Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Incredible Alternative

It was in the the relentlessness of Twitter this past Friday that I was made aware of Eamon Dunphy's concurrent appearance on The Late Late Show. As ever, the "maverick" broadcaster was causing quite the division of opinion, this time with his bleak assessment of Ireland's current predicament.

I usually have time for Eamon. Aside from enjoying his regular espousal of an agreeable sporting philosophy via RTÉ's soccer coverage, I always find his mediation of current affairs to be, at the very least, entertaining. It was then with some anticipation that I caught up with his Late Late appearance on the RTÉ Player. After watching, I was pleased to find that, once again, he had me thinking about the absolute "state" of the nation. But it wasn't toward the predictable scapegoats of Eamon's scorn that my antipathy was directed; instead, it was Dunphy's own skewed analysis of Ireland's woes.

His first criticism was of Ireland's current leader, who drew ire this week for attributing the country's plight to a period of "mad borrowing" at the World Economic Forum. Eamon suggested that Enda Kenny doesn't have a genuine grasp of the debt crisis. A fair point perhaps. The Taoiseach doesn't always inspire confidence. But what national leader does these days? As Eamon himself later surmised, the current crisis is an international phenomenon. It has left leaders all over the world bereft of any tangible solution. Such is the puzzle of economics, a speculative discipline that is often mistaken for being scientific. Indeed, the only consensus that has been reached so far is that the global economic crisis will require an international solution that relegates domestic politics to a secondary tier.

But Eamon seemed more interested in recruiting a new type of Irish politician who approaches international diplomacy as if it was a "war". Michael O'Leary was his first suggestion. This isn't the first time we've heard the Ryanair chief's name being touted as someone who would do a good job in politics. However, without questioning Michael O'Leary's business acumen, the ruthless CEO of a budget airline is not someone I consider sensitive to the disadvantaged and dispossessed. This is a guy who disallows staff from charging their phones on Ryanair premises. O'Leary has also termed the European Commission as "morons" and the European project in general as "The Evil Empire". Yes he is good at what he does and yes he is Irish. But this doesn't qualify him as some kind of negotiator. A more glaring example of the “green jersey” mentality would be hard to find.

Dunphy then explained that his yearning for this new type of Irish politician stemmed from his disillusionment with the current standard of public servants. Basically, Eamon is tired of teachers being tasked with politics. Enda Kenny is a teacher. Michael Noonan is a teacher. Micheál Martin is a teacher. Teachers are the problem? If this wasn't what he meant, then he should have explained him self better. Instead, he delivered a half-baked critique on the political class, merely serving to simplify their shortcomings in the most plastic of ways.

But it was in the eventual excursion into Eamon's own participation in a McDonald's ad that his populist, unfocused and frankly, ridiculous vision became clear. Admitting that he had "sold out", Eamon justified his partaking in this shit advertisement by exclaiming that he needed something to "pay the rent". The very "gimme gimme" culture that has landed Ireland in this mess is the one he exudes by lending his name to the world's premier fast food outlet. "It was good for them and it was good for me" he explained. What better phrase would describe the attitude of politicians, bankers, developers and builders in pre-bust Ireland?

The only semblance of controversy came when he exclaimed that Ireland is "a dump". More depressingly, this is what solicited the biggest backlash on Twitter where counter arguments were best encapsulated by the phrase "I'm proud to be Irish!". Why are we offended by someone calling Ireland a dump? It's a sentiment I hear expressed regularly in everyday discourse. And it's not just Irish people. People all over the world regularly chastise the country they are living in. In fact, I would defend to the hills anyone's right to call Ireland a dump. This soundbite was the least annoying thing about Dunphy's interview.

What is annoying is that Eamon was clearly brought on the Late Late Show to represent a view opposed to that of the status quo. And whilst he may have identified the problems we face with considerable accuracy, he was woefully incapable of communicating a coherent vision. Instead, we had to navigate through a plethora of mixed messages and double standards that left an alternative looking as incredible as ever.

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