Saturday 21 September 2019

'Ireland's Call' was a carnival of eejitry

The RTE/BBC United Ireland show proved that Nationalism is not an "issue" to be "debated"

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

There was an interesting moment on the Six One News at the start of Sharon Ni Bheolain's interview with Daire Hickey, one of the organisers of the Web Summit - and no, it was not the aggressive tone of her questioning, it was something more interesting than that.

Referring to the "testy" atmosphere which she felt had been created by remarks made by Paddy Cosgrave, the Web Summit majordomo, she said: "Is it not rather pointless to engage in this kind of bitter broadside at this point ? Why not let bygones be bygones? The Government has congratulated you, they've wished you well, why not move on?"

Now I accept that Sharon would have preferred to put these questions to Cosgrave himself, but she explained that he had pulled out of the interview, a move which some viewers felt had contributed to the combative style of the exchanges with the late replacement Hickey.

Not that there's anything wrong with that style, especially when you consider that Sharon was one of the few journalists in the building who was actually getting paid. Colm Parkinson of Newstalk's Off The Ball tweeted that he had been asked to MC at the Summit, but had declined when he was informed that he would be expected to work for free.

But again it was not the mood of Sharon's interview which was striking, it was the substance of the suggestion that they should "let bygones be bygones". That it was "rather pointless to engage in this kind of bitter broadside at this point".

On a humanitarian level, of course, these sentiments are nothing less than admirable. But on another level, if we were to go around wanting people to let bygones be bygones, to desist from engaging in bitter and pointless disputes, we might find that pretty soon there wouldn't be much to see on the Six One News, or indeed on any other news outlet.

So while I admired Sharon's zeal, I feared that this approach, if unchecked, might ultimately lead to a very strange place for this thing that we broadly describe as journalism. And in the wrong hands, it may even put an end to it entirely - if the policies favoured by the Web Summit in this area don't get there first.

And yet, little more than 24 hours later, I would have taken Sharon's attitude and echoed it a hundred-fold. Indeed, if I'd learned a few months ago that RTE and BBC Northern Ireland were planning this Ireland's Call, on which they would be asking us if we wanted a United Ireland, I too would have been saying: "Is it not rather pointless to engage...?... Why not let bygones be bygones?"

This programme should not have been made. It was likely to awaken feelings of nationalism that were dormant, or to engorge those that were already stirring.

And at the heart of it is a vast and a tragic misunderstanding - it supposes that nationalism, be it the Irish or indeed the British variety, is some kind of an "issue" which can be "debated" and which can even be surveyed for purposes of market research.

But nationalism is not like that at all. To understand it, to have any chance of dealing with it, we need to see it as a kind of a virus, a thing which has been proven beyond any doubt to be so tremendously dangerous, it should ideally be kept in a laboratory to be observed only by highly-trained people in white coats and perhaps even in radioactive suits.

In trying to name this thing, to describe it in a way that takes into account at least some of the destruction it has wrought, I have tried to devise a formula which goes something like this: Nationalism is Eejitry taken to such extremes that it becomes a form of evil.

To be kicking this thing around in a jolly co-production between RTE and BBC, as part of the "celebrations" leading up to 2016, is to set up a carnival of such eejitry it can only be a manifestation of the virus itself, escaping through the system.

Even the propositions in the survey couldn't help being intrinsically daft - so 36pc in the Republic want a United Ireland in the "short to medium term", but 66pc want it "in their lifetimes"?

So they wouldn't want it now, but later would be fine. Ah, but since it is always now... And then from the audience in the North there came a voice, the voice of a young man.

"I think we should just accept that the question is settled, and we should actually get away from these issues and move to non-Orange and Green's just pointless, it's silly..," the young man said, thus expressing the views of almost every vaguely normal human being on this island.

Obliged by the laws of hackery to put the opposite side, presenter Stephen Nolan interjected: "So we're staying in the UK for ever more...are you serious?!!", as if the young man was the mad one in the crowd.

And it's not even 2016 yet.

Sunday Independent

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