'Needy Irish are always craving for approval'

'Needy Irish are always craving for approval'

SOME days with the headlines you can just take your pick.

A child is taken in to care because it bears no resemblance to its parents. Roy Keane is fighting with someone again and is said to be a man with a temper. Eamon Dunphy has said something again in the hope that enough people will listen.

The Taoiseach has made the mind-boggling statement in the Dáil that “the challenges facing the health system are challenging”.

The headlines are thrown at us every day and much like the statement by the Taoiseach, they are utterly meaningless.

Joe Duffy’s often brilliant Liveline on RTÉ Radio One is the epitome of this. One day it is the heart-wrenching stories of individual suffering and the injustice of our political system and society.

The next day it is the heated outrage about being outraged, as if being outraged can be a substitute for thinking.

Enda Kenny-n

It is often behind the headlines though that we get nearer the truth of what Ireland is really like. I first thought this on a recent visit to Cork city.

It came just a few days after the Irish Independent ran a headline declaring that the recession was over and the boom coming back because outside investors were now willing to take a punt on us again.

Well, there didn’t seem to be much sign of them in Ireland’s second city.

There doesn’t seem to be much sign of it in people’s pockets as I have never heard, even since this recession began, so many different people express fears of financial hardship.

The headline felt as if it had been dreamed up on the stock exchange. It didn’t look as if it was coming from the streets of the city.

It didn’t feel as if it related to life in Ireland. Later that same day I was listening to the radio and in the year of the Gathering heard something that I thought said an awful lot more about Ireland than any sponsored jamboree ever would.

It was an interview with the English film director Ken Loach who had been filming this summer in Leitrim.

Loach, of course, has a previous history with Ireland having made the wonderful The Wind That Shakes the Barley and is not a man shy of expressing a political opinion.

The interview was warm and clearly appreciative of Loach’s work and Loach was clearly happy to talk about Ireland.

When it took a strange turn was when the interviewer, who up until this point had appeared knowledgeable and informed, asked Loach if his time in Leitrim had been his ‘favourite’ ever shoot.

For a moment it was clear that the film director was at a loss as to how to respond. Eventually he said something like, "Oh you know, they’re all hard work," as if he wished to sidestep the question.

For the next few minutes the question hung in the air as if it had invaded the whole interview. In the course of a wide-ranging and intelligent interview is that not a very strange question?

Wind That Shakes The Barley director Ken Loach

Yes, in many ways Leitrim is the epitome of a marginalised area in a struggling society so in that way the question had some validity.

In another way though the question is typical of the sort of insecurity that bedevils Ireland. Just think about it. We always want people to tell us how beautiful our country is.

We always want them to tell us our pubs are the best in the world. We always want them to say our football fans are the best at every tournament.

We always want them to be amazed at how incredible hurling is.We always want them to love Irish music.

We always want them to say how friendly we are.We always want them to acknowledge us. Is this a post-colonial thing?

Is it a hangover from someone else being in charge of us for so long? Of course, it is always better to be liked than not to be but are we really that needy? Would our constant need for approval explain a lot about our valueless, superficial politics?

Does it explain Bertie Ahern? The pomposity of Gay Byrne? Even the power of the Catholic Church? Fans of a certain south-east London football club sing "no one likes us, we don’t care".

It seems at times that if no one liked us we’d sit on the terraces crying.