Tuesday 22 October 2019

Declan Lynch: 'Only Steve Coogan brings anything new to Ireland's old patriot game'

Steve Coogan doing Martin Brennan as a guest of Alan Partridge
Steve Coogan doing Martin Brennan as a guest of Alan Partridge
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Sometimes you don't need to look beyond the obvious. When I saw the picture of Mary Lou McDonald in New York, walking behind a banner saying "England Get Out of Ireland", I remembered an image that occurred to me a few weeks ago, an obvious one, but still…

I'd been driving and listening to Eoin O Broin of Sinn Fein on the radio, talking about housing or some such worthy matter, finding very little wrong with what he was saying - he knows his housing all right, does Eoin. Then I got to a petrol station, put a few gallons into the tank, and went in to the shop to pay for it, adding a packet of biscuits and a litre of milk.

And I thought to myself: if we imagine Sinn Fein as a petrol station, all this stuff about housing and health and the like, is the biscuits and the milk and maybe the bag of Emeralds. But nationalism - or, if you like, England Get Out of Ireland - that is the core activity, that is the stuff coming out of the pumps. That is the essential purpose of the exercise, the rest is just for convenience.

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So it was good to see Mary Lou owning the message which is at the centre of the Sinn Fein mission, unimaginably crude though it may be. These days it takes a big stupid banner in a St Patrick's Day parade to remind us that Sinn Fein is indeed a nationalist party, which does a bit of housing and health on the side.

Last week, I wrote about the invaluable assistance the party has received from many of its friends in the media, in relation to their abstentionist policy - indeed it has often been journalists who have actually made the case on behalf of Sinn Fein, that there's no problem about them staying away from Westminster at this crucial time, because after all, everybody knows that has always been their position, the basis on which they were elected.

Leaving aside the fact that by this reasoning, Trump's case for his wall is unarguable, I pointed out that there had been a vote at Westminster in which there was a majority of four - with seven seats, these days Sinn Fein could change the world.

Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Cartoonist: Jim Cogan

They could be there like their old friend Corbyn, but actually doing something. But I omitted to mention another amendment which was defeated by two votes (the Hilary Benn proposal which would have allowed MPs to wrest control of parliamentary time from May's government).

I was reminded of this by RTE's Tommie Gorman, who did something that most reporters never do, during his analysis on the main evening news of the performances of the various bad actors in Brexit: he included Sinn Fein, in their absence, along with May and Corbyn and the DUP.

Strangely, his last words about Sinn Fein do not appear on the RTE Player - the news stops dead just before that part.

But then they're lucky with these things. In honour of Seachtain na Gaeilge, an RTE radio item on Mary Lou's banner was partly conducted in Irish, which is the language in which most of us would want an embarrassing story about ourselves to be heard.

It can't all be luck though, that they're out there talking so much about the biscuits and the litre of milk, so to speak, with so few questions about the proverbial red diesel flowing through the pumps - the same fuel that is burning up large chunks of western democracies.

Maybe we're just afraid of disturbing that beast which lives so close to the surface, particularly now that we see the madness it is bringing to England, which is nevertheless nothing compared to the madness that it brought to us for about 30 years.

So when we see a Sinn Fein leader declaring "England Get out of Ireland" and we can't unsee it, we know it is a perfect illustration of the indestructible eejitry of nationalism - but it happened in America and sure, you have to allow for that.

We reach for the release valve too, when we see Steve Coogan doing "Martin Brennan" singing Come Out Ye Black and Tans as a guest of Alan Partridge. It forms this weird alliance with the ad for Brady's ham until half the country finds itself unable to get the Black and Tans out of their heads, except when they're replaced in there by The Men Behind The Wire.

But these things have always been in our heads, and it doesn't take much to let them out - though, as it happens, Partridge really is bringing something new and brilliant to the old patriot game.

So perfect is Steve Coogan's knowledge of Ireland that he is beyond just "playing" the IRA balladeer Martin Brennan.

Nationalists may think that they are buccaneering types, banging out the old tunes, but in truth they are Martin Brennan, in whose company Alan Partridge himself is a reassuring presence - the lesser of two eejits.

Watching 'the guys' lose at rugby is a different ball game

I envy my colleague Jim Cogan who does the Diary cartoon. Jim was telling me that he was naturally disappointed by Ireland's defeat in the rugby last weekend, but that he found the match between Scotland and England enjoyable nonetheless.

I am happy for him, but I don't live like that.

If Liverpool get beaten in an important game, or indeed an unimportant one, it takes me a while to get my appetite back for the game of football and the game of life itself - a week might do it, but I wouldn't like to be tied down to that. In some cases it can take years.

Now I know that some of the rugby people are a bit down, in their fashion, in their way, but there are two things they should bear in mind. First, their only chance of having a good Rugby World Cup was by being sub-optimal as they were in the Six Nations. If they had won it, they would have known deep down that this was a terrible result for Ireland, that entering the global arena bursting with braggadocio does not sit well with Paddy.

So it wasn't just that the Six Nations didn't matter, our wise rugby person didn't want it to matter, certainly not if it put the guys in the wrong head-space for Japan 2019.

But the second thing to bear in mind, the really great thing, is that the World Cup doesn't really matter either. The final takes place in Yokohama City on November 2. If Liverpool don't win the Premier League in May, I can assure you I will still be profoundly despondent on November 2.

If Ireland don't win the World Cup, or if they are again sub-optimal, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the alickadoos may be down for a while, but they're not exactly going to let it spoil their Christmas.

As for the folks who'll be doing the "post-mortem" on Marian Finucane, I'm going to call this now and say that they'll be over it even sooner - perhaps as soon as lunchtime on the day they appear on the show. And by lunchtime, I'm thinking 12 noon.

In fact I just checked with Cogan there, and he's over it already.

The ghost of Thatcher's bloody-minded insularity lives on in Brexit

I blame Thatcher - really. Thousands are to blame for Brexit, but there's no need to confine it to the living.

It started to get ugly over there with Thatcher's cultural revolution, with its many long-term social and economic consequences, the most notable of which are still festering away - what used to be called the working class became the "underclass", plus there was a kind of a demented determination to unravel the welfare state, to turn whatever was in public ownership into a private money-printing operation.

To Thatcher the UK had fallen to socialism - and in the champagne variety represented by the EU she saw the single greatest symbol of all that had gone wrong with the world since the war.

She used to say that the problem with socialism is that "you always run out of other people's money", so she started a process whereby her kind of people - in the City - would run out of other people's money instead.

She was never stupid enough to actually leave the EU, and she worked with it quite well whenever it suited her, but usually in a mean-spirited way. She'd never give the old Eurocrats much credit for anything.

And that bloody-minded insularity of hers is the same energy which is driving Brexit. Thatcher's England was a place ideally filled with white suburban folks, and so foul was the inter-racial atmosphere of those days that I have a very clear memory of going to London to interview the band Madness and finding myself caught up in the Brixton riots.

Indeed many who voted Leave in 2016 are elderly types who, it is safe to say, were not voting for Michael Foot back in the 1980s.

Her people.

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