Governments must govern -- not try to shape our culture
Wednesday July 22 2009
In its own twee way, the very name, An Bord Snip Nua, gets to the heart of the issue.
Its utter bogusness echoes so much of what state endeavour has been about: pretending to protect and preserve ancient forms of Irishness, whether it is some precious cultural commodity west of the Shannon, or a peat bog in the Midlands, or the Irish language. Whether the McCarthy report is implemented in part or in whole, it is now on the political agenda: and underlying its proposals is a desire for minimalist government, without any great non-political projects as policy. In other words, an end to the notion of the State as a means of shaping the culture of Ireland, and how its people think.
This would be one of the most revolutionary events since 1916, which in essence was not merely about achieving a Republic, but giving that Republic great cultural projects. Thus Pearse thought that the Congested Districts, the most forlorn and impoverished corners of all of Europe, should be the social models for the new State. Which is the equivalent of making Bord na Mona the cornerstone of a space project. However, the actual founders of the State, after a more than usually stupid civil war, realised that nothing could be done with these human tipheads: they were capable of accumulating no capital, and generating no enterprise.
So they became Indian Reservations, where to stultify was to be Irish, and where backwardness was a form of cultural purity. The people here actually received government grants merely for talking. Everyone over 40 was crippled with rheumatism, and the entire population subsisted on a unique frying-pan diet, which explored the extent to which the human frame could survive without any vitamin C whatever.
There were other places of distinctive national virtue, namely the islands. The idealised role model for young people was thus Peig Sayers, whose senile ramblings were jotted down feverishly by teams of folklore stenographers, and turned into the Holy Scripture of the New Old Ireland. Prophets in other lands have emerged from the deserts. Our native form of revered dementia came from a wind-lashed and uninhabitable island: hence the term, Blasket Case.
Generations of children had their will to live broken on the wheel of Peig Sayers. Did any one of them ask, how come if she is so Gaelic her name is Sayers? The same, of course, for that other cultural icon from the West, Brian Merriman. So the very notion of some pure aboriginal Gaelic island folk offering a model to future generations of free Irish people was based on the words and thoughts of descendants of English settlers -- actually, rather like Pearse himself.
So the Irish language itself became a Government Protected Zone (GPZ). The Gaeltacht naturally became an extended GPZ. The islands became a GPZ. History became a GPZ. Even turf-burning became a GPZ. Moreover, this insanity became a perverse template for all sorts of other state projects. Mail and phone services were already GPZ. In the 1940s, all public transport became a GPZ. Air travel then became a GPZ. Arts became a GPZ -- indeed, the arts were hardly seen to be arts at all unless the State gave them a subsidy.
Even economic development was graded around a GPZ hierarchy.
The plain people of Ireland got the IDA. The semi-pure in the west got the Shannon Development. But the purest of the pure got Udaras, the job-creator for people who spoke Irish in a GPZ, a local shop for local people. In more recent times, Udaras has operated within the very ministerial embodiment of the GPZ, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, which has a budget of €40m, with some 240 civil servants: almost one for every native Irish native speaker left.
Through these GPZs, the State became deeply involved in matters it knew nothing about. To be sure, this pleased politicians, for it increased their power of patronage, and thus accorded neatly with a culture of populist clientelism, as well as satisfying the ambitions of the few political ideological TDs, such as Eamon O Cuiv and Michael D Higgins. These see the primary duty of the State to be the pursuit of Great Cultural Projects, each within its own respective GPZ.
The dreams of such zealots are now dross. Nearly all state cultural projects have failed. The Irish language is effectively dead in its GPZ. The preposterous and Haugheyite confection, Aosdana, has achieved nothing whatever in its GPZ. CIE is a mouldering corpse in its GPZ. Every town now has its own empty GPZ, namely an arts centre, with its deserted craft shop offering (but not selling) environmentally sound raffia condoms, seaweed dental floss, and hand-crafted soaps made from pigfat. Government bribes have resulted in two multi-million pound GPZ stadiums in Dublin -- both of which will be empty, most of the time. And the fortune spent on the GPZ that is Olympian sports has produced just one bronze medal -- in bee-keeping.
The great dream is over. It's finally time for Ireland to be a normal country, one in which governments simply govern. Let the Great McCarthyite era begin.
Superb! And full credit to the Irish Independent for bringing Kevin's articles to us.