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Dublin: 20 °C Tuesday 16 July, 2019
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Lisa McInerney: Neil Prendeville blamed the wrong people in his radio rant

The radio presenter could have attacked those responsible for mismanaging the country – but instead he kicked down, writes Lisa McInerney.

Lisa McInerney

ON TUESDAY LAST, Cork radio personality Neil Prendeville, no stranger to controversy whether he’s harnessing it for ratings or courting it on aeroplanes, came out with a rather meandering state of the nation address which was then copied onto the station’s Facebook page.

The rant itself was remarkable in its transparent desperation. It rambled, it contained factual errors, it even appeared to contradict itself in places. To those of us blessed with natural cynicism, it may have seemed like a clumsy kick to a wasps’ nest, with every possible box ticked to wind up every possible person. Tax-dodging rock stars? Tick. Criminally inadequate health services? Tick. Cronyism? Pen-through-the-paper tick. It even included a chest-thumping reference to “public versus private sector civil war”, the addendum to which was not a plea for camaraderie, but rather a call to arms for the side that doesn’t hold “the strike weapon”.

Heading up these points about Ireland’s political failings was a run of finger-pointing hysteria directed at Ireland’s welfare state and how it favoured everyone but those who deserved it. It was an unfortunate prologue, because it had the effect of assigning equal blame to state-dependent families, immigrants (Eastern Europeans and Africans got a special mention) and “former Russians”(?) as it did to fiscal corruption and government incompetence. It’s not hard to see how blaming swarming spongers for the recession is much less stressful than facing up to the behemoths towering over us: nevertheless, it is grossly unfair.

Prendeville did not rant into a vacuum. The page attracted quite a few tells-it-like-I-sees-it types, with varying degrees of linguistic competence, who applauded him for telling “the truth” about welfare-gobbling Africans, sneaky Eastern Europeans and homegrown mooches who turned down council housing because the front room wouldn’t fit their home cinema systems, or something. Anecdote on anecdote bundled together and framed as fact. You know all the stories. They stack up very well, held rigid by the ignorance of people who have no solutions but to blame immigrants, blame Travellers, blame the unemployed, blame an underclass made up not of vulnerable people, but of wasters, scammers and thieves.

But for every cry about Ireland’s “soft-touch” entry requirements there were many more which went through the numbers, explained direct provision or analysed the processes by which non-EU citizens could apply for welfare. Out of those of us who didn’t immediately dismiss Prendeville’s tirade as showboating cynicism, there were far more reasoned voices than angry yelps.

96fm appear to have since deleted the transcript from their Facebook page, but you can still hear it on SoundCloud.

“The blame is pointed not at mischief, but at nationality and social class”

This columnist cannot be the only Irish person tired of bigoted blowhards claiming to speak for everyman and hijacking our national identity to suit their own impotent prejudices. And prejudices they are; those on the side of this flimsy “truth” suggest that their concerns are not motivated by xenophobia or classism, and that dismissing them as such in a fit of lefty outrage is counter-productive. But look at the way the blame is pointed: not at mischief or mismanagement, but at nationality and social class. If the perceived problem is with criminals or a lax social welfare state, why generalise at all? And if a “former Briton” doesn’t see how using the term “former Russian” is objectionable, well…

Here’s a shocker: Irish people are, by and large, a decent bunch. Sure, we have our share of bad apples, and it’s entirely possible that each of us could anecdotally identify three or four without having to think too hard about it (the stories I could tell, if I had a cuppa tay and a biscuit inside me).

But as a whole, we’re a lot better than we seem to give ourselves credit for. We have some of the best universities in the world. Our generosity is legendary. We want full marriage rights for the LGBT members of our community. We have won four Nobel Prizes for Literature (we’ve won even more Eurovisions). And for natives of such a tiny island, we are prolific to an astonishing degree: 10 per cent of Australians, 12 per cent of Americans and 14 per cent of Canadians claim Irish ancestry. We are, all in all, a brilliant bunch.

“We have every right to be angry at the mismanagement of our nation”

Above all, our history gives us empathic perspective on the human cost of economic migration, and the risks of engaging in classist censure. We would like to think that the Irish Diaspora enriched the social fabric of those countries we found ourselves in, en masse with our own bad apples among us. With another generation gone abroad to seek opportunity, we hope that we will do the same this time around. We hope that those nations our countrymen find themselves in will treat them well and not leave them in need if they are wanting. And if they do, we will not applaud them for it; we will condemn their lack of humanity and their short-sightedness.

We have every right to be angry with the mismanagement of our nation, the fact that we are emigrating again, the fact that our essential services are being inhibited in order to pay the debts of those elite and untouched. But we do ourselves a disservice by directing that ire at welfare recipients, whatever their extraction, good eggs and bad apples both. No one can deny that there are questions to be asked about the efficiency of our welfare system, especially in the middle of this downturn, but there is a way to condemn the wasteful or indeed criminal actions of a minority without eroding the wellbeing of those least able to weather it.

In doing so we cannot lose sight of the bigger picture. All of the facets of Ireland we are right to be proud of rely on solidarity, empathy and reason, and the insidious, baiting waffle of divide-and-conquer merchants like Neil Prendeville have no place here. And if we have to generalise, I’m going with “we’re better than that”.

It should be no surprise that there was a backlash against Prendeville’s bluster; we are capable of better, and we should expect better. And above all, we have the world’s largest collection of Irish mammies, and they’ve taught us to know “pure bleddy bad-mindedness” when we see it.

Read more of Lisa McInerney’s columns here >

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Lisa McInerney

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