Saturday, June 18, 2016
Enda Kenny was appealing to the diaspora to vote...
Taoiseach Enda Kenny dancing with Ann McCoy after he spoke at St Michael's Irish centre in Liverpool. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
The Taoiseach went across the water to appeal to displaced Gaels to do their duty by the old country.
Mr Kenny was trying desperately to bring some influence to bear on the Brexit vote. He wants those who were born on this island, or who claim Irish lineage, to plump for the UK to remain in the EU. This, he believes, would be in Ireland’s best interests. He’s probably correct on that score, but still, it took some neck to ask Irish immigrants to give up their oul’ vote for the green, green grass of home.
Most of those to whom he was appealing were coughed out of a country that couldn’t wait to see the back of them. For the older cohort, their plight was whispered behind hands in high places rather than acknowledged.
Nor was there any acknowledgement of their contribution to a moribund economy through remittances sent home to ensure that those left behind were fed.
Across the water, in that country from which, according to the dominant strain in Irish culture at the time, all evil emanated, these people were given a chance to wring a full life from their circumstances.
Many were to make the discovery that it wasn’t who you knew, or how lucky you were in education, that determined whether you could make a decent living.
England made them. England provided them with the tools to ensure their own children would have the kind of advantages denied them.
And now, along comes the leader of their native land asking them to wrap their franchise in nostalgia and tribalism when they enter the polling booth.
Effectively, Mr Kenny was appealing to them to vote not for what was in their best interests, but in the interests of a country that had deemed them surplus to requirements.
Will the appeal fall on deaf ears? Quite likely, certainly among the older voters.
The reality is that while many if not most emigrants retain a place in their hearts for the old country, their heads are firmly located in the real world in which they live.
Anecdotally, many older exiled Irish are finding themselves on the Leave side.
In a recent contribution on RTÉ Radio 1’s Late Debate, former TD Pat Carey made the point that most of his relatives in Britain are voting to leave. Others have professed to similar feedback from friends and relatives.
One irony-free vignette appeared on the RTÉ news on the day that Mayo were playing in London in the All Ireland championship. One match-goer proclaimed in a broad Irish accent his annoyance at immigration into his adopted country.
This was repeated elsewhere in broadcasts from Irish communities in Britain. The London-based Irish Post newspaper conducted an online poll on voting intentions that returned a result of 55% Remain and 37% Leave.
It’s difficult to imagine any similar poll in this country producing a result where more than one-third were in favour of leaving — and that doesn’t even take into account that older voters were less likely to have participated in an online poll for a London-based newspaper.
Far from finding common cause with the plight of their native land, many of these people are in agreement with that cohort of older British people who are voting Leave for the simple reason that they want to turn back the clock.
They are not comfortable with a world that has been rendered insecure by a combination of bankers and terrorists. The economic collapse in 2008 dealt a blow to the pact that they had signed up to on arriving in UK. No longer was there a certainty that hard work and careful saving would lead all the way to a healthy pension in retirement.
They had sacrificed a life in their homeland on the understanding that a better life awaited them across the water, and then as they lived through their Autumn years, feckless bankers trampled on their dreams.
The new brand of organic terrorism presents another strain of insecurity. Throw in the news dispatches of a Biblical procession of refugees making their way from the eastern tip of the EU into the heart of Europe, and insecurity can be stoked into fear.
In such an environment, the triumph of emotion over reason, of fear over hope, which is at the heart of much of the Leave campaign, is capable of hitting home with older voters in particular.
In this regard, the exiled Irish in Britain probably have much more in common with their fellow natives in the USA than with anything Enda Kenny has to offer.
Stateside, the rise of Donald Trump has been borne on wings promising that he will turn the clock back to a time when the American dream was open for business. ‘Make America Great Again’ is Trump’s campaign slogan. For Irish emigrants who arrived in the last 50 years, this appeal to give him the tools to strip away insecurity can be compelling.
A recent poll in Niall O’Dowd’s online operation IrishCentral.com, illustrated the point. The poll showed Irish-Americans voting 45% for Trump and 41% for Hillary Clinton in this year’s presidential election.
“Now they believe they see America moving backwards at a rate of knots,” O’Dowd wrote in the Irish Times. “Getting money for no work offends them (many strongly believe Mitt Romney’s claim that 47% of Americans are on welfare). Government handouts are all seen as pecking away at what they considered their once-idyllic lifestyles, certainly in the rear-view mirror.
“They’re also aware that in the recent bank meltdowns, they got left holding the baby while bankers prospered despite the crash.”
While many in this country would agree with the latter sentiment, the general world view is not one that would be widely recognised here. But that’s where there is an understandable chasm between this country and its sons and daughters scattered around the world. They have for years, decades, and even generations been assimilated into their adopted countries. They have forged lives that were unavailable to them in their native place.
As such, their links with home are based not on reality but notions. Another obvious example of this was the attitude of large tracts of the so-called diaspora to the campaign of violence perpetrated by the IRA for 25 years. While the vast majority at home opposed the idea of murdering for a political aim, many exiles ignored the bloodshed for the misty-eyed notion of freeing the country from bondage.
It’s against that background that Mr Kenny went campaigning last week. He wants them to do their duty by a land that is no longer theirs. Good luck to him.
It will be interesting to observe whether the campaign reaps the desired results.