Time to redefine a more functional sense of what patriotism practically means…

Are trade union leaders in the Republic of Ireland bringing people onto the streets acting patriotically? The extraordinary economic environment in which we are currently living is intellectually very thought provoking. What an opportunity has been missed by leaders generally not to redefine ‘patriotism.’In nationalist Ireland for far too long ‘nationalism’ has been identified with the notion of giving one’s life for one’s country: The song ‘ The Patriot Game’ with the immortal words: “For the love of one’s country is a terrible thing” perpetuated the notion of ‘ being part of the patriot game.’

As someone who lived through the playing out of ‘the patriot game’ on all sides in Belfast for thirty years I believe the time has come to update our sense of patriotism. This does not mean someone who feels British ceases to be British or someone who is Irish ceases to be Irish but a redefinition of patriotism places an onus on each and everyone to share responsibility at every level of society.

It means in the public sector willingly taking big cuts to make sure people at the bottom of pile are protected. In the private sector workers have already taken cuts high as thirty per cent. What has gone before is now irrelevant. All Oppositions went with the spending spree of th past decade.

Now is the time to face up to where we are. Having been a trade union leader for years I am arguing true patriotism demands of union leaders now not to falsely raise people’s expectations in leading them onto the streets. Governments haven’t got money to meet the demands of many union leaders on behalf of their members.

We know all the arguments about the governments underpinning banks etc. The banks are behaving appallingly but union leaders should not play with the emotions of people in dire straits in creating false hopes.

Spend more time behind closed doors wrestling with government ministers to establish how the homes of young couples like the two young coulples who appeared on The Late Late Show who are facing ruin as the banks seek to take possession of their homes.

This is where the real role of the Unions rests.

In expending this energy in constructively using their time they would not have time to bring people onto the streets raising false expectations. This is not about propaganda victories but about true patriotism – rallying where we can.

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  • Dave

    A couple of decades of promoting post-nationalism (circa 1986) in order to promote British and EU sovereignty over Ireland has killed off any possibility of invoking nationalist sentiment when it is now required. Rather than relying on patriotic sentiments, they state should try to appeal to survivalist sentiments.

    A more direct argument to put to the state and the public regarding public sector workers is that a person with a guaranteed job is far less likely to be in a position where he cannot pay his mortgage than a person who may lose his job. In order to avoid a flood of defaults on mortgages when the ECB inevitably increases interest rates within the Eurozone, it will be necessary for the banks to receive the additional funds that are derived from public sector workers in order to give a grace period to private sector workers in default. That will be hard to swallow, but that is the consequence of guaranteeing these banks. These defaults are going to happen, and happen on a scale that adds (tens of) billions to the capitalisation requirements of the Irish banks.

    Alternatively, they can pretend that the ECB is going to bail them out of the mess that it dumped them into – which is what the muppets were misled to believe when they voted for the Lisbon Treaty – and that they don’t have to do anything except defend the fort until the calvary arrives. Sadly for them, that calvary will be the IMF – and then reality will hit them damn hard.

  • Dave

    “…it will be necessary for the banks to receive the additional funds that are derived from [b] any pay cuts to[/b] public sector workers…”

  • I wonder Eamonn if ‘patriotism’ is the wrong word here? A collective sense of active citizenship might be a better notion – that we are all responsible for finding solutions to the difficulties in which we find ourselves. For this to work, then we need to concentrate on rebuilding the foundations of ‘social capital’ in our societies north and south – trust, reciprocity and a strong sense of community. These were seriously damaged during the era of unbridled greed from which we are now suffering. Additionally in the ‘north’ – we suffer from a political class who are very poor at engaging in critical debate, opening up to not knowing all the answers (Robinson attack on Martina Purdy comes to mind!) and trusting citizens (particularly those not from their particular sub-sect of a sect).

