Why we shouldn’t take sides against coun­try in public

Quiet di­plo­macy will win us far more con­ces­sions in Europe than any megamouth pa­tri­o­tism, writes Marc Cole­man

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Analysis - Fol­low @mar­cp­cole­man on twit­ter and lis­ten to “Cole­man at Large” each Tues­day and Wed­nes­day from 10pm on New­stalk 106-108fm

‘FREDO, you’re my older brother and I love you. But don’t ever take sides with any­one against the fam­ily again. Ever.”

Michael Cor­leone’s warn­ing to his brother in The God­fa­ther Part II has to count as one of the most stun­ning mo­ments in the his­tory of cinema. A tale of con­flict be­tween the val­ues of sec­ond gen­er­a­tion Si­cil­ians and their new coun­try, The God­fa­ther is the story of life it­self. The eter­nal strug­gle and com­pro­mise be­tween loy­alty to those you love and to the truth.

We all want the truth. But we know that in this world it is a rare com­mod­ity.

To many com­men­ta­tors, telling the truth is epit­o­mised by Ea­mon Dunphy’s re­marks about Ire­land be­ing a “dump”. If he said this pri­vately to the right peo­ple in the right way, Ea­mon might be do­ing us a favour by jolt­ing peo­ple into ac­tion. But when said on na­tional tele­vi­sion to boost rat­ings, I’m tempted to give Ea­mon the same ad­vice as Don Cor­leone gave his brother: “Don’t ever take sides against the fam­ily in public”. A mafia code of si­lence on what is re­ally hap­pen­ing, like that which char­ac­terised much of the com­ment be­fore the crash, is bad. “Omerta”, or as we say “wear­ing the green jer­sey” (or “what­ever you say, say noth­ing”), is not what we need or want. But blab­ber­mouth neg­a­tiv­ity that sees no good in any­thing or any­one and which spreads lies and dis­tor­tions around the world does us dam­age.

Now, this col­umn lam­bastes gov­ern­ment mis­takes of all kind. But in the past two years I have spread a pos­i­tive (but hon­est) mes­sage about Ire­land abroad by tour­ing Ger­many with our am­bas­sador to Ber­lin and have done in­ter­views with BBC World tele­vi­sion, BBC 5 Live, BBC Scot­land, the Cana­dian Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion, Dan­ish na­tional ra­dio, Ger­man tele­vi­sion, the Fi­nan­cial Times, the Los An­ge­les Times and — most re­cently to sup­port a re­cent Oireach­tas del­e­ga­tion to Ber­lin — the Ber­liner Zeitung. In Septem­ber 2010, I also hosted a con­fer­ence about mak­ing me­dia cov­er­age of our econ­omy more bal­anced be­tween pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive news. This has, I think, had some im­pact.

In­side the house (“nella famiglia”) as they say in Si­cily, I’m not afraid to at­tack gov­ern­ment mis­takes. Last week’s col­umn proved that. But when jobs and hope are on the line, it’s a dif­fer­ent story. Last week our Taoiseach and Tanaiste were in the US do­ing some­thing good: bring­ing back work such as the 300 jobs an­nounced by Hewlett Packard.

Never has this work been so im­por­tant. And not just for win­ning jobs. Judg­ing by his State of the Union speech in Jan­uary, Pres­i­dent Obama is in pro­tec­tion­ist mode and is tak­ing aim at Ire­land’s low rate of cor­po­ra­tion tax. Tanaiste Ea­mon Gil­more is — de­spite his ide­o­log­i­cal mis­giv­ings about low cor­po­ra­tion taxes — swal­low­ing his pride and stoutly de­fend­ing our tax regime abroad. That should be saluted. So should Michael Noonan. As Op­po­si­tion leader in 2001, he doubt­less shared the EU Com­mis­sion’s crit­i­cism of reck­less gov­ern­ment spend­ing and — to the right peo­ple in the right way — made it known. But when our mis­takes be­came a po­lit­i­cal foot­ball for Jac­ques Chirac and Ger­hard Schroeder — men who cared not a fig about fis­cal rec­ti­tude — to kick this coun­try around, Noonan showed pa­tri­o­tism and closed ranks.

