Fintan O’Toole: Ireland is nobody’s little darling any more

We’ve lost our exotic allure without replacing it with the attraction of efficiency

At the announcement in London of the 2023 Rugby World Cup host were Irish bid chairman Dick Spring, Minister for Sport Shane Ross, Brian O’Driscoll and IRFU president Philip Orr. Photograph: Dave Rogers/Inpho/Getty Images

At the announcement in London of the 2023 Rugby World Cup host were Irish bid chairman Dick Spring, Minister for Sport Shane Ross, Brian O’Driscoll and IRFU president Philip Orr. Photograph: Dave Rogers/Inpho/Getty Images

We’re nobody’s darling any more. Last evening, Ireland failed in its much-hyped bid to have Dublin named as the new location for the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which must move its headquarters from London after Brexit. Dublin also failed to get the runners-up prize of the European Banking Authority’s headquarters. Last week, Ireland finished a distant third of the three contenders to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup. An awful truth is surely dawning: the great welcome we have for ourselves is not entirely reciprocated even by our nearest neighbours. The currency of Irishness is dropping even faster than sterling on the international exchange of soft power.

We’ve lost the allure of the exotic but failed to replace it with the attraction of efficiency. It’s very hard to be both one of the most globalised economies in the world and what the beer ads used to call “magical mystical Ireland”. Indeed, even what’s left of magical mystical Ireland is thoroughly globalised and commercialised. The small cabin of clay and wattles made to which visitors were meant to be drawn by Bob Geldof’s lovely reading of The Lake Isle of Innisfree in the Rugby World Cup bid video has been rented out to 20 tenants at €500 a month each. All of our bids traded on “history and culture” but other places have histories too and almost all of them invest far more in their cultural facilities than we do.

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