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satire and freedom of thought

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Here’s some good news about the Recession here in Ireland: good (if not great yet) quality satire on radio and TV. I am a great fan of satire. It appeals to my English sense of sarcastic humour, or my English sarcastic sense of humour, depending on how you like to look at it. It was noticeably absent in the years leading up to the crash in 2007 (the one that should have happened in 2005, and the then Government only half-heartedly admitted to in 2009). Satire requires a sense of the right to criticize and ridicule the powers that be. The Irish are still struggling with their natural deference to Authority, whether the Government or the Church, which, in case you don’t know, in Ireland means the Roman Catholic Church, the one of which the Pope is head honcho.

People argue about why this deference holds such power here, and many theories have been put forward. I tend towards the idea that it stems from the centuries of living under the severity of British rule, but also the demands of the Roman Catholic religion for absolute obedience to Canon Law and the concept of Papal infallibility (yep, he claims to be able to make infallible statements about things we humans simply cannot know for certain, but this blog is not about RC beliefs or beliefs in the unfathomable in general. Maybe another time).

In Ireland for a long time (until only recently, in fact) this meant deference to every representative of the bastions of power, be it your local councillor or TD, the Guarda Siochana (the cops), and especially, your parish priest. These are powerful social forces here and it is only in the last few years that the power of the Church has been sufficiently weakened (by scandal mainly) for people to even contemplate a secular state and with it, to question the power of the state and its government.

England, by contrast, put aside these established power bases with the Magna Carta in 1215 and later, in the 16th century, by establishing the Church of England. Since then government of the United Kingdom has been by consent and no British citizen feels obliged to give that consent unless they genuinely agree with the policies of the Government. The governing parties probably wish it not so, but it is. In Ireland, the Guarda, the priests and Government Ministers and Taoisigh (the plural of Taoseach i.e. the Irish Prime Minister), are quite capable of getting touchy and cross if people question their decisions or statements, as if it was somehow cheeky, as we used to say at school. Perhaps this is no surprise since the current Taoseach’s brief career in the real world was as a secondary school teacher. You may have hated Thatcher, but at least she had a First Class Degree in Chemistry from Oxford. There are no such intellectual superiors in the current governments of the UK or Ireland.

It is easy to forget how young Ireland is in its independence. Less than a hundred years have passed since the declaration made in 1916, the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921, the conclusion of the Irish Civil War in 1924 and, finally, the new constitution that broke with the British Commonwealth in 1937. For a long time (and still, in some places) people felt obliged to vote for Fianna Fáil, the party that formed the first Government of the Free State (as it was called then). It was a matter of patriotism. South Africa is now facing up to this dilemma in the feeling that there is a patriotic obligation to vote for the ANC in recognition of their role in the bringing down of the Apartheid Governments that preceded the election of Nelson Mandela as President in 1994. Eventually they have to vote for the government that will take them into the future, not hark back to the past. In Ireland we’re somewhere in between those two stages.

But now we have satire and with it we have hope of political sophistication. So three cheers for The Irish Pictorial Weekly, to a lesser degree The Republic Of Telly, and especially for the first and best of the current crop, The Savage Eye.

Gillray Plumb Pudding

It’s a start, and it is in the Irish tradition of cautious criticism. After all, it’s only a few hundred years since Gillray was viciously taking the piss out of King George and his court, and only fifty years or so since That Was The Week That Was first appeared on British television…


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