The Irish Prime Minister Keeps Embarrassing Ireland and Irish People

He's a symptom of a deeply insecure country.
July 14, 2017, 2:24pm
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (right) shows off his Canadian themed socks during a press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Farmleigh House in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA Wire/PA Images)

Last month the Irish nation shuddered as new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had his first meeting with Theresa May. All Varadkar had to do to appear statesmanlike was to smile in a normal way and say "Hello, it's me, the new Irish Taoiseach". Instead, with a shit-eating ingratiating grin, he launched into a frankly deranged ode to a Richard Curtis film.

"It's my first time in this building, so there's a little thrill in it as well… I was reminded of that famous scene in Love Actually where Hugh Grant does his dance down the stairs… but I was told it wasn't actually filmed here."


The sychophancy, the self-disregard, the recourse to fantasy is a perfect summation of Ireland's warped relationship to the great powers, but particularly Britain.

The video of Varadkar is genuinely difficult for me as an Irish person to sit through. Partly this is because of his voice – he has a voice particular to a specific subset of well-to-do Dubliners, nasal and droning, inextricably associated with deck shoes and nightclubs with table service and habitual embezzling. But largely it's how familiar the whole miserable dynamic is: the Irish politician doing some half-hearted clowning for his perceived betters, desperate as a bullied kid to just be liked no matter what it takes.

Almost as painful to watch was Varadkar's tryst with Justin Trudeau this month. Meeting PM in Dublin, Varadkar gave a nod to the Canadian Prime Minister's love of "quirky" hosiery, revealing that he was wearing novelty mounty socks in a hideous bromance-seeking peep show.

Ireland, despite its fierce nationalism, is barely capable of conceiving of itself as a country. Our politicians recognise this and transmit our collective imposter syndrome on a global stage. This is why Varadkar is able to make doe-eyes at May and declare his "thrill" at being allowed in the door. When they visit other state leaders, our politicians have the air of inept Student Union presidents who wandered into government by accident one day and are still mildly shocked not to have been thrown out.

Watch: France's Anarchists Clash With the Police on May Day

Part of our desire to be liked is a need to maintain our reputation as a rehabilitated nation, to prove we are worthy enough to be a republic. After Good Friday, after systemic EU infrastructural investment, before the recession, Ireland was, briefly, a success story, and it is clear to see the desperation to be perceived as one again. We'll be good, mummy, we promise. Our collective post-colonial trauma expresses itself as an illogical desire to be accepted by the authority which diminished and shamed us for centuries. We idealise our superiors, going so far as to fetishise their representations in famously dreadful films. In Love Actually, Hugh Grant's PM is a politician with a heart of gold, a noble and essentially benign man, a ridiculously neutered conception of the office which apparently Ireland's state leader watched and decided was good. We are cursed with a willingness to excessively accommodate at the expense of our own well-being and continued existence.

In 2010 in the aftermath of the financial crisis, Ireland accepted the obscene demands made by the IMF Troika who compelled us, in exchange for emergency funding, to take on the enormous liabilities of Anglo Irish Bank and a host of other foreign creditors. More recently, British and Irish claims that Brexit would not necessitate the creation of a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland have been described as "fantasy". An EU source was quoted in the Guardian as saying, "If you leave the single market, there must be checks. It might mean lorries turning off into a lay-by after going through the border but there will be checks." There are real and justified fears that Ireland's willingness to be cowed by Britain will lead to a disastrous undermining of the Good Friday and a descent back into more fractious sectarianism.

The ramifications of existing as an occupied country for so long are much to blame for this. The comparatively short time we have existed as a republic naturally renders self-definition tentative and unsure. We are incapable of perceiving ourselves to be a real country, or behaving with the appropriate self-interest as though we are. In 2012 the former Taoiseach Enda Kenny farcically blamed the 2008 crash on individual citizens, saying we "went mad borrowing", instead of accounting for the en masse actions of creditors. He said this at the World Economic Forum in Davos. At home, he had told Irish people "you are not responsible for this crisis." We are a compulsively self-hating people, whose narcissism expresses itself through flagellation.

Because of systemic oppression, it is often perceived that only men are capable of leading truly real, rich lives; men are leading characters, women are supporting. So too does Ireland perceive its international neighbours. We regard them as fully realised entities, which we must appease and perform for so they keep us around and don't hurt us any more. We are an island teetering on profound insecurity.

The longer Ireland continues in this way, allowing ourselves to exist as an embodiment of other nations' projections, the less real we eventually will become materially, clapping and jigging and gee-whiz-begorrah-ing our way into a state of perpetual objectification.