Mick Mulholland’s Political Notebook: Olymics lift spirits

Ireland’s success in the Olympic Games has undoubtedly lifted the nation’s spirit.

Ireland’s success in the Olympic Games has undoubtedly lifted the nation’s spirit.

It was a good time to be Irish, as we watched our Olympians, particularly those who won medals, represent us in London. When gold medal winner Katie Taylor did her lap of honour with the Tricolour, it was a truly magical moment. It should be savoured again and again by Irish people.

And, let us face it, we haven’t had much to savour in this country for a long, long time.

Ms Taylor, and all those who won medals or indeed just participated in the Olympics, are our heroes.

Time and circumstances alone would dictate that. This is a country on its knees. The high hopes of Independence are largely in dust.

The Economic War utterly dominates events. We have been beset by scandal, political, religious and economic. Great institutions we once had faith in have let us down very badly.

Unemployment is rife. That deadly cycle of emigration has taken off again with a grotesque inevitability. It was against that background that we viewed our Olympians.

And it is no disrespect to the others who won medals to single out Ms Taylor for special mention. She is a shining light at a dark time. Her determination and modesty should be an example to all Irish people, not least those who represent us in Leinster House. This should be particularly so in the case of those who are serving in Government.

Had modesty and determination been the hallmarks of Governments in recent years, we might not now be in the mess we are in. And Ms Taylor’s very personal spirituality, which she spoke about in her post-victory interview, should be an example to those who ruled on behalf of an institutional Church which felt it could do no wrong in the past.

The authenticity of her deeply personal faith, which clearly owes nothing to institutional diktat, was welcome at a time in Ireland when many Roman Catholics are still trying to come to terms with the scandal and cover-up which was endemic in an institution so many people trusted.

Thankfully, the politicians kept a discreet distance from our Olympians. The Irish people would not have been happy with politicians being too intrusive, leaving themselves open to charges of cashing in again on other people’s success.

The Minister of State for Sport, Michael Ring, was rightly present for Ms Taylor’s great victory. He made a rousing speech at a reception later.

Some Irish people had reservations about his presence, but in fairness such a remarkable success did require a ministerial presence.

Mr Ring is energetic and enthusiastic. His speech hit the right note. And it was not too long.

The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, was in London on Sunday and praised the Irish team, medal and non-medal participants. That, too, was acceptable.

It was reasonable for the Taoiseach to make a discreet visit to the Games to congratulate the Irish. It was all in contrast to what used to happen in the old days when our economic difficulties seemed miniscule by comparison with now.

Remember Charlie Haughey, as Taoiseach, setting off on the Government jet to Paris and coming to close to taking over Stephen Roche’s great victory in the Tour de France ?

It looked, for a time, as if Mr Haughey had won the race and Mr Roche was a mere bystander. We have come a long way from those days. It now seems as if there will be a Government reception for our Olympic team in Farmleigh. That is as it should be. But it should be a day primarily for the team and the public.

The Games have shown a new maturity in the relationship between Ireland and Britain. The Irish diaspora were there to cheer on the Irish contestants. The British joined in the cheers when one of their own was not in contention.

Senior politicians and a member of the British Royal Family were observed cheering Ms Taylor. And when a newspaper mistakenly claimed Ms Taylor as British, it apologised.

We Irish, on the other hand, had no difficulty in recognising the remarkable British success in the Games.

It represented a transformation from relatively recently when Irish participation in a London Olympics would have been fraught with danger.

The bitterness of past conflicts might have surfaced in some form or other. There would been tension on the part of some of the Irish supporters.

Some British supporters would remember the terrible atrocities which were perpetrated in Britain at the height of the Troubles.

After all, it is not long ago, relatively speaking, when there was an IRA attack on No 10 Downing Street.

It made life particularly difficult at the time for the Irish diaspora who were relying on Britain for a living which, in most cases, their own country could not provide.

Time has moved on. The peace rocess has, thankfully, brought about a new maturity in Irish-British relations.

Those who serve in Government in both countries are without the baggage which hindered the development of good relations in the past.

Our Olympians have done us proud in more senses than one.