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Here we ago again: ‘Look as foolish as you can and call every man sir’

THE then German ambassador to Ireland, Christian Pauls, made the mistake of laughing at our folly when addressing a group of German businessmen in Clontarf Castle more than three years ago, almost exactly a year before the banking crisis in the US became world news.

Ambassador Pauls depicted Ireland as a “coarse” country dominated by avarice. He pulled no punches, providing examples of a small country with a population of four million top-heavy with overpaid ministers, junior ministers and a retinue of others in political life living high on the hog.

The ambassador also spoke of medical professionals who dismissed the €200,000 offered to them to tend patients in public hospitals, as “Mickey Mouse money”. He raised a laugh among the Germans in the audience when he spoke of the vehicular vanity of the Irish, recalling an occasion when he attended a concert performance. A public announcement was made to the effect that a 1993 car was causing an obstruction outside the hall. Nobody left the hall to move it and Herr Pauls’ conclusion was, right or wrong, that we had reached such a level of snobbery that to be associated with a 1993 clunker would mean social death.

Our self-identification with expensive cars and sumptuous mansions bought on tick from the German taxpayer provided the Deutschlanders with an insight into the grotesque comedy of the feral and predatory Celtic Tiger.

The German ambassador was rebuked by the Irish government in all its preening glory and was subsequently recalled to his own country. The truth often hurts in a country where then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern once told us we’d be the laughing-stock of the world if we continued to use pencils to cast our votes. So that we wouldn’t become laughing stocks, Martin Cullen ordered some shiny new toys in the form of evoting machines.

Unfortunately, although they’ve been charged to the Irish taxpayer, they are now in some junkyard or museum as icons of extravagance and utter ineptitude. Did the ministers and Taoisigh not have grannies who warned them that ‘wilful waste makes woeful want’?

John B Keane bequeathed to us the expression “cute hoor” and, although WB Yeats was invoked throughout the past week or so, John B understood what deprivation and emigration really meant to our ancestors. In his play Many Young Men of Twenty, the Listowel writer has a woman bidding farewell to her sons about to emigrate to England to find work. Her advice to them is to “look as foolish as you can and call every man sir”.

The innate wisdom of her advice is the recognition that it is much better to be underestimated while quietly achieving than to flaunt so brazenly that others are waiting for you to get your comeuppance.

John B Keane wrote about rural Ireland in the 1950s and he saw the foibles of a people still sure of their birthright. Sean O’Casey wrote about the Dublin slum-dwellers in The Plough and the Stars who veered from sentimental patriotism to an acceptance of harsh reality. The 1916 Rising involved just the courageous few who were prepared to die for their beliefs while in Dublin city centre there were others who were busy looting shops.

Today’s white-collar looters have cannibalised our country, facilitated by those entrusted with its governance, the very same people now bragging about their remarkable cleverness in having the IMF arrive here to delve into the jiggery-pokery of our banking system. We should almost be proud that Ireland is now the focus of world attention and that our “colleagues” and “partners”, even “friends”, are so concerned for our welfare.

Christian Pauls, must be laughing heartily at the bluffing of our Taoiseach and Minister of Finance. The ambassador’s comments in Clontarf Castle in September 2007 were published as far afield as the southern hemisphere and were printed in The Australian newspaper at that time.

Maureen O’Donnell

Boreenmanna Road

Cork


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