What’s another referendum?

The prime cause can be traced back to extravagant pre-election promises. Among other things, Fine Gael and the Labour Party undertook to burn the bondholders; renegotiate the terms of the EU-IMF bailout package; create 100,000 jobs in five years and revive the economy. In Brussels, they discovered the weakness of their position: Ireland is a small fish in the European pool and borrowers do not dictate terms. There would be no choice between Labour’s way and Frankfurt’s way. What the troika said, went.

Recognising and accepting that harsh reality is still a work in progress within the electorate. The arrogant attitude that sent a turkey to represent us at the Eurovision song contest at the height of the boom may have dissipated. But a sense of entitlement, a belief that others will rescue us – even from ourselves – persists. Euroscepticism and nationalism grow as living standards fall. Fianna Fáil’s decision to back the fiscal treaty does, however, offer hope for rational politics.

I was born and raised in Ireland and have lived here most of my life, but have only spent a third of it -the latest third- living in the Republic of Ireland. There was RTE in our house, but the signal was not that great. On a clear evening you might have been able to pick up a decent picture for Murphy’s Micro Quiz. The territory of the Republic of Ireland was not at all foreign: travelling to Dublin or Monaghan or Donegal never felt like entering some different State where different rules of behaviour applied.

I never took any interest in the internal history, or the party politics, or the social composition of the Republic of Ireland. In this sense I was as ignorant about the Republic as a Fine Gael minister might be about the North. It was only when I began living here that I started to take a proper look around, and even then it took a few years. And whilst I think I’ve become a bit more informed, I must admit to being regularly incapable of getting my head round what appear to me as peculiarities of this State but what must appear to certain others as an elementary fact of life.

A case in point: an excerpt from today’s Irish Times above. Is there something -help me out here, reader- missing from my understanding of the Eurovision Song Contest? I know that Ireland has won it a few times, and that when it has, this has provoked a stir of excitement, and I can understand that this may have been a source of pride to many people of a small country for whom this was the only real sense of interaction with other peoples of Europe (and the Middle East, if you include Israel, for some reason).

What I cannot understand, however is how a national newspaper that thinks of itself as the paper of record believes that a phone-in show to select a song to be sung at the Eurovision Song Contest is a reliable indicator of the attitude of the Irish electorate towards the institutions of the European Union. That is, I am unable to place myself inside the collective cultural discourse in which a broadsheet newspaper that pretends to be a paper of record thinks saying something like that is a respectable assessment of socio-political realities. Or, perhaps I am just thick, and missing something.

Or, perhaps this is down to the experience of growing up to a certain extent ‘on the inside’ of British political and cultural life, as mediated by the BBC, ITV and the British media, and ‘on the outside’ of what went on in the Republic. But when I tried to think through an analogous event in Britain, specifically the idea of a passage in a leader column in a national newspaper, discerning a thread between cultural attitudes and foreign policy, I imagined a leader in the Times in the 1980s, written perhaps by William Rees-Mogg, where he talks about how the decisiveness and optimism expressed in Bucks Fizz’s Eurovision-winning entry Making Your Mind Up was a telling indicator of the cultural mood that later informed Margaret Thatcher’s decision to go to war with Argentina over the Falklands.

Strange place. Strange times.


1 Comment

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One response to “What’s another referendum?

  1. John Green

    Skirt Length Theory Redux: The shorter the skirt, the more reactionary the times.

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