Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Kinda d'État - Ireland's Contribution to Governance

There’s a great line in the Third Man movie where Orson Welles’ Harry Lime remarks on the different gifts the blood-drenched Italy of the Borgias and the orderly, methodical and godly Swiss brought to civilisation. We are lucky the arch-cynic did not cast his gaze more westerly, to this green isle of Erin.

If he had he would have discovered a nation that, having waited eight hundred years to take her place among the nations of the earth, now chooses to waste everything that so many died for like one of those forty and fifty stone abominations of humanity on reality TV, slowly gorging themselves to death.

Monday night’s history of the Rise and Fall of Fianna Fáil provided the keystone. Not because of the broad picture, which remains both sickeningly familiar and heartbreaking elusive, but because of one small detail. A passing comment that in itself sums up just why, in that phrase of our times, we are where we are.

Suzanne Kelly, daughter of Captain James Kelly, claimed on Monday night that the importation of arms to help the Republic’s nationalist brethren in Northern Ireland was sanctioned at the very highest level. The sanction was withdrawn when the dove faction in cabinet triumphed over the hawk, and the hawks – Blaney, Boland, Haughey – were then left out in cold to wither and die. The doves didn’t count for Charles Haughey’s powers of resilience and recovery of course.

In any other country, in any other democratic state, this would be hold the front page news. Was Ireland closer to war in 1970 over the Northern troubles than the USA was in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis? Why isn’t it this news? Where are the scholarly studies? Why doesn’t anyone care that Ireland was on the verge of a renewal of war with the old enemy?

Many hypotheses have been proposed in the misery of the past three years as to how the nation has come to this sorry state. Why wasn’t anyone watching the road? But perhaps the real answer is that nobody’s ever been watching the road, ever.

Maybe the truth is that Ireland has always been governed by luck and flaw, as the state lurches from one crisis to another while whatever cabinet is in power hopes to God there isn’t some sort of karmic Garda checkpoint at the next turn in the road.

An Spailpín is still stunned by Ms Kelly’s remarks on Monday, and that we, the nation, are completely at ease with the fact that we don’t definitely know what happened during the Arms Trial. More than two score years later, with nearly all the principles dead, was Ireland on the verge of a coup d’état?

Or was it a Kinda d’État, like every other damned thing that’s happened in this blighted country? Another half-arsed rebellion, like Emmet’s or Dwyer’s or, God help us, the Fenian invasion of Canada in 1870? Or the one that we’ll be celebrating ourselves in five years’ time? How did that one work out, on a scale of one to ten?

Does anybody take Irish governance seriously? If we did, we would damn well know just how close we came to war, bloody and horrible, in the late sixties. But we don’t. There is a cabal which knows, the elite families by whom this republic has been governed since its foundation. But the citizens? They know about as much about how this country is actually governed as a mountain goat knows about the second law of thermodynamics.

And we the citizens aren’t getting any smarter. Public debate on the great issues of the day – debt, secularism, education, sovereignty – is like seeing dancers in a nightclub strobe light. No action connects to the next. Each faction bays to the others across the empty and barren wastes where developed nations share ideas and move together.

But that land of intellectual ferment and growth is fallow ground in Ireland, ground where no faction ever learns anything from the other, from experience or from any damn thing at all, but simply seeks solace from repeating its own shibboleths over and over again, while the country slips slowly beneath the waves.

It’s whiskey in my tea from here on in. I can’t bear much more of this.