    Still, I agree with your sentiment – and remember Ciaran McKeown talking about using his role in the Student’s Union in the ’60s to encourage a multi-cultural festival at QUB to protest the exploitation of international students instead of a strike. Probably the first festival of its kind here, but four decades later, we all too easily revert to the age-old methods in the face of a lack of trust and imagination…

  • sleepingpostie

    “What an opportunity has been missed by leaders generally not to redefine ‘patriotism.’ This means that leaders have taken the opportunity to redefine patriotism as they have ‘missed’ the opportunity ‘not to redefine’ it. Are our journalists as bad at their jobs as our economists are at theirs?

  • Dave

    While I give him credit for his opportunistic use of our economic woes to further promote post-nationalism but I’d have to deduct marks for his failure to grasp that the rivalry between the two nations in Northern Ireland who continue to compete with each other for control of that region of the UK has feck all to do with any solution to our economic woes in Ireland. If they want to engage in nation-building this new nation of Northern Irish, then they should start by making it self-sufficient. Sadly for them, however, they quickly decide that they prefer to waive their begging bowl at the more prosperous English nation instead.

  • Rory Carr

    Clearly the best solution to our economic woes and the best immediate expression of our patriotism would be for everyone who has a job to voluntarily agree to a pay cut in order that profits might increase and poor investors, who do not have the luxury of jobs but must rely on their money to work for them are taken out of their misery and are once again able to enjoy their righteous position of being able to laugh at the rest of you mugs in opulent leisure.

    It is the natural order of things, pleasing to both Darwin and God and those journalists desperate to brown-nose their masters.

  • eamonn mccann

    I think that one in 10 public servants, chosen at random, should throw themselves off the roof of the GPO shouting “God Save Ireland”.

    Eamonn Mallie. Eejit.

  • joeCanuck

    Eamonn,
    You are aware of what Samuel Johnson had to say about patriotism and scoundrels?

  • Brian Walker

    A 10% pay cut in the public sector is not inconceivaable. But if imposed, would it be patriotic?

  • Scaramoosh

    “As someone who lived through the playing out of ‘the patriot game’ on all sides in Belfast for thirty year.”

    You also saw at first hand “a war” that was often fought with the stated goal of achieving a Socialist Republic. How ironic, therefore, when the country has been sacrificed on the altar of cronyism, that said socialists are nowhere to be seen.

    The patriotic thing to do in the current circumstances would be to call for social revolution. It is, after all, by being tame and compliant that we have ended up in the mess that we have.

  • Please save me from such weasel words. Did the Eamonn Mallies of this world demand that big business and their political gofers should have acted in a patriotic way when they were filling their own pockets and edging the Irish states finances ever closer to disaster. I think not, or perhaps I missed that post to slugger.

    In trouble times patriotism is and has always been the last refuge of a scoundrel. I think old Eamonn is coming at this problem from the wrong end. If anyone really believes people working in the public sector, most of whom are on low or modest incomes, are going to sit still when their pay is cut by 10%, whilst those in the top half of the wages scale in the private sector make no sacrifices, then you need to get out more, to accept such a cut would not be patriotic, but plain stupid.

    If any road is to be taken then a prices, incomes, taxation and employment policy needs to be formulated which will impact on all and according to their ability to pay.

  • I lost faith in the way this thread was going when I ran up against the gratuitous reference to The Patriot Game.

    Dominic Behan’s lyric (the tune is much older) was intended to do precisely what Eamonn Mallie @ 01:51 PM invites us to do: to reconsider the nature of “patriotism”. Perhaps the problem lies in Mallie (like everyone who heard the song in post-Clancy Brothers pub-choruses) not fully appreciating Behan’s original.

    For the record, the “O’Hanlan” of the first line was Fergal O’Hanlon, of Ballybay in Monaghan, killed along with Seán South, in the New Year’s Day, 1957, Seán Garland “organised” shambles at the RUC Brookeborough barracks.