Given that, for Fianna Fail to play silly games with a po­ten­tial ref­er­en­dum shows that it has learned noth­ing. The Troika deal — par­tic­u­larly the re­quire­ment to re­pay bank bond­hold­ers — is oner­ous and should be op­posed. But he ques­tion is how. We are a small coun­try in per­ilous times. And as the old Ir­ish say­ing goes, if you can’t be strong, be clever. Or as they say in Si­cily, keep your friends close and your en­e­mies closer. For all the megamouth pa­tri­o­tism of his crit­ics, Noonan’s quiet di­plo­macy be­hind closed doors is more likely to win us what we need. Pub­licly, the Gov­ern­ment is say­ing that we are not seek­ing a deal on the bailout. Pri­vately and with sub­tlety, the Gov­ern­ment has achieved sig­nif­i­cant if yet in­suf­fi­cient con­ces­sions that will make the next few years less oner­ous. And pol­i­tics is the art of achiev­ing what is pos­si­ble. Not striv­ing for what can never be achieved.

In fact, Ire­land’s ca­pac­ity for na­tional sol­i­dar­ity in a cri­sis is one of our huge as­sets. In Greece, politi­cians blame each other and oth­ers for what went wrong. They even use emo­tive lan­guage about Ger­many’s oc­cu­pa­tion of Greece in the Sec­ond World War to crit­i­cise rea­son­able ef­forts by Merkel to en­sure their bailout works.

The re­al­ity, how­ever, was ad­mit­ted by so­cial­ist min­is­ter Theodorus Pan­ga­los. Even more over­weight than his fi­nance min­is­ter col­league Evan­ge­los Venize­los, Pan­ga­los pro­claimed in 2010, “Mazi ta fagame” — we squan­dered the money. Pan­ga­los’s €600,000 an­nual in­come tes­ti­fies to his abil­ity to squan­der tax­pay­ers’ money on him­self. His fail­ure also to pay €7,500 in prop­erty taxes, de­spite this huge in­come, tes­ti­fies equally to the hypocrisy of big gov­ern­ment ad­vo­cates who be­lieve in tax­a­tion (and public health­care) for ev­ery­one else but them­selves. With their bloated frames, both he and Venize­los are sym­bols of big bloated gov­ern­ments tax­ing and bor­row­ing their economies to obliv­ion.

Fi­nally a point about the clo­sure of our em­bassy in the Vat­i­can. As a por­tal to the world’s one bil­lion Catholics, clos­ing it was diplo­mat­i­cally in­sane. The Vat­i­can diplo­matic mis­sion costs much less than many use­less quan­gos, and this decision is also eco­nom­i­cally in­ex­pli­ca­ble. Hav­ing a Vat­i­can em­bassy is far more im­por­tant than retaining the NUI, for ex­am­ple. To fund its re­open­ing I sug­gest that many of the chat­ter­ing classes who still are paid six-fig­ure salaries at our ex­pense and de­light in telling us how to run our lives are sur­plus to ca­pac­ity. Catholics re­main a vast ma­jor­ity on this is­land. To of­fend that ma­jor­ity by smear­ing them with the crimes of a tiny mi­nor­ity — or talk­ing of “screen­ing” them — is to al­low a nar­row-minded mi­nor­ity to un­der­mine our na­tional unity at a time of cri­sis.

Be­fore it be­comes a source of di­vi­sion and dis­trac­tion, the Gov­ern­ment should re­verse this decision and put all is­sues to do with re­li­gion and ed­u­ca­tion on ice un­til the next elec­tion. Oth­er­wise the Gov­ern­ment could be en­gulfed by a ven­detta of Si­cil­ian pro­por­tions. Life is too short.

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