Memories of 1982, a strange year

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According to what’s appeared in the papers, the archives of 1982 have produced few surprises.  Perhaps Wally Kirwan’s suggestion of cross border internment put (safely) to Garret FitzGerald comes close but it was never going to happen.  The two governments had allowed themselves to be pushed apart by the 1981 hunger strike and a key initiative had been handed to the IRA and Sinn Fein for years. I missed  an early chance of enlightenment. After snatching a TV interview with Gerry Adams in the aftermath, his then PR man Danny Morrison said to me: “Would you like to hear about our ideas for after the hunger strike ?” “Sorry Danny, got to get back to get the film developed “ I replied . Was an historic opportunity missed? Almost certainly not but it shows how the pressures of TV news can sometimes get in the way of the story.

The Falklands war provided a quixotic episode of Anglo-Irish tension of a type that hadn’t been seen since World War Two, but this time entirely gratuitously. It’s always striking and even heartening to read how far  Haughey’s  anti- British digs over the Falklands were frustrated by the Department of Foreign Affairs despite his attempts to  dominate policy.

But it was news to me to read that RTE gave bogus accreditation to my BBC colleague Clive Ferguson to serve with us in Buenos Aires as a news producer.  For the record Roisin McAuley, David Capper and I simply made good use of our existing Irish passports and worked openly but discreetly for the BBC. Fairly discreetly that is, for we played host to senior members of the Argentine navy keen to share our Argentine champagne and their excitement at actually fighting a little war. My fear was that Charlie might shop us publicly with the compliant Argentinians and force them to take action against us   After I’d paid my respects at the Irish embassy, as I closed the door I heard the diplomat say: ”And some of them are even  real Irish!” “Excuse me? ” I came back to say. Months later, I thanked Mr Haughey for his kind collaboration in a very minor British subterfuge.

A very Happy New Year.

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  • Framer

    The News Letter has this piece from a classy Irish diplomat in 1982, disclosed in the Irish state papers:

    In a withering dissection of the “Latin psyche”, the embassy in Buenos Aires sent a 17-page advisory to Dublin: A character assassination teed up with an assertion that the locals are psychologically dangerous.

    “One might be guilty of far less than total charity, but not, I think, of straying very far from the essential truth, should one hazard the speculation that the seven deadly sins are cultivated in Buenos Aires with more flairfully self- indulgent ingenuity than perhaps anywhere else on God’s earth where Satan has sown a particular seed,” it said.

    The cable, which was titled Understanding Argentina and dated Nov 24 1982, was sent to the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affair’s, Iveagh House, Dublin.

    It was intended to be an overview of Argentine affairs following a year of turmoil and the country’s defeat over the Falklands.

    The author is not clearly named. The ambassador in Buenos Aires from 1981 to 1989 was Patrick Walsh.

    On the assessment of the “Argentine psychology”, originally suggested by Trinidadian-British writer VS Naipaul, Iveagh House was told it was “a mercilessly exact penetrating observation”.

    The cable states: “As a nation — if they are a nation, and that is part of the pathology — they are morbidly estranged from reality. To attempt an exhaustive catalogue of the exotic zoology of serious emotional disorders from which the Argentines collectively suffer would require ample recourse to the early Viennese texts.

    “Behavioural aberrations of which they display advanced and frequently simultaneous symptoms include: Paranoia, narcissism, aggression, delusions inter alia of grandeur, infantilism, hysteria, exhibitionism, extreme inferiority/superiority com-plexes, extravagant self-fantasies, selective amnesia, habitual projection of internal failures on to external agents.

    “Among the few psychological disorders from which the Argentines as a people remain resolutely immune, one may number scrupulosity and compulsive guilt.”

    On the state itself, the writer said there was some substance to the idea that Argentina’s moral shortcomings span from the huge influx of immigrants from southern Italy.

    “The mores of Naples and Palermo have certainly infected Argentina,” the diplomat wrote.

    But here lies the twist, the papers reveal: The underground, criminal counter-culture of the Mafia was not present in Argentina at the time.

    “There is no role in Buenos Aires for such heterodox criminality. Here the Mafia is the official culture, the conventional society, the quintessential state,” the cable read.

    “In this country, the gangsters are not underground figures, outlaw characters; they are not consigned beyond the flat Pale of the pampas they are urbanely, clubably, indistinguishably fite fuaite with the soigne Buenosairean establishment.

    “Here the crooks have merged with the conquistadors; the Capones have married the Cabot-Lodges.”

    But it was not all damning. Agreeing with “a well-worn but apposite definition”, the cable described the average Argentine as: “An Italian who speaks Spanish, dresses like a (Rex Harrison, Savile Row) Englishman, and wishes he was living in the United States.”

    They were also considered creative and highly cultured individuals with an innate gentleness and little predisposition to violent crime.

    “Or, less flatteringly, it could be that fraud and cheating and rip-offs of all kinds are so much an integral part of life here from top to bottom — as they are — that robbery with violence is rendered redundant by robbery with sleight of hand or stroke of a pen,” the cable read,

    [Was he really only writing of Argentina?]

  • Brian Walker

    Framer, well spotted!

    Was he writing an allegory of a more exotic version of Haughey’s Ireland perhaps?

    But boy could they tango!