Every time I hear of some new bit of nonsense out of Seanad Éireann, the unelected – and unelectable – upper house of the Oireachtas, I rue the day that the voters of Ireland refrained from ejecting the legislative circus of self-important buffoons and failed party hacks from their cushioned seats. The latest bit of senatorial embarrassment concerns a draft report by the Seanad Public Consultation Committee which argues that Amhrán na bhFiann, that old dirge of a national anthem, should be given official protection and promotion by the State. Their list of recommendations includes the oddball suggestion that Irish and English language verses of the song should be sent out to all publicly-funded schools. Which, of course, begs an obvious question: who on earth sings Amhrán na bhFiann in the English language? I’ve never heard anyone belt out “The Soldier’s Song” as Béarla and I’ve no idea why we would want children to do so in the first place. This peculiar proposal is followed by the repugnant idea that crowds or audiences at public events should stand to attention when the tune is being played. What are we? Americans?!
Meaningless displays of “Irishness” – of Plastic Paddy nationalism – absolutely infuriate me. Quite frankly I couldn’t give a damn about anthems and flags (as it happens, I loathe the Tricolour and favour a more fitting and aesthetically pleasing alternative). The important thing is for all citizens in Ireland to have a sense of common purpose and participation in their own nation-state. To have a genuine feeling of being readers and authors in a shared national story which stretches back for millennia. A story which is open to all who make this island their home, contributing their own distinct chapters to the greater narrative. Such a sense can come from something as simple and as practical as someone having a good grounding in history, both of their own country and of the wider world. Which is why the Government decision to shred the history syllabus in the education curriculum is so reprehensible. Where were the concerned political dilettantes of Seanad Éireann then? Or do they only find an interest in simplistic, quasi-jingoistic stunts?