Friday 15 November 2019

There goes Enda with his funny stories again

It's very odd that we take it for granted that the Taoiseach is not to be fully believed some of the time

Mouthing off: Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaking during the plenary session of the European People's Party Congress in Madrid, Spain Photo: Getty Images
Mouthing off: Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaking during the plenary session of the European People's Party Congress in Madrid, Spain Photo: Getty Images
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

This is a queer country and no doubt about it. Take the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach was off in Spain during the week mouthing off again about the apocalypse he saved us all from. Now, it should be said first off that the Taoiseach, and his Government, did bring this country back from the brink, or certainly were on duty while the country came back from the brink.

It has been an extraordinary turnaround for this country. Think of where we were even a year ago, about the depression that stalked the land. And now a year on, we almost feel normal again. And, of course, things aren't perfect. And, of course, too much of the turnaround is to do with dumb luck - weak euro, oil prices, low interest rates. And, of course, too, these things can change very quickly. And, of course, too, the reason there are low interest rates and a cheap euro is because of a greater threat, that of slow growth internationally, which could ultimately scupper us again. But so far, we have been lucky, and we are managing to grow while most of the world slows down. Not forgetting, of course, it was cheap money was what got us in trouble in the first place.

Even with all those caveats in place, you would still have to say that things have picked up hugely during this Government's tenure. But somehow, this is not enough for the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach wants things to be more dramatic. He is not alone in this. From Pat Rabbitte to Joan Burton, members of the Government have been at pains to remind an ungrateful public just how close to the edge this country was five years ago. They assume, correctly, that people forget and move on quickly and begin to take stability and maybe even prosperity for granted again. It is probably part of our survival mechanism as human beings that we have a great ability to forget pain.

But, of course, part of this Government's plan to get re-elected is that we have to remember the pain, remember how close to chaos we were.

The Government's primary narrative in this campaign is going to be chaos versus stability (with the Government representing stability in case you were confused). And part of getting people to buy into that narrative is to remind us that chaos is possible, that it lurks beneath always, and that we came very close to it very recently.

But there is a feeling that the Taoiseach tends to overegg that particular pudding. He rolled out his story about the Army at the ATMs again during the week. Apparently, shortly after Enda came to power the governor of the Central Bank called him in and told him that they could have the Army at the ATMs by the weekend. The Army would be around the banks, too, apparently. And there would have to be capital controls, like in Cyprus. Presumably the timing - 2011, just after they came to power - is to underpin the narrative of the mess that Fine Gael and Labour inherited from Fianna Fail. This is another obsession of the Taoiseach, to remind everyone that everything is Fianna Fail's fault.

The problem with that timing is that it doesn't seem to add up. Capital controls were not introduced in Cyprus until 2013, for example. But, no doubt, the Taoiseach will say that he was the one likening the situation to Cyprus, now, in 2015. He will say that of course he wasn't suggesting that the governor of the Central Bank mentioned Cyprus. But the story is odd for other reasons, too. The Central Bank is said to be puzzled as to why the Taoiseach keeps saying this, and thinks he may be confused with contingency plans made for the break-up of the eurozone. And everyone else is wondering why this was never mentioned at the Banking Inquiry.

But that's not the really weird thing about all this. The really weird thing about it is that no one is that surprised at the prospect that the Taoiseach might be embellishing things or exaggerating or commingling various things that happened. The general attitude seems to be, "Ah there goes the Taoiseach again with those little makey-uppy stories he likes to tell, like with all those people who he claims to meet, like the man with two pints giving out about water charges, or the person who contacted him because they had extra money in their pay cheque". We just kind of laugh it off. "That's Enda for you! Always with the crazy stories. You have to laugh really." We kind of indulge him as we would a child. Because everyone assumes that other, possibly more mature people, are running the country, so we don't worry overly. Enda is regarded as a kind of embarrassing uncle who is liable to say something inappropriate in front of visitors. Every time he gets in front of a microphone we slightly tense up, because you never know what he'll come out with. When he goes out foreign we often get slightly embarrassed at his carry on, but we console ourselves with the fact that foreigners seem to enjoy him.

Still, it's an extraordinary country all the same that we just happily take it for granted that our leader shouldn't really be allowed to speak in public, and we take for granted that often, when he does speak, we only half believe what he is saying.

Of course, there was queerer than that in the past week. We had another bizarre situation whereby we learnt that the members of a terrorist organisation from a neighbouring state, now committed to peace but deeply involved in crime, believe that they run one of the biggest political parties in this country. Again, the really weird bit about that was that most people just shrugged their shoulders and said, "Shure we knew that". So everyone was more or less taking it for granted that a bunch of former terrorists believed they are strategising for a party that wants to go into government in this State. And more to the point, it won't stop people voting for that party either.

It's funny the things that people learn to live with and take for granted, things that if we saw them happening in another country we would think it a laughable banana republic.

And while we can laugh about it on one hand, in another way it says something terrible about what we expect and what we are willing to tolerate. It is perhaps a legacy of our recent history.

When your standards and moral compass are corrupted you develop a new sense of normal where you don't even recognise inappropriateness anymore. You just think that's the way things are. And a history of weak and risible leadership and extreme nationalism has clearly corrupted and twisted our sense of what is normal in this country.

That's why you have to wonder, too, about the value of all the 1916 war-games and flag-waving. Why are we simplifying into parades and re-enactments something that was very complicated, aspects of which sowed the seeds of our weird sense of normality. There is a strange militarism in the air all of a sudden, even the dramatic way the Taoiseach talked about a "bloodless coup" last week, in his daft and OTT characterisation of the arrival of the troika. We like to think we've come a long way from the violent birth of the State. But violence is possibly a bit like that chaos the Government warns us about. It's always there lurking under the surface.

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