Once again, we are the gombeen nation. The basket case of not just Europe but the whole world. A few short years ago, the LA Times spoke of Ireland as being a technologically advanced country with a burgeoning economy. At the height of the Celtic Tiger, we were lauded internationally for having progressed from a backwater to a country symbolic of success. But in the space of one month, the rest of the world has re-evaluated its opinion of the Emerald Isle. Now, the leprechauns and shamrocks have returned as the country regresses back to bog. The stereotypes are in full force and Ireland has been relegated to the Dark Ages.
In the first 24 days of this month, the international press printed 89,125 articles in media websites on Ireland's financial bailout. The country's economic meltdown is one of the biggest stories of the year in terms of online press coverage. "This is the biggest international story Ireland has ever been involved in," media analyst Stephen O'Leary told the Sunday Tribune.
O'Leary Analytics, which monitors online media, analysed the extent, scope and tone of the worldwide press coverage of Ireland's bailout. "There is no doubt our reputation has been damaged in the eyes of the rest of the world because of the media coverage. One of the important roles for government in the next few months will be restoring Ireland's image in the media."
The photograph that summed up the rest of the world's view of Ireland was reprinted countless times around the globe last week. The Press Association picture depicts a horse and cart traipsing past Bank of Ireland on College Green. It is the Ireland of old colliding with the symbol of our modern economy, which is crumbling. The message is clear: contemporary Ireland is out, and everything that symbolises kitsch, backward Irishness is in.
The world media's interest in Ireland's fiscal problems is understandable. It impacts on the rest of the world. In the US, a staggering 23,598 articles on the bailout have been published online in 24 days. China was second in terms of media coverage, with over 15,000 stories, and the German and British media came in third and fourth respectively with well over 7,000 online articles each. But it's not just powerful and influential nations who are covering this story. In total, media in 129 countries have been writing and commenting on Ireland's problems. Countries people may never have heard of – such as Turkmenistan in central Asia – are publishing information on Ireland's financial crisis. Quite simply, there isn't a corner of the globe that isn't discussing the mess our country is in. And rest assured, it's all bad press.
"This is a story that affects the whole world, so the interest is huge," said O'Leary. "It was the lead story in the New York Times for three days in a row. These past couple of months have really shown how big a role the international press can play in a story like this. Online media is so far-reaching and extensive. It is very telling when you see Brian Cowen being interviewed by Bloomberