Sunday 17 November 2019

Declan Lynch: The truth really is too awful to face...

The man who says he is destroyed and needs help can be respected for his honesty, writes Declan Lynch

IT SEEMS to have gone largely unnoticed that Ireland's response to the economic calamities of recent years is not unlike our response to the Second World War. What Paddy is doing here is staying morally neutral, trying not to offend anybody. And hoping, when it's all over, that somehow the world will look kindly on him.

In Greece and Spain, there seems to be much more awareness that there is a moral dimension to this, that a sort of a war is going on. And that they're losing it. Which makes them angry.

They have formed the view that great crimes have been committed here, and that the money-men who committed most of them are still out there, not just dictating the terms, but still proclaiming their evil ideology. Which seems to be terribly frustrating to your average Greek or Spaniard. A natural reaction, you might think.

Paddy doesn't do natural reactions. In these times of torment he tends to fall back on his repertoire of old familiar moves, his range of postures and poses, feints and shimmies. And then to keep his head down, hoping against hope.

After all, not only did the old neutrality get us through the global conflagration that was the Second World War, it also more recently got us through that little war in Ireland itself. With the IRA openly declaring its violent opposition to the entire notion of this Republic of Ireland, many were effectively neutral about that too. Even in that war for our own survival, we were reluctant to take sides. And eventually it sort-of worked out all right, give or take about 30 years of criminal insanity.

So whatever you think of those angry Greeks, you have to say that there is some semblance of integrity in their response. That they seem to have connected with the scale of their predicament in a way that rings true. Paddy, meanwhile, who has acquired more debts than he can ever possibly repay in a thousand lifetimes, gets himself on to the cover of Time magazine, putting out the word that he is "rebuilding his country's economy". Which does not ring true.

Paddy may feel comfortable in that place, doing his little dance to please his masters. But there are times when he might just be better off with something a bit more downbeat.

The truth, for example, served us very well on one of the few occasions when we have resorted to it. It was back in the Seventies, and Europe was involved on that occasion too, as we organised our entry into the EEC. And in a move which still seems breathtaking in its audacity, Paddy negotiated from a position vaguely adjacent to the truth.

You could say that he put on the poor mouth, except he really was quite poor at the time. And he wasn't going to pretend otherwise. He told Europe that Ireland was a most distressed country, and that we needed all the money we could possibly get, for as long as they could keep shovelling it into us. And that was about it.

Sadly that now seems an aberration, a momentary lapse into factual accuracy, albeit one that served us magnificently for a very long time, probably up until

the time that Paddy decided he was a big swinging Eurocrat himself now, and he took to explaining to everyone from the Poles to the United States of America itself, exactly how he did it.

Well, not exactly. He left out the bit that it was all a Ponzi scheme.

But he liked the sound of it anyway, that vainglorious note, emboldened by the finest wines. Now, like the alcoholic who is very far gone, he is again failing to recognise the true nature of the problem, and to say the simple words: we need help.

Instead we tug the forelock, which is quite a different thing. The man who says he is destroyed and he needs help can be respected for his honesty. Whereas the man tugging the forelock may have a desperate need to be liked, but he will not be respected.

In fact, the bailing out of the bondholders may be the longest episode of forelock-tugging in all of Irish history.

"How big a deal is this?, the RTE radio interviewer excitedly asked the woman from Time who thought that Enda Kenny was rebuilding his country's economy -- again we could hear echoes of Paddy's ancient anxiety, his desperate need to be liked, and the question which we are always wanting to ask: what do you think of us?

Perhaps, in fairness, the truth is indeed too awful to contemplate. And anyway, we don't even know what it sounds like any more.

So when the Taoiseach spoke in June of that "seismic change", the alleged separation of bank debt from sovereign debt, it sounded sort-of true, mainly because he would hardly make such a big statement if it was anything but true.

And even if he would, it was actually written down, wasn't it?

And yet, when we heard recently that it might not happen after all, due to objections from the only countries involved who have any money, we were not enraged or shocked. We just shrugged and accepted that this is the sort of thing that happens in a world constructed almost entirely on foundations of bullshit.

As for the Taoiseach, he just went back to rebuilding his country's economy.

Sunday Independent

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