Sunday 18 August 2019

What we need is an integrated Ireland - not a united Ireland

Cartoon by Jim Cogan
Cartoon by Jim Cogan
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Last Sunday, Marian Finucane's panel raised two questions that remained with us all week. Who will form the next Government? Will Irish Muslim immigrants come to terms with Irish values?

Naturally most Irish people would prefer to talk about the politics of the next Government. This is partly because many people are fearful about the future of Islam in Ireland. So naturally they hope if they turn away it will go away.

But mostly we prefer to talk about Irish politics because we're Irish.

As soon as Daniel O'Connell single-handedly invented Irish democracy we dived into it joyously, not just like a duck taking to water but like a whale. Which is why I call the electorate Moby Dick.

Marian Finucane knows this better than most presenters. When the panel started whinging about the Sunday Independent leading with Frank Flannery rather than Charlie Hebdo, Marian swiftly pointed out that Irish politics is what Irish people want to read about first.

Not all Irish people, mind you. Some South County Dublin snobs would rather read about what preoccupies the London metropolitan elite. Out of touch? Moi? Oui!

Brendan O hEithir, the greatest journalist I ever worked with, would agree with Finucane. When I was producing the Irish language current affairs programme Feach, I would sometimes want to lead with a foreign story,

This was because I was tempted both by the cheap footage provided by film agencies, and the chance to take up politically correct positions against the war in Vietnam.

Brendan had good German, and shared my interest in East Germany. But no matter how attractive the footage available, if I suggested leading with Castro or Mao Tse Tung, he would murmur warningly: "Irish nurse safe".

This cryptic remark referred to an apocryphal headline in the old Irish Press. "South American earthquakes kills thousands - Irish nurse safe". It meant that the Irish angle comes first.

Parochial, yes. But it is not just sensible to first look after what Edmund Burke called "our own little platoon". As I hope to show later, the local is the springboard to an interest in world affairs.

So although our media elites like to emote earnestly about Islamic issues abroad, it makes a lot more sense to pay close attention to issues involving Muslims in Ireland.

But that same Irish angle is also the best point of attack when you want to raise foreign issues of human rights - and do so without losing the attention of an Irish audience.

Last week, Martina Devlin, Fintan O'Toole and Kathy Sheridan were able to link our lucrative trading relations with Saudi Arabia to our shameful silence about the many human rights abuses by that repressive dictatorship.

We can be sure that the accumulated effect of such articles around the world caused the Saudi government to postpone this week's second instalment of 50 weekly lashes due to be inflicted on Raif Badawi, a civil rights activist.

As Badawi's total sentence was 1,000 lashes, this means keeping a keen eye on Saudi Arabia. Last Friday, the same government desecrated the Holy City of Mecca with a savage public execution.

Police dragged a woman through the streets and brutally beheaded her. It took them three blows to do so. We must ask ourselves whether any trading profits are worth that woman's blood on our hands

* * * * *

Turning back to local Irish politics, I want to deal with two issues. First, the recent Red C poll refutes a brazen bit of Sinn Fein spindoctoring - the claim that Sunday Independent criticisms of Gerry Adams were actually increasing support for Sinn Fein.

But all this newspaper had to do was highlight the abuse of Mairia Cahill. And last November, in the teeth of polls that showed steady gains for Sinn Fein, I predicted that the Cahill case would eventually take its toll, just like the slow leak in the Titanic.

On November 16, I wrote about the damage the Cahill case was doing to the "luxury liner SF Titanic below the waterline; damage which will eventually percolate through to the polls."

Two weeks later, as Sinn Fein still continued to surge, I wrote: "Sinn Fein's polls have a limited shelf life. There must be no premature rush to panic stations."

This brings me to my second issue: Leo Varadakar. By "panic stations" I was referring to reported moves, before Christmas, to dump Enda Kenny. Moves led by Leo's fan club in the media.

Last Sunday on Finucane, Leo seemed anxious to distance himself from the perception that he was being helped by Frank Flannery.

Flannery may have been asked to do so, but I would be surprised if he had agreed. Because while he might find Leo as personable as the rest of us do, he might also have noticed some of Leo's flakier habits when he finds himself in a hole.

Micheal Martin put his finger firmly on one of Leo's less endearing traits last week. "He needs to stop being a commentator and some sort of detached analyst."

As a former Health Minister, Martin ran the risk of a person in a glasshouse throwing a stone. But he was right to risk it because I believe what he had to say rings true with the public.

Leo has a tendency to talk about the horrors of the health service as if he has no responsibility for them. What baffles me is why most of the media don't call him out on this habit.

A few weeks ago, when the trolley crisis came to public attention, Leo came back from Florida looking tanned and fit. So naturally I felt a shivering media might take him to task..

But no. Leo sat back, all relaxed, and spoke dispassionately about being "sick" of the problems of the health service. The press corps smiled and nodded supportively. Good old Leo being frank again.

Leo Varadkar reminds me of Barack Obama, another politician who is both personally attractive and laid back so far he seems to be lying down.

Both men share the tendency to take issues that are their responsibility and talk about them in the abstract, as if they were college professors.

Given Fianna Fail's health record, Martin took a big risk in throwing a stone at Leo. But he hit the target when he said that health services might be better "if Leo put half as much effort into actually doing the job as he does to his PR campaign."

As long as the media stays in love with him, Leo is in no danger. So far, any stone thrown at him has been magicked by the media into a rubber ball. But he should beware of the downside.

The downside is a manic depressive media habit I call "clawback". This means the more rope the media pay out to a favoured one the more it will claw back at a later stage. Leo is not immune to this iron law. At some future point, the media mob always turns into a lynch mob.

* * * * *

Finally, also on the Finucane show, Frank Flannery proved my point that interest in Irish politics implies an interest in global politics. His contribution on Islam was incisive and insightful.

He was particularly cogent on the 'clash of civilisations' issue, viewing it more correctly as a clash of political cultures.

He rightly warned that the West had to stand firm on its hard-won freedom of speech.

Some journalists I met seemed surprised at Flannery's command of the subject. That's because they don't make the link between a love of local politics and a love of global politics.

Sean O'Faolain distinguished between the provincial mind, which he loathed, because it looked in, and the parochial mind, which he admired because it looked out at the world.

That is why it would be a pity if we simply shelved the debate about Islam and Ireland because we don't want to face our fears. And there are good grounds for some fears.

This became clear during Paddy O'Gorman's report for Sean O'Rourke last Monday.

Unlike many commentators who write about Islam from afar, O'Gorman went out and about. He mostly talked to Muslims around the South Circular Road area - once the home of Dublin Jews, and still host to other Semitic peoples.

He met moderate Muslims. But he also met Muslims who were not moderate. Many he met seemed ambivalent about the attacks on Charlie Hebdo. Like me, O'Gorman sees some analogies between that ambivalence and Northern nationalists' attitudes to the IRA.

Not surprisingly, he found a few who O'Rourke rightly described as "sneaking regarders".

Dr Ali Selim is currently giving talks on 'The History of Islam in Ireland: A Journey of Co-existence'. But we should not settle for a cold "co-existence."

For a peaceful future, we need an integrated Ireland more than a united Ireland.

Right now, we are blindly following the dogmatic doctrine of multiculturalism. It has failed in the UK. Time to think again.

Sunday Independent

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