from a caravan. And he couldn't step outside that caravan because every time he tried to he was practically ripped to pieces. And it wasn't particularly that it was Fab Vinnie. Or that he had free 'Cominatcha' T-shirts. It was just that it was an event, something to get a bit high about. Like with Cowen the other night, if anyone makes an effort we'll come more than half way to meet them.

And speaking of Cowen, let's send him back to the backs of lorries where he really knows how to inspire an audience and let him tour the country putting fire in people's bellies.

And let's not forget the mothers. We will never have an inspired, energised nation unless the mothers -- and the women in general -- are happy. We have spas and swimming pools and coffee shops lying empty all over the country. Let them half their prices and welcome the mothers in. Or better still, let the Government pay for it. Let's show the mothers a good time and a little gratitude at least one day a week. It might all sound cracked, but can it be any more cracked than how the world is right now?

I suppose Martin Cullen would be the obvious choice for Minister for Inspiration, being in charge of sport and the arts. But we should probably think about it a bit more. Fianna Fail seem to find Willie O'Dea a good man in a crisis. Whatever storm they face, Willie can be relied on to go onto Questions and Answers and make it seem like everything is OK.

My own personal choice right now would be Eamon Ryan. There's something very calming about him and I think he's the kind of guy who could make people believe. He has the half smile and unflappable manner of a good cult leader, and that, in a sense, is what we need. And it seems the women like him too. Watching him on TV the other night I had an epiphany and I said to my wife: "He should be Taoiseach some day," and she said back to me: "He'll be the best-looking Taoiseach we've ever had." And that, I suppose, is as good a start as any.

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