Beyond the neon runes


Take the power back

Remember those ads from last year, the ones bearing the tagline ‘As Irish as’? For those who’ve forgotten, they featured Irish people being impossibly Irish and poked fun at our innate peculiarities. One centred around our inability to take a compliment, another highlighted how difficult we find it to effectively end a phone call and the best one, the most painfully accurate of them all, portrayed a man engulfed in smoke at a barbecue refusing to move from his seat as he didn’t want to make a fuss.

I loved those ads, especially the last one. Because that’s us down to a tee, isn’t it? We don’t ever like to make a fuss. We may be on the brink of starvation, be drooling at the mouth, stomachs stuck to our back with the hunger, but no way will we accept that offer to stay for dinner. The taxi rank might be closed for the night, public transport long since finished, but a lift home? You must be joking. We’d rather walk twenty miles in driving rain and gale-force wind than consider it for one second.

There’s a reason why we’re like this, a reason why we haven’t the confidence to say to the barbecue lady, “hey I’m suffocating here, turn that bloody thing off and make me a kale sandwich.” We just want to be liked. After years, centuries, of being told we’re nothing, of being pressed down and persecuted, we’ve grown up believing we don’t deserve nice things, that we should be content with our lot in life however terrible it may be.

Or at least we were like that.

At the beginning of the end of the Celtic Tiger, circa 2008, when our Government began penalising us, the common people, for the mistakes of others, our mindset changed. As austerity kicked in and the suffering began we looked at one another and asked why we always had to be so wretched, why martyrdom was our answer to everything. “Why can’t we be more like the French?” we asked, “if this was happening to them they wouldn’t put up with it.”

The French, those great campaigners for justice, a nation founded on liberté, égalité and fraternité, that was who we aspired to be like. And by Jesus, we’ve taken their template, improved upon it and claimed it for our own. We are now arch-protesters, capable of mobilising en masse at barely a minute’s notice. We don’t even have to be that annoyed, we just protest for the craic sometimes. Unhappy with the contents of a new Bill put forward by the Senate? Let’s organise a march, we’ll show them what for. Mildly irked by something a member of Fine Gael said during a heated discussion at the Dáil? Get him out of it, I’m drafting a petition as we speak. We’ve gone from Oliver Twist, Europe’s pitiable little serfs, afraid to ask for more, to John Rambo in the space of ten years. And boy does it feel good.

This latest show of people-power has seen the Religious Sisters of Charity cede ownership of the new National Maternity Hospital and allow a new, independent, company to fulfil their role on behalf of the public. As is to be expected, every Minister, Senator, Deputy or councillor with a vested interest has been quick to slap themselves on the back, reminding everyone just how opposed they were to the nun’s involvement right from the outset and how it was their input which brought about this change of heart. Which is, of course, complete bollocks. It was the people of Ireland who ensured that this new hospital will operate without any interference from the Church.

By taking to the streets, forming outside hospitals and gathering in public spaces, those most vigorously opposed to this proposal have prevented it from taking place. By being complete nuisances, badgering and hectoring Simon Harris, banging their drum long into the night, these exalted few have managed what the man at the head of the National Maternity Hospital, Dr Peter Boylan, couldn’t. They have convinced those in charge, the real decision-makers, that this just isn’t going to fly, that the people of Ireland just won’t stand for it.

This is how we do things now; the lunatics run the asylum, and we’re all the better for it. Irish Water, once beloved of all the major parties, has been disowned like an ugly stepchild, all but the most foolhardy refusing to associate with it lest the angry mob turn up on their doorstep next. The same-sex marriage referendum, we organised that, maybe not you or I, but your neighbour, your cousin, people like you who were sick and tired of the old ways and got up and did something about it.

The same people will ensure that a referendum on abortion will take place in this country within the next eighteen months. That war has been waged long and hard, and been particularly tough on those in the trenches, but it, just like those which preceded it, will be won in the end. And, for the most part, it’s the younger generations who are fighting these fights, people aged forty and under, people who grew up without ever knowing of troubles in the North, who’ve never heard of ‘No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs’, who believed that they were as good as any and had the confidence and self-worth to go with their national pride.

They, and the generations which follow, will ensure that this country remains in good hands for years to come, and that to be Irish will to be respected as well as liked. However, it’s not all good news I’m afraid. I can’t be alone in wishing that, every once in a while, one of our elected officials wouldn’t bow to the pressure, that they’d stand up for what they believe in rather than gauge public opinion and base their agenda on that. As great as it was to see party after party crumble under the weight of the water protests, it would have been nice to see someone in Dáil Éireann display a bit of a backbone and not be so afraid of upsetting their electorate.

Ordinarily I’d suggest we can’t have it both ways, but in the spirit of the new self-assured Irish I don’t see why we can’t. We should be able to get together for some feverish revolt whenever we feel like it. But we should also have a Government which can stand up for itself, and what it believes in, when it feels we’ve overstepped the mark. Everyone likes to get their own way, but nobody likes a pushover.


To the loser the spoils

A couple of weeks ago I discussed my truncated football career and how I threw a strop mid-game due to a lack of service from selfish team-mates. At the time, I had no real outlet for my rage aside from a, quite frankly, uninterested, mother. But if, post-match, I’d been confronted by an eager news reporter I would probably have mumbled something about hating football and all my stupid team-mates before hurrying home for some Coco Pops.

That wasn’t how French tennis player, Maxime Hamou, reacted when he found himself in a similar predicament. Having just lost in the first round of the French Open, the unseeded qualifier sought consolation in the arms of Eurosport journalist, Maly Thomas.

That would have been fine if he’d been genuinely upset and needed a shoulder to cry on, it might even have endeared him to the watching public. But Hamou needs were far greater than a simple pat on the back and a “there, there, you’ll show them next year.” He was looking for love, and in all the wrong places.

As soon as the interview began he was off, draping an arm around Ms Thomas and peppering her with kisses. To her credit the interviewer managed to retain her dignity, gently pushing the lusty loser away while simultaneously quizzing him on his straight sets defeat to a Uruguayan I’ve never heard of.

This charade lasted for an entire minute, Hamou failing to appreciate that non really does mean non and pulling and dragging the object of his desire like a drunken Clare man at an over-thirties disco.

For his efforts, the world number 287 has been banished from the tournament – fairly meaningless given that he’s already been knocked out. As for Maly Thomas, she’s sounded a warning to anyone hoping to emulate Hamou and perhaps succeed where he failed: “It was frankly unpleasant. If it hadn’t been live on air, I would have punched him.”