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Sunday 26 February 2006

Emerald Isle's 40 shades of hypocrisy

HERE are four quotes from female foreign workers in Dublin, who were interviewed by Patricia Devine in last week's Sunday Independent.

"I don't agree that it's the land of the welcomes. It's friendly on the surface, but it's false-friendly - fake.'- Natascha, a South African shop manager.

"People have to be nicer to you because they are supposed to be middle-class. A lot are two-faced: they can be quite condescending towards me.' - Micaela, a Portuguese southside waitress.

"I was sharing accommodation for seven months . . . They could be two-faced and not very clear about what they wanted . . . What they said, they didn't mean." - Serena, an Italian hotel worker.

"People can be very two-faced here, smile at you one minute - dismissive the next. Not nice and kindly any more." - Monika, a Lithuanian who has been here for five years.

Well, as Robbie Burns put it in his poem To a Louse (On seeing one on a lady's bonnet at church):

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us . . .

We are regarded as two-faced. As false. As hypocritical. That's bad enough, but we are also given to self-delusion. Not having learned to "see oursels as ithers see us", we continue to make "monie a blunder".

It's a characteristic of the Irish Catholic tribe that we are adept at smiling and telling people what they want to hear even if we don't mean a word of it, yet we react with genuine outrage if anyone says we're untrustworthy.

In the past we had no shortage of others to blame for our falsity.

We had been colonised and part of our survival mechanism was to fool the colonisers. (Read Somerville and Ross's Experiences of an Irish RM to see how the Anglo-Irish saw the comedy in this more than a century ago.)

Or maybe we were driven to hypocrisy because we had to survive under the yoke of an oppressive church. (See the English Honor Tracy's hilarious The Straight and Narrow Path, published 50 years ago.)

 But these days - although there's no one to blame but ourselves - we haven't fundamentally changed.

Think of the peace process, dominated in the case of Sinn Fein by Orwellian prose ("War is peace") and in the case of our politicians and diplomats by "creative ambiguity". (In The Anglo-Irish Murders, I tried to satirise what is beyond satire.)

Ulster Protestants are straight talkers to a fault and we are the opposite. For them to say a person is "not genuine" is about the gravest insult that can be levelled.

Yet with collusion from the half-Irish Tony Blair, we told Ulster Protestants what they wanted to hear and then went back on our word or did side-deals with Sinn Fein that undermined every other party. That's how we lost their trust.

Last week I heard an interview on RTE radio's Morning Ireland with Willie Frazier, organiser of the Love Ulster/Families Acting for Innocent Relatives parade that was so viciously attacked in Dublin yesterday. Asked what was the point of the march, Frazier said it was "to raise the issue with the Dublin government of double standards".

Like almost every other Northern Protestant, Frazier views as deep hypocrisy the view of Southern politicians that Sinn Fein is fit to be in government in the North, but not the South.

As a people we required the Catholic church to educate our children, feed our orphans and hide away our unmarried mothers, yet though we knew of abuse we pretended we didn't and when faced with it, blamed the clergy. We are hypocritical about immigration (ie we voted Michael McDowell's way in the referendum and we want fewer immigrants yet we become emotionally incontinent whenever anyone we know is deported.)

We shriek about the environment but take NIMBY (Not-in-my-back-yard) ism to an art form. We despise America but prosper on its investments. We love Irish in theory but don't speak it in practice. We condemn violence but fete lying mass murderers.

We pretend to want a united Ireland but only - as a taxi-driver memorably said to me - if it has no effect whatsoever on the 26 counties. We go on about gender equality and are horrified if a golf club excludes women, but we allow our president to visit Saudi Arabia.

Isn't it time we began to venerate the truth?

I won't allow Sinn Fein to monopolise quotes from men of peace, so here's one from Gandhi.

"It is good to see ourselves as others see us. Try as we may, we are never able to know ourselves fully as we are, especially the evil side of us. This we can do only if we are not angry with our critics but will take in good heart whatever they might have to say."

So no nasty letters, then.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards