I’ve never really understood the world’s fascination with Irishness. During my time living abroad I have found telling people that I’m from Ireland automatically leads to a reaction of respectful awe. Many in the English speaking world seem to believe the notion that being Irish, a mere accident of birth, is somehow “cool”. Maybe it’s our attitude towards alcohol. Maybe it’s the music. Or maybe people just find the place curious. And a curious place it most certainly is.
Since 2008, the life of the Irish economy has been battered by austerity, imposed on the population by two successive governments on behalf of the world’s richest people. Much of the international commentary on the collapse of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ has focused on the seeming passivity of the Irish populace in the face of deep cuts in public spending, starkly contrasting with the heroic resistance of the Greek working class.
Last week, thousands of ordinary people rallied in support of former billionaire, now bankrupt, Seán Quinn in county Cavan. A number of well-know GAA faces attended the event, including Tyrone manager Mickey Harte, former Armagh manager Joe Kernan and former Meath manager Seán Boylan. Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew described the treatment of Quinn as “disgraceful”, while, on the other side of the border, Mary-Lou McDonald was quick to distance the party from the disgraced businessman. The vile Michael O’Leary also voiced support for the convicted criminal.
Judging by the large crowd which had gathered in Ballyconnell, one would be forgiven for thinking that this was a man of upstanding character who had been gravely misunderstood. The facts, however, show an entirely different picture. The BBC’s Jim Fitzpatrick has detailed a considerable list of Quinn’s dubious actions, which is well worth looking at. Not only did he trade in “dangerous” derivatives to bet on the value of Anglo-Irish Bank, among other shady financial dealings, he borrowed money from Anglo-Irish Bank to buy shares in – you guessed it – Anglo-Irish Bank! Now, you don’t need to be a financial wizard to realise this is deeply corrupt.
Although he was already obscenely rich, Quinn had the sheer reckless greed to gamble billions in an attempt to make even more money, destroying his own empire in the process. His actions and the actions of his class of incompetent, selfish moneybags destroyed the Irish economy. Surely the people who attended this rally could muster up the wit to make the connection between the bitter austerity measures being imposed the most vulnerable people in Ireland and the activities of the likes of Mr Quinn?
The Ballyconnell rally reflects the rampant gombeenism and blind local loyalty that still infects Ireland. So long as one is seen to be a GAA fan, a mass goer or simply “one of our own”, serious misdemeanours, even crimes, are ignored. The significant minority in the country who have chosen to back Quinn should be reminded that, since Anglo-Irish has been nationalised (though it is now called IBRC), the debt he ran up is owed to the Irish taxpayer.
The spectacle of working people demonstrating in support of a billionaire whose class helped bankrupt a nation and force an entire generation to shoulder a colossal debt is not only puzzling but is, indeed, quite pathetic. “Bring back Quinn and let him create jobs”, read one ill-informed placard with the air of a grateful serf paying homage to his master. The working people who attended this rally would be better served demonstrating for the interests of their own class.
“Ireland is not Greece,” Finance Minister Michael Noonan once said. Indeed it’s not.
This article was published in The Morning Star