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Dublin: 18 °C Wednesday 17 July, 2019
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Lisa McInerney: We tolerate cute hoors, we end up with Anglo tape types

Our capacity for putting up with ‘charismatic’ cowboys is no longer a bad national joke – it’s our national downfall.

Lisa McInerney

IT’S DOUBTFUL THERE was a single Irish citizen who wasn’t incensed by the content of the Anglo tapes; if such people exist, they’re too mired in political apathy (otherwise known as Irish Wasting Disease) to be extracted and set safely upright.

Were you angered? Disgusted? Were you surprised?

Paddies and gentlemen, it’s time to come clean about a debilitating addiction we suffer on a grand scale. Alcohol? No. Tea? No. Joe Duffy? Not even! It’s cute hoors, and if we don’t break free from our sneaky admiration for their wily ways, we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the last decade in a loop of obstinacy and contrition that will outlast even our bank debts.

Non-Irish and naive natives both may wonder what a cute hoor is, so let’s quickly dismiss the notion that it has anything to do with Pretty Woman. As “cute” can replace the word “crafty” in Hiberno-English, a cute hoor is, to put it succinctly, a devious person, and one prone to winking and smirking. A cute hoor will do whatever it takes to get what he wants, in a manner sly enough to get away with it, but obvious enough to let everyone know that he’s getting away with it.

At least up until our purse strings snapped, the Irish have tolerated cute hoors. We joke about them. We grin and shake our heads and say, “But isn’t he a cute hoor, isn’t he?”. A common trait: we’re quite happy to dance precarious steps through life if there’s a smidgen of a chance we might get away with it. We need cute hoors so that we can feel clever. Cute hoors get away with being cute hoors not because they’re pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes, but because we know what they’re doing, and can appreciate their complete lack of morals because being able to see what they’re up to makes us twice as clever as them.

We have a fine history of rolling chancers taking the reins

To be powerful in Ireland is to retain a certain smartalec charm, and we have a fine history of rolling chancers taking the reins and, on more than one occasion, bleeding us dry. There was Archbishop John McQuaid, massively influential in drafting Ireland’s constitution, who made a mint via insider trading on the nationalisation of CIE. There was Charlie Haughey, proven even while serving in office to be so crooked he made U-bends look like yardsticks.

There was his protégée Bertie Ahern, whose financial discrepancies rivalled Father Ted’s. There’s Denis O’Brien, whose tango with Michael Lowry over the ESAT contract was criticised by the Moriarty tribunal. Ray Burke, Michael Fingleton, Seán Fitzpatrick – Lord, even kindly scarecrow Mick Wallace! – all have a place on Ireland’s merry-go-round of charming liars and flamboyant blaggards. Not so cute they didn’t get caught, but cute enough.

The Anglo tapes fiasco has shown us more of the same carry on; financial impropriety, entered into knowingly, to treasonous extent, dismissed with jokes and sneering expletives. The transcripts of conversations between the bank’s executives have merely exposed what we already knew was going on: cute hoorism at its most toxic, powerful people drunk on their perceived infallibility, companionably sniggering while directing misdeeds which would have a very real effect on a hoi polloi they cared little about.

We put great stock in personality here; it wasn’t so long ago that people were rolling their eyes at the notion of Enda Kenny ever being Taoiseach because of his stiff, joyless disposition. That favour we display towards charismatic individuals could, in theory, serve us well.

Except it hasn’t. It’s probably because we expect so little from ourselves. The frequent, grudging whisper when we hear of our elected representatives or business behemoths playing loose with the State’s coffers, like socialites in shoe shops, is that we would probably do the same in their position. Or that any alternative envoy would behave in exactly the same way – ‘they’re all crooked so what’s the difference?’ – which is why we ended up with years of Fianna Fáil treachery, followed thereafter by the ineffectual administration of Fine Gael, while we sit around shaking our heads dolefully and composing ranting emails to our sons in Brisbane.

We look set to suffer lip service and vague outrage from our government

The worry is that our capacity for putting up with cute hoors and their personality disorders will prevent us from seeing the Anglo tapes fiasco through to a positive conclusion. We all know these boyos in the bank didn’t operate entirely independently of policy, official or underhanded. For that reason, we look set to suffer lip service and vague outrage from our government while the cowboys and their enablers protest and jiggle their way out of trouble.

Cute hoors are a blight. It’s tempting to accept their existence because we see being cunning as a fairly positive trait in a world full of insulting Irishman jokes, but our cute hoors aren’t out there pranking the oppressors for the good of the nation; they’re shafting us.

There’s no secret society at play in the Anglo tapes controversy; this scandal is just one more from a culture of smiling dishonesty, and it implicates some of our finest minds and longest serving public servants. The people might be sick of this simpering malevolence, but the cute hoors in power are about as likely to budge on this issue as they are to storm the Bastille.

There’s a less amusing term for cute hoorism: corruption. Last year, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Ireland 25th out of 176, not too bad globally, but worse than the average for Western Europe. Is it possible to learn from the Anglo tapes travesty without pulling most of Ireland’s political personalities apart?

Something tells me it’s imperative that we find out.

Read more of Lisa McInerney’s columns here >

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Lisa McInerney

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