Christopher Lee

The ghost of Michael Collins will not save Ireland

Dublin, 30 August 2012

In Fitzgerald’s bar by O’Connell’s Bridge the craic is that Enda Kenny, The Taoiseach – or the prime minister as they say across the water – is claiming he’s leading Ireland in the great tradition of Michael Collins the great revolutionary murdered 90 years ago this past week.

Now the bar has been there since 1832 so there’s a keen since of history in the place as well as the common touch of two televisions in the long bar for Gaelic football (Donegal thrashed Cork at the weekend in the All-Ireland semis).

This is no tap room gossip. Neither the football nor Enda Kenny will change the lives of those who quietly mutter the state of state affairs and football while sipping a pint of the stuff. What they do know is that Sunday’s semi final at the multi-zillion euro Croke Park is played in a spirit of openness and corinthian fervour.  Whatever the result, it’s back to the day job (if you have one) the following morning. A hard game, then a hard night but few hard feelings in the morning.

And before we get off the metaphor, the 55,000 or so fans all go through the same gates.  None of this internecine warfare of the British Premier Division which has the body-searched “fans” channelled through different ends of the ground for fear of uncontrollable violence.  In Ireland (for the moment at least) the divisions among one of the most articulate peoples in Europe is one of spectator enthusiasms thus acceptance of fate whether it’s the game of Gaelic Football of the more secretive sport of Irish national politics. Hence the puzzle over Kenny’s claim to a mantle that he’d best not try to wear.

For the Irish people know that the country is broke, that services are being slashed and we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. And Kenny’s Fine Gael party and Eamon Gilmore’s Labour have formed Ireland’s coalition government since 2011. That’s too short a time to sort the national problems of economic calamity and social hardship.  Just as Brits hark to the spirit of Churchill and the French to De Gaulle (or some of them do anyway) so Kenny has snugged up to the still national hero Michael Collins.

He’s buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.  So lie the remains of Roger Casement, Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell, Maude Gonne. Modern Ireland is the story of revolutionaries and heroes and heroines – the connection is not always as obvioous as it appears in a land at war within itself since the 11th century.

So Kenny must be careful when he calls up the ghosts of Ireland’s past. Modern Ireland is a land of what one sensible voice here calls moral barbarism. Collins would recognize it.  But he would not praise the commonly corrupt and graft-ridden Ireland that everyone knows exists but none has the guts and power to reform.

At street level there is, for example, a crisis in mortgage areas that is creating an island of ghost estates and even half villages with property not completed and certainly unsold. That is the trappings of modern serfdom, the medaeival authority being the European Central Bank that forced Ireland into its hopelessly wrong conditions of its economic bail-out.

Kenny cites the tones of Collins when he demands that Ireland’s oppressors “give us back our country we have no time to waste.” The giants of the oppressors are the incompetents. The originators of the euro never understood that it should be not a national but a common hard currency (like the dollar on international markets) were terrible incompetents.

Sadly, the real incompetents, therefore the day-to-day oppressors are in the coalition.  Kenny, in his remember-the-ghost-of-Collins mode, is laid back, too casual, in the memories and citations of those remains in Glasnevin Cemetery.

In Fitzgerald’s they talk about Donegal’s surprise win over Cork that cost me the money I might have put on the lottery this weekend – another lost cause.  In the bar with your man creaming off the stuff two glasses a time most of us now count the change to see if there’s enough for a third.  Mostly there isn’t.  That’s Ireland today and we know, even if the Taoiseach does not, that Ireland does not need a Collins. Maybe it doesn’t need a Kenny either and certainly it doesn’t need one who believes in ghosts.

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