Monday, May 17, 2010

Constitutional Reform

An Spailpín Fánach has to confess himself bemused by the opinion pieces popping up in the media about constitutional reform and sovereignty at the moment. The nation can’t pass piffling little referenda without two cracks at it. How many pucks will we need for a whole constitution?

The brief sovereignty spat is very difficult to credit, and Stephen Collins rightly castigated the idea – if “idea” isn’t too strong a word – behind it in the Irish Times on Saturday. Besides; our sovereignty, such as it was, was ceded to Europe long ago and thank the Lord God for that.

Would Ireland be sticking to its current course of fiscal rectitude if there wasn’t some guy called Gunther or Franz to answer to every Friday? The evidence of history tells us: not on your nelly. But the sovereignty debate is interesting because of the questions it raises about how we govern ourselves.

Ireland is in a heap because we put all our eggs in one basket and had no interest in the wide and earthy in acting responsibly. That’s easy to understand. What’s less easy to understand is why the Greeks are in the doghouse and the Irish are not. It defies all logic.

Unless. Unless the Irish are doing something right after all. But what on God’s Earth could it be?

An Spailpín has a crazy guess. For which there is no evidence, but it’s no less wild than thinking we’re capable of an act of statehood like writing a new constitution. What if everything we heard about Ireland in Europe during the different referenda campaigns was true? What if we really do punch above our weight in Europe?

It would certainly explain how we’re still viable, in a way that Greece is not viable. Anne Applebaum listed what the Greeks have to do to put their house in order in the Washington Post last week, and it made for grim reading. The difference between what’s happening in Ireland and what’s happening in Greece and what’s happening in Ireland is the difference between getting caned by a Victorian headmaster of the Wackford Squeers school and doing half an hour's hard time on the naughty step. No comparison.

The European hand on the tiller is what’s keeping the Irish ship afloat. What’s worrying is that this spectacular achievement, staying onside in Europe, won’t count for nuts in the next general election. Europe gets zero coverage in the press here. It never features in general election campaigns. And won’t in the next one either.

If we are to reclaim Irish sovereignty, then maybe the nation should start doing something about it, instead of deluding ourselves that we as individuals bear no responsibility at all for what happened in this sovereign and democratically accountably state. The stories about innocents having their mouths stuffed with gold by evil bankers while all the while shouting “no! no! I like being poor! Take that rotten gold away! I’d hate an apartment in Spain!” get hard to take after a while. If we are to be sovereign over our future, we need to decide on a more positive vision of Ireland than blaming others and booing England at the World Cup.

In the meantime, thank God for the Germans – their scholars did their bit for the language, their engineers built Ardnacrusha and the Kaiser did his bit for Sir Roger. We’re the last people that should be giving out about Germans.

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