World's media circus moves on having come to Ireland's big top to hear the lion roar No

Mon, Oct 5, 2009, 01:00

Failure often makes a better story than success. The Yes vote sends hacks back home without a doomsday yarn, writes KATHY SHERIDAN

IT COULD have been such fun. High on adrenaline, the international press corps piled into the country early in the week, prowled the mean streets of Tall-acht (“the highest No place before, non?”), with the more intrepid even making it as far as Leem-reek; took the nuclear-level temperature of several hundred rabid taxi drivers; filed reports of rampant recession and resistance; and reckoned there just might be a story come Saturday morning.

We let them down. It was bad enough to vote Yes; worse, much worse, to do it in such numbers that it was game over before it began. So un-Irish. As early as 10pm on Friday night, the interest quotient in the Eurosceptic British media wing – ie all of it with the exception of the Guardian/Observerand the BBC – dropped like a stone.

It was the Fine Gael exit poll wot dun it. Killed the story. It was well dead by the time Declan Ganley conceded at around 11am on Saturday. What was left to analyse ? There was nothing plucky or heroic about wee Ireland anymore.

An earnest Swedish correspondent concluded the result “was very much about jobs, not very much about the Lisbon Treaty. A number of people still don’t know what the Lisbon Treaty is but feel they have to vote Yes for Ireland to come out of the crisis”.

A French television reporter shrugged that “the guarantees were obviously NOT very high on the agenda but were helpful in providing the Government with an excuse – I mean an opportunity – to have a second referendum. It was more about the risk of biting the hand that is helping you”.

In short, the cocky wee adolescent from the boonies was running home to mammy for reassurance and a top-up. Or, put another way, “Ireland – the country that didn’t buy its round”, as a London journalist succinctly put it after the first No, had stumped up at last. Move on now, folks – nothing to see here.

Come Saturday morning, RTÉ’s wasn’t the only media army wandering in a news desert, horrific quotas of pre-planned airtime – six-and-a-quarter hours of it on RTÉ alone – looming before them like a giant, voracious maw. Clearly, the 400 hacks accredited for Lisbon I had conveyed such fun tales of dissent and disorder that 600 signed up for the second bout. They included 32 from the BBC alone and at least that many German broadcasters. Along with the usual EU contingents, there were representatives from Japan, Al-Jazeera, Canada , Arabic radio and Basque TV. At Dublin Castle, so sparse were the offerings (not even a biscuit for the coffee) that a little morsel like the UK Independence Party’s Nigel Farage (accredited, bizarrely, by those fine patriots, “Farmers for No”), was enough to trigger a small media wave.

The scrum around Declan Ganley and the lovely Delia at the RDS, with his passive-aggressive flirtation with Fianna Fáil, laced with heavy behind-the-scenes hints of a Dáil run, was mighty intriguing for the home pack but of limited interest to a foreign contingent already stung by the non-event that was the promised pan-European Libertas invasion.

Ganley’s funny jibe at Dick Roche – “Dick, I haven’t seen you during the whole campaign – and that was the right thing to do. Congratulations” – lost something in translation. The secession of the independent kingdom of Donegal was a minor curiosity but a detail too far – “What is Tawn-ash-ta?” – for a cohort whose interest had already moved far beyond this little island’s preoccupations with minor political gaffes, rain and Border shopping raids. Bo-ring.

Not even our police-escorted dash in two double-decker buses to Government Buildings to record the day when Brian Cowen finally got a break brought a gleam to their eyes, although it’s true that only the home crew could fully savour the thrill of a wrong-way, full-throttle, rampage up Dame Street in a double decker and fantasise about being John O’Donoghue for a minute.

Or even an Ahern. “Cecelia. Making the everyday magical . . .”, ran the ad for the author’s latest work on the side of the bus. If only . . . Still, it was on the bus that The Irish Timesmanaged to capture an elusive species – a representative of the last remaining Lisbon rebel in the EU, a Czech. Now this would be interesting. Surely they would be despising us for taking fright?

“I don’t think the ordinary people care at all about the Lisbon Treaty. Traditionally, the Czech people are not interested in foreign politics,” said Ondrej Houska of Czech public radio. Furthermore, he reckoned there were only two Czech media representatives here. “In other words, they don’t give a f***,” summarised an Irish colleague, helpfully. Still, at least the question sent to the Czech constitutional court by the rump of Klaus-sympathising senators retains an interest for the handful of Irish still able to hear the word Lisbon without gagging.

“The core of the complaint to the court is – will the EU become a superstate?”says Ondrej.

A Swedish television journalist, Stefan Borg, said if the treaty had been put to referendum in Sweden, “we could have been in that debate about decision-making”. In fact, Sweden being the current president, the Irish Yes is triggering sighs of relief all round over there. “A lot of energy would have been wasted if it had been No, energy needed to work on the environment and building the commission.”

Ko Hoshi, a Japanese newspaper correspondent, admitted Ireland’s big decision would arouse little interest in Japan but he was “very impressed that the people here think so much about how to keep the influence of a small country in Europe. I found them very well-informed. They have a real interest in their own diplomacy . . . But I was not so surprised at the size of the Yes vote: time for compromise.”

Nathalie Lacube, from French newspaper La Croix,recalled that “almost the same issues drove us mad in France in 2005. There was lots of passion and a few things that were completely off the subject. Ireland didn’t seem so mad to me”. She recounted the “great fights” between her husband and father at the dining table. To her father, the EU means his grandchild – Nathalie’s daughter – can go to Germany and learn German,  travel in the same currency, and have no worries about her children going to war. Meanwhile, she has re-visited Limerick and was shocked at the dereliction that has afflicted it in just 18 months, leaving one shop in four closed in the city.

Another French journalist suggested Ireland’s Yes reflects a realisation “all through Europe that economic solidarity is what the EU stands for . . . No matter what the treaty text is or not, you have voted on Europe and that’s what people in the rest of Europe were watching – what was Ireland was going to say, whether EU integration was going to continue.”

The talk in the British camp by now was firmly focused on Gordon Brown’s Belfast visit today and whether David Cameron had a plausible get-out from his promise to hold a Lisbon referendum.

By the time the final declaration was made in Dublin Castle at 4.45pm, the bulk of the circus had moved on, leaving a strangely subdued hall of relieved but weary politicians and activists. Enda Kenny was in good form. “See you in the trenches,” said Gerry Adams. “What trenches?” chirped Enda.

The appearance of former MEP Eoin Ryan and Pat Cox kickstarted a discussion about the choice of new commissioner. Domestically, the battles have only begun. But the animated faces of pivotal “civilians” such as Garret FitzGerald (active on the RDS tallies since 9am), the academic Brigid Laffan, young Bart Storan and Sharon Waters of Generation Yes (a group mentioned in glowing terms by Garret), told a story of a rejuvenated activism across the generations. “What happened today is that the Irish middle took back control of the country and sent a powerful message for the silent majority,” said Laffan, adding she would like to mobilise the same forces around the choices facing the country now.