A Voice for Ireland


It may be tempting for some to sneer at yet another victory for Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest the standard of most entries is low, the contest remains out of kilter with popular music tastes across Europe and as a television spectacle it is overlong. But, with the exception, perhaps, of some worried executives in RTE, there was hardly a television viewer in the State on Saturday night who did not feel some national pride as Ireland cruised comfortable to another success. It was difficult to be left unmoved by the brooding traditional melody of the winning Irish entry, The Voice, and by the easy self confidence of its young singer, Eimear Quinn. The fact that this was Ireland's fourth victory in five years is a tribute to.the songwriting talent in the State but this may not be the only factor driving Ireland's success.

As demonstrated again this year, voting in the Eurovision Song Contest is often lopsided and political in nature as the various juries reward ancient friendships or settle old scores. But there appears to be a general goodwill towards Ireland and the Irish. Terry, Wogan, whose wry commentaries are a part of the Eurovision experience, put it well on Saturday night Europe loves Irish music and the Irish pubs, but it also loves the Irish people, he said. The importance of this goodwill towards Ireland and the Irish should not be underestimated. It has opened doors which might otherwise have remained shut in negotiating rooms in Brussels and Luxembourg. It helps to explain how Ireland continues to receive vastly more per capita from Brussels than some of our poorer EU partners. And it is undoubtedly one of the factors which is responsible for the current boom in tourism revenue.

Most Europeans appear to have warm feelings about the Irish. Increasing numbers, happily, are anxious to come and visit. Ireland's songwriting success in the Eurovision, and RTE's ability to put on a spectacular show, are among the factors like the late, lamented success of the Irish soccer team and the fame enjoyed by rock bands like U2 and The Cranberries which have helped to raise Ireland's international profile in recent years. Ireland, for long viewed as old fashioned and insular by many in Europe, is now one of the most fashionable tourist destinations, especially for the young. The staging of the Eurovision in Ireland has played its part in this transformation because it represented an opportunity to give tens of millions of Europeans a snapshot of the modern Ireland.

It is impossible to put a price on the value of this favourable international publicity. And the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Mr Michael D. Higgins is right a further chance to host the contest should be seen as an opportunity. That said, there is no sensible reason why RTE should again be asked to foot the bill. The national broadcaster is already suffering from a Eurovision hangover much needed funds have been drained away from programme makers especially in drama, comedy and sport, in order to finance what has virtually become a national event. But RTE itself, not to mention its viewers, is entitled to expect some thing better. A transition to a new system in which all members of the European Broadcasting Union share the cost of staging the contest, or where it is funded by multinational sponsors, is long overdue. Failing this, it is not unreasonable to expect Bord Failte and the other relevant government agencies to help meet the cost.