I am not much of a socialiser. While others may be found on many’s the evening dancing upon the tables of happening establishments too cool to have a name, I am more likely to be sitting on my couch mulling over the wisdom of a third digestive biscuit.
Nonetheless, last week saw me in an uncharacteristically adventurous mode- making my way one evening up Thomas St towards the Guinness Storehouse. I had received an email from Phillip Carr, who works for the European Commission in Ireland asking if I’d like to come along to an Audience with Margot Wallstrom, Vice-President of the European Commission. As the evening was being hosted by the European Movement, rather than ITV, I was spared sitting beside a young cast member of Coronation St (my usual fate at these Audience with.. events). Instead I found a small nest of familiar faces. As well as Fergal (whose face I’m sufficiently familiar with not to bother looking at most of the time now) I found Antoin, Suzy and Cian hovering around a small table with pints of free Diagio brand ales before them.
Phillip, before he was whisked away by an impeccably turned out member of the European Movement who looked like she organised Charity Balls for a living, said that he’d been asked by the Vice-Prez to round up some bloggers for her to talk to afterwards.
After Ursula Halligan had run though her questions on stage (of which I shall say no more as you can see the whole thing in video form here. I wonder if the clever sorts in the Commission know about fora.tv? ) we got to the audience participation part of the evening. It was at this point that what had been merely a novel and pleasant evening out turned into a superb, and sustained, ensemble comic tour de force.
Ms. Wallstrom had been charming and engaging- uncompromising on the question of Ireland’s need to just buck up and get back with the Lisbon Treaty programme, but expressing that view in as gentle a way as possible. The members of the European Movement on the other hand were determined to show their guest that they understood what terrible people Irish No voters were. And they weren’t going to be shy about telling them so.
We all like some base abuse of our enemies sometimes. I indulge in it at least once every quarter-hour, on the quarter-hour. But then I am not attempting to persuade anyone to stop doing something I didn’t like. I’m just venting my frustration. The European Movement audience, it was instantly obvious, were completely incapable of understanding or even imagining why a rational person might have a different political opinion from them. Therefore, when voters showed they did just that, they started making their grand plans for venting all the way to the second referendum.
Step 1) Insult the person you need to communicate with. A good place to start is the new European Movement slogan, forged over months of toil and thought as they were eager to tell the VicePrez, “You can’t stop the world and let Ireland get off.” Fantastic. Reach out to the other side by telling them to their face that you think they are reactionary idiots.
Step 2) Annoy the person you need to communicate with. Another speaker complained that the Irish People hadn’t heard enough about how irritated and impatient our betters in the European Commission were with them. He called for a more active explanation of all the bad consequences that would be visited on the nation if it didn’t do its duty.
And so on. Afterwards, the VicePrez spent the evening talking to the bloggers. Presumably there are, even now, European Movement bigwigs who are lieing awake at night, tossing and turning as they try to work out what they did to fall out of favour with their honoured guest.
It became clear pretty quickly (shortly after I managed to nearly spill wine down Ms. Wallstrom’s impeccable designer velvet jacket, in fact) that the Commish wasn’t about to bet the farm on our hosts’ abilities to carry the day at a second vote. Amongst other things we learned that her Irish right hand man (who was disguised as a roadie-cum-health-food-shop owner nearby) had suggested she start her own blog as a way of talking to lots of people in a personal voice. Given that she is blogging in one of her 6/7 non native languages, I was impressed when I caught up with it later in the week. And, perhaps mistakenly, she had thought to take some kind of temperature of Ireland via its blogging class.
All but one of those around the table admitted to having voted Yes at the last referendum. Nobody thought that the vote would be overturned in a second go out. And, when we were texted the figures from the following day’s MRBI poll showing the government support still in meltdown, we felt that the chances has shrunk even further.
The following day the Oireachtas started holding hearings into Ireland’s Future in the EU. Clearly, the blogging classes and the political classes have been living in different worlds. In Leinster House the consensus seems to be that if they, the politicians, could just pour balm on some specific issues they could get the whole Treaty passed again. Or to put it another way, that the voters wanted to say yes, but were irrationally swayed by mad shouters at near the end. The Irish Times has done its best to support this line of non-thought.
It was an entertaining night. The next day, I was still chuckling at the total disconnect from the dearly wished for aim (a Lisbon Treaty Yes vote) and their utter commitment to the very methods which were most likely to ensure it never happened. When I was invited to join their mailing list today I confirmed in a shot. Like Charlie Brown before me, I gets my laughs where I can.