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
‘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.