FERGUS FINLAY: Government badly needs to change its tune and inspire some optimism

THAT was a really disappointing Eurovision, wasn’t it? I found it really hard to figure out.

Ryan Nolan is clearly a good singer and a good-looking lad, and he really poured his heart into his performance. The song sounded vaguely familiar, as if it was derived from something else, but then, so did most of the songs on the night (Apart, that is, from the utterly weird Romanian performance).

So maybe it didn’t deserve to win — but last? Twitter, of course, was going mad, mostly blaming Europe and expressing the view that everyone must hate us because our banks melted down and destroyed the European economy. Even if that were true, which of course it isn’t (mostly, anyway), I found it hard to imagine that the people who were voting for a Eurovision winner would have been motivated by geo-political considerations of that sort, or any sort indeed. The problem was the baby oil. We may find it hard to win a Eurovision song contest ever again, because with the influence of texting on the voting system you really have to have neighbours. We’re short of immediate neighbours, but we do have friends, lots of them. Irish music of all kinds is hugely popular all over the world, and something recognisably Irish always attracts a following.

I’m guessing that was the thinking behind the bodhráns and the big drums (Gerry Adams of all people tweeted a rather weird reference to “Ryan’s big drums” during the performance). And the drums, with the fantastic energy they bring, have an incredible capacity to hook audiences.

For instance, it’s 10 years now since the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics World Games in Dublin. But no one who was there, or saw it on television, would easily forget the performance of a young drummer that night. Johnny Donnelly was his name — a drummer with the Saw Doctors who went on to be part of Macnas before setting up his own company called Arcana. On that unforgettable night, he leaped from one drum to the next, each one bigger than the last, and created an incredibly powerful rhythm, full of energy and life.

And of course we associate that vigorous drumming with Riverdance, don’t we? After the plaintive opening, it’s the passion of the drums that suddenly seems to lift the pace to incredible heights. The drums galvanised the audience the very first time Riverdance was performed — during Eurovision, where else? — in 1994, and have had a huge effect on audiences ever since.

So the drums were a natural for this year’s Eurovision. The mystery was that no one had ever thought to use them before to create that unique energy and a unique connection with Irish music and Ireland. It’s a great way to win friends and influence people.

But then, in heaven’s name, why replace the drummers with dancers? And why strip the dancers to the waist, douse them in baby oil, and cover them from head to foot in markings that made them look like Maori warriors?

In other words, they used the drums to create a connection that was anything but Irish. It could have been high-octane, musical enough, and Irish enough to be recognised. Instead it was just cheesy – if you didn’t see the caption identifying the song as representing Ireland, there was nothing in the staging to suggest it. Worse, all the Irish elements in the staging were disguised as something resembling a particularly slippery Chippendales concert. You couldn’t really vote for it as the Irish entry, because you wouldn’t recognise anything Irish about it.

Now, far be it from me, as you know, to stretch a metaphor too far, but isn’t our politics a bit like that? This past weekend a Sunday newspaper had an opinion poll which appears to have the government in big trouble. Fianna Fáil are three points ahead of Fine Gael, Sinn Féin are seven points ahead of Labour.

Mick Wallace, Ming Flanagan and the gang are all sitting in comfortable seats. They can do no wrong, it seems. But a Fianna Fáil/Sinn Féin coalition wouldn’t need to worry about bolshy independents. According to this poll that coalition, led by the increasingly popular Micheál Martin, would have as comfortable a majority as the present government does.

Oddly enough though, the biggest winner in Sunday’s poll, by a mile, was Mr. DK. DK is short for don’t know. 32% of voters, one in three of the entire electorate, don’t know who they would vote for if an election were held tomorrow. That’s one of the biggest turnouts for DK voters that I can remember. One commentator active on Twitter knew immediately why so many voters are in the DK camp. Marc Coleman, who plies his trade as a journalist late at night on Newstalk, tweeted “huge don’t know count in poll shows voters fed up with liberal consensus politics. Voters want parties to give them real options.”

That’s one person’s strange world — there’s a liberal consensus, apparently, in the midst of all this austerity. But the truth might be simpler. It’s just possible that voters are registering themselves as “don’t knows” because, well — how do I put this? — they don’t know. And that’s the Government’s fault. Full stop, end of story. If people don’t know what has been achieved, and how important it is to get it right, then the Government has no one to blame but itself.

BY ANY objective standard, Ireland has made remarkable strides. There is every prospect that we’ll start to see growth soon, that we’ll start to make inroads into the unemployment figures, that house prices will start to recover to reasonable levels, that credit will start to flow in some fashion. A huge price has been paid for all that, and even after recovery has put down roots people will continue to suffer.

All that’s short-hand, I know. It’s possible to list a load of downsides as well as upsides. But honestly, when you look at where we’ve come from, just a very short time ago, it has been a phenomenal achievement. So why are the people who caused the problem now being rewarded by the polls, and the people who are on the way to fixing it being savaged?

Because a recovery may be on the way. But it doesn’t look like a recovery, or feel like a recovery, or sound like a recovery. In just the same way as the Irish Eurovision entry didn’t look or feel Irish, and therefore projected an energy that no one was able to identify with, no one is being made to feel that there is hope out there, in the not too distant future. Hope that sons or daughters won’t have to emigrate, for instance, or that the pressures on everyone’s weekly wage will start to settle down.

What’s the solution? Start singing a different song, that’s what this government has to do. It’s been our recession, our austerity. They’ve got to find a way of making this “our” recovery — our gift to our kids. If they can’t translate real achievement into a narrative that gives hope, they might as well start covering themselves in baby oil for all the good it will do them.


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