Abbott and the Taoiseach

I think it’s fair to say the majority of people who objected were not primarily concerned about cultural stereotyping of the Irish, nor reference to consumption of multiple Guinnesses

by Lyle Dunne

Disclosure: I spent much of St Patrick’s Day, and the next evening, drinking Guinness and Irish whiskey with Irish people, Australians born in Ireland, Australians of Irish descent, and honorary Irishmen. At the local Irish club, many were wearing hats of varying silliness that came with the Guinness; elsewhere, surrounded by jigs, reels, Irish dancers, potatoes, adverts for Gaelic football, Christy Moore, colcannon, The Pogues, black and white pudding, and discussions about Yeats, no-one seemed especially concerned about cultural stereotypes.

Yet I do sort of see the point about stage-Irishness. I can see how a sensitive Irishman might not care for the version of Irishness on display on St Patrick’s Day in a Sydney Irish pub – much less one in Dublin – let alone in Boston.  (I don’t think that’s what was intended by “may the road rise to meet you”.) I have possibly offended a fellow-traveller by saying that when I said I enjoyed Irish music, a singalong version of Danny Boy or Galway Bay in a Temple Bar bar was not what I meant.

(It’s not always straightforward, though. I do remember a tour of the Guinness Brewery, with “free” pint, which degenerated into a discussion about Mme Blavatsky and the influence of spirituality on the poetry of WB Yeats. At the risk of being accused of racism in turn, I don’t think Irish culture has the same cleavage planes as ours.)

Having read and watched Tony Abbott’s St Patrick’s Day message a number of times, I suppose I could say he phoned it in. But then, few Prime Ministers are natural comic geniuses.

If it was indeed designed as a message to the Irish business community, then perhaps it missed the mark: some of the intended recipients may have been offended by the lack of anything to do with business apart from a reference to making money – by the Scots!

And perhaps the worst thing was that it was essentially a re-run of last year’s message. Surely if the PM had time to record it again, someone had time to update it? But maybe the problem was the PM in written-spoken-authorised mode. Or maybe they forgot until the last minute.

Nevertheless it’s hard to see it deserved the tremendous bollocking it got.

Perhaps the Taoiseach, having been presented with the video and an armful of outraged tweets, may have over-reacted. Apparently he’s trying to develop an all-Ireland strategy for dealing with the problem of alcohol abuse, so the Guinness-or-three cliché may have rankled. And there is the “stage Irish” issue – indeed, we may have got to the point where no generalisation about any nationality is acceptable in public. (“Tall chaps, those Dutchmen.” “Racist!”)

But I think it’s fair to say the majority of people who objected were not primarily concerned about cultural stereotyping of the Irish, nor reference to consumption of multiple Guinnesses.

Clearly there was a well-orchestrated Twitter campaign, but the interesting question is why?

It’s only a partial answer to say it was Tony Abbott – not everything he says is attacked with the same vigour.

I think it was the vision of Australia, which was almost calculated to send the broad left into a frenzy.

A vision of Australian society in which the determinative influences were presented as all originating from the British isles, and included English law (gasp!), Scottish economics (Adam Smith! Hiss!), and, perhaps worst of all, Irish spiritual values!

What’s more, it was clear that Abbott clearly approved of this mix.

Now a rational analysis might say this was a throwaway line, it’s clear that Abbott in fact has a high opinion of the importance of the contribution to Australian society of Aborigines and postwar migrant groups – but that’s not the problem. The problem is not that he failed to mention Indigenous culture or multiculturalism.

The problem is that he mentioned, in a positive way, influences on Australian society that the left think should be ignored, denied or cursed.

Perhaps if he’d said the Irish in Australia were mainly a bunch of radical subversives, victims like the Aborigines of colonial racism, capitalist greed and hypocritical religion enlisted in their service, he might’ve got away with it.

I don’t know quite how the Irish Chamber of Commerce would’ve reacted though.




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