    Behan identifies very clearly the targets of his bitterness, and they are not — except in passing — John Bull’s tyranny. They are, in order:

    1. De Valera is greatly to blame/ For shirking his part in the patriot game.

    2. Those who peddle the murderous legends of 1916 and the “blood sacrifice” myth. They told me how Connolly was shot in his chair, /His wounds from the fighting all bloody and bare. It is important to note that Behan did not accept the “blood sacrifice” nonsense expanded by later propagandists from chance remarks by Pearse.

    3. The Garlands and others who justified the shooting of Garda: I don’t mind a bit if I shoot down police/ They are lackeys for war, never guardians of peace.

    The issue raised by Behan, now echoed by Mallie, goes much further back.

    It is in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in the well-known dialogue between Davin [A man’s country comes first. Ireland first] and Stephen [Do you know what Ireland is? … Ireland is the old sow that eats her farrow]:

    Are you Irish at all? … Why don’t you learn Irish? Why did you drop out of the [Gaelic] league class after the first lesson?

    When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.

    Perhaps it might also be worth reflecting on Edith Cavell’s “Patriotism is not enough. I have no hatred or bitterness for anyone.” That comes down only through the report of Reverend H. Stirling Gahan, who administered Holy Communion to Cavell, in her cell, the night before her execution. Gahan, an Anglican, has a suspiciously Leinster surname (Ó Gaoithín ?)

    So: bottom line — patriotism becomes dangerous and destructive when it excludes humanity and humanitarian views.

    By the way, we’ve thrashed out “the nature of nationalism” before.

  • That said, the issue of public service pay will not go away.

    Back in 2001, as part of the bench-marking exercise, there was a survey done by Ronan Lyons (its on-line via [scribd id=11635058 key=key-2809dv8hrkl94xxmtc5r]. Without digging up all those buried bones, the argument comes down to two issues:

    1. The alleged discrepancy between wages in the public sector and the generality;
    2. Resentment by the generality (ably stirred by the ultra-conservative free-marketeers in the press and elsewhere) at public service pensions and benefits.

    If we are going to have a full-blown argument on those lines, I’m your man. But let’s start with a bit of common ground. The comparison between the two sectors is not entirely a fair one. The public sector is disproportionately professional and professionally-qualified (so much of the more mundane stuff has been outsourced and hived off over many years). When we compare like-for-like, many of the differentials disappear, and are even reversed.

  • aquifer

    Capitalism expects that capital invested at risk is paid a higher return than a deposit in a bank account.

    Similarly, I accept that people working in the private sector should be paid more than public sector workers, because the private sector worker is less sure of keeping the job, is often physically at risk, often overworks, and has less protection if they are unable to continue working.

    I also think that people who take the risks of doing low paid work should get a lot more money than people on the dole who rely on a steady but low income from the state and who maybe also get the free use of a house.

    So for me it is very fair if public sector workers are cut back a bit.

    Maybe not to the point where they are losing their homes as fast as the private sector workers who have already shown a taste for risk, but we are competing with countries whose workers will work for a lot less than us, so we have to make hard decisions to keep the productive and export sectors of our economy working.

    The DUP can try to pretend that doing this will not involve co-operation across the border, but such delusions could cost the shop. Ethnic separatism is a luxury nobody can afford now, whichever alphabet soup fraction has it for sale.

    The public sector Unions may want to keep their piece of the cake, but the state should face them down. Better still, they must.

  • Kathryn Johnston

    Thought it was Eamon de Valera, not Eamonn Mallie, who said ‘Labour must wait’ but it is a great slogan! Stick with it!!

  • joan

    incoherent gobbledygook – awful, embarrassing – this is actually one of the media elite in this country! depressing.

  • aquifer

    Around here patriotism is damaged goods. A few like Eoghan Harris spoke truth to their tribe, but few others. Could we manage Shared Citizenship? The world now seems a bit small for the blood and iron, faith and fatherland alternatives.