Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Brian Cowen, no credit can he gain

Last night consternation hung like a dreadful cloud over the capitals of Europe and the world… if you follow the Irish media, that is. From Brussels to Bratislava, and along the ancient Silk Road via Kazakhstan to China, the alleged drunkeness of Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen on national radio was evoked in hundreds of exotic tongues.

According to the Irish Examiner, the story “hit the headlines around the world”, before citing such august institutions of report like, er, New York Daily News, and “Fox Business”. Ok, it got a wee link in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and was noted in the BBC, but let’s be honest, this is not a talking point amongst Berliners, Chinamen and Bolivians. This isn't headline stuff.
But to the Irish media, the merest mention of our nation in the press of the Yanks and the Brits is sufficiently “around the world”. You can’t help but note in the midst of this spiteful glee and pseudo indignation about the global importance of the Taoiseach’s drinking habits, there lies beneath it all a provincial gratification that our betters are talking about us.

On RTE Pat Rabbitte of the Labour Party summed up the mood of the self-righteous middle classes conjuring up “the damage to the reputation of the country outside”. But what the “outside” thinks of it is one of the reasons Ireland is in such a state. Whether it’s the government’s desire to please the international markets to the ruin of the nation’s finances, or Brian Cowen’s stumbling delivery, the only concern amongst the elite is a slave-like addiction to what kind of bella figura Ireland has. Similarly, the myth of the Celtic Tiger made it easy to ignore the gulf between have and have nots that meant it rivalled Turkey and Brazil in the inequality league stakes during the boom years of the nineties.

As for Cowen’s intervention, you can listen to it at this link. Outside of the Irish media bubble, there is nothing particularly “hungover and drunk sounding” about it to this ear. Compared to the following extracts of France Minister’s of the Environment Jean-Louis Borloo at the AssemblĂ© Nationale, and former Walloon Minister of Finance Michel Daerden totally off his skull, Cowen might sound a tad rusty, but coherent. True, he is spouting gibberish about the nation’s much abused finances, but he does this when he’s drinking water too.

To be honest, I find the fact that in the early hours of the fateful September 14 Cowen sang the Lakes of Pontchartain, as the Irish Independent reports, rather endearing, if only he had heeded to lines like “I cursed all foreign money, no credit could I gain”. It somehow makes this hitherto colourless man a lot more human, a reminder that Ireland remains - just about - a country where the ability to sing a song, or to tell a story, is something of a virtue, one that’s been lost in most European societies for three or four generations. His assertion that Irish politics has hit “a new low” are inaccurate though. Irish politics hit the bottom of the trough a long time ago, and is still gleefully snuffling inside it. The emergence of a tee-totalling non-entity in the ruling Fianna Fail party to rival the non-entities in opposition Fine Gael will have little or no remedial effect on a country that confuses appearances with reality.

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