Paddy Power’s latest ad indulges in low-temperature Anglophobia

Rather than generating any serious hoo-ha, Paddy Power has pushed a door that was ajar

Don't read this column. Turn the page or close the browser before you learn what it's about. Businesses love it when an advertisement for their services becomes controversial enough to creep onto the comments pages. Just look at the unrepentant vigour with which Paddy Power goes about its serial provocations. The bookmakers trundled a lorry around Calais bearing the message "Immigrants! Jump in the back (but only if you're good at sport)."

They brought gambling to the Last Supper. The least said about their notorious Oscar Pistorius gag the soonest it will be consigned to the pit of ignominy. Don't do them the service of entertaining another rant about the latest groan-worthy promotion.

Oh, it's too late now. You've read the headline. You've seen the image. You know this article will be accusing the firm's current ubiquitous commercial – the one with Colm Meaney stomping about Cheltenham – of indulging a chippy, low-temperature Anglophobia that, until recent reversals, looked to have been done away with. It's not a big deal. The punching is still largely in an upwards motion. Nobody is comparing it with weapons-grade racism. But it does evidence a slide back to unlovely habits.

The massed catalogue of whinges in the Paddy Power commercial are, however, in a different class of recreational sectarianism

To this point, the online chatter has mostly addressed unease about Paddy Power’s ongoing issues with the Mandate trade union. News stories alleging the firm threatened to report union reps to the Garda if they enter its shops sit uncomfortably with a jokey video that has secondary characters triumphantly brandishing signs reading “The boom is back”. Not for everybody, Mr Power.


Never mind the stuff that might actually matter. Let's deal with the organised Brit-bashing. We all enjoy a bit of this from time to time. I have bought a holiday home in Fuengirola on the proceeds of articles slagging off Sky News and the Daily Telegraph for claiming Saoirse Ronan as British. Letters to the paper about such outrages are to awards season as letters spotting the first cuckoo are to the succeeding spring. Nobody wants that to stop. Deal with the infractions on a case-by-case basis.

The massed catalogue of whinges in the Paddy Power commercial are, however, in a different class of recreational sectarianism. Some are worthwhile (Colm alludes to SaoirseGate). Some seem faintly desperate (only maniacs object to baked beans with a fried breakfast). If you think I’m going to retain my dignity by slipping silently past the reference to “crack” then you must think me a different small-minded obsessive with tunnel vision on certain unimportant issues. Colm derides the English for “ruining words like banter” (have they?) before suggesting they “stop before [they] ruin ‘crack’”. But “crack” is of English origin. If anybody has ruined it – and nobody has, obviously – it’s the publicans who spelt it differently when chalking it outside their establishments during the 1990 World Cup. This article in The Irish Times from 1935 confirms that ...

The blasting of Handel's Zadok the Priest – used at every English coronation since 1727 – adds further levels of snark

Wait! Come back! We’ll leave that aside, for now. What’s striking here is not just that Paddy Power thinks it politic to launch a Brit-bashing commercial, but also that – much to their consternation, I suspect – nobody apart from me seems to mind. This is where we’ve got back to. The exhausting insult “West Brit” has never been more prevalent in everyday conversation. A small online industry has grown up for supposed wits who find ending any sentence with “f**k the Queen” the height of hilarity.

The temptation to blame all contemporary unpleasantness on Brexit should be resisted, but the aftermath of that vote has definitely contributed to an increased souring of relations. To wrap irony within irony, the British press has, in its coverage of the recent Irish election, exacerbated tension by vastly overstating the importance of Brexit to domestic voters. The usual right-wing publications tied themselves in knots trying to make Sinn Féin’s rise about Them, Them and Them (the folk Colm refers to as our “neighbour” in the ad).

Running with a bizarre, unrecognisable caricature of Leo Varadkar as a combination of Gerry Adams and Jacques Delors, the reports began by suggesting the swing to Sinn Féin was a reaction against his anti-Britishness (keep up), before – the latter being political science from Bizarroworld – deciding that enthusiasm for his imagined Sassanach-taunting was driving voters towards the professionals in the field. All this came after three years of Tory Europhobes treating the Belfast Agreement as so much lavatory paper.

The result is that, rather than generating any serious hoo-ha, Paddy Power ended up pushing at a door that was already almost wholly ajar. It’s a decently made piece of work. Meaney is always good as the crafty hoor. The blasting of Handel’s Zadok the Priest – used at every English coronation since 1727 – adds further levels of snark. Until now nobody has anybody bothered to complain. It seems these words are all you’re getting, Paddy.