Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

It’s not just Noonan who needs to watch his tongue

Michael Noonan’s clumsy comments last week brought into sharp focus how our politicians talk about our emigrants – but equally, we emigrants must be conscious of how we talk about Ireland in our new countries, writes Philip O’Connor in Stockholm.

Sat, Jan 28, 2012, 04:00

   

Michael Noonan’s clumsy comments last week brought into sharp focus how our politicians talk about our emigrants – but equally, we emigrants must be conscious of how we talk about Ireland in our new countries, writes Philip O’Connor in Stockholm.

For many, there is a justifiable anger related to their emigration. Despite the fact that some of us left Ireland by choice, the vast majority now leaving are doing so for solely economic reasons, regardless of Noonan’s idiotic statements to the contrary.

But if the emigrant community is to help Ireland recover, we must consider how we portray Ireland in our new lives abroad.

Some state agencies may argue the toss, but the fact is that Brand Ireland is badly damaged by recent events.

In many of the richer European countries, we already had a reputation of being the little island that joined Europe with its hand out; the latest bailout does nothing to dispel this image.

They see little or no difference between us and our neighbours on the big island to the east, and our produce has been tainted in tandem with their agricultural problems.

In a moderate Europe not prone to overconsumption of alcohol, we are seen as the party-happy people, the silent inference being that we’re not in any hurry to get to work the next morning.

The truth is that there is an awful lot more to Ireland than our pubs and their European handouts, and we have to be better at telling our new neighbours in Munich, Montenegro and Melbourne about it.

I remember the first time my Swedish father-in-law posed the question “yes, but what does Ireland do? What does it produce?” I mumbled the usual inanities about food and golf and the knowledge economy, but in truth I didn’t know.

Things have changed since then, and I have armed myself with facts about Ireland and Irish tourism, food and technology should the discussion come up again.

Before anyone thinks I’m one of Gilmore’s mindless green jersey brigade, I’m not- anyone who has read my blog at ourmaninstockholm.wordpress.com will tell you that I am immensely critical of both our politicians and ourselves.

But there is nothing to be gained from an international public airing of our dirty laundry – in effect all it will do will prolong our stay abroad and hamper the recovery back home.

Our politicians have proved themselves incapable of repairing our reputation, so we must take the lead and do it for them. By all means, we must argue and discuss and fight to build a better society from the mess left by successive governments.

But in the meantime, we must also show ourselves and our talents to the world in a more positive light, and there is no better time to do it than in the run-up to St Patrick’s Day, when goodwill to the Irish abounds.

Here in Stockholm, we are undertaking an initiative to give something back to our hosts, and that our small Irish community has something different to offer.

During this year’s St Patrick’s Day festivities, the Swedish-Irish Society intends to support the Astrid Lindgren Hospital, where many seriously ill Irish children have been treated over the years.

Having made our case to the hospital trustee and offered our support (which was gratefully accepted), the question still surprised me.

“What part of Britain did you say you were from again?”


Philip O’Connor is author of A Parish Far From Home. He is a freelance writer/journalist/producer, and MD of Eblana Communications. He blogs as ourmaninstockholm and tweets @philipoconnor.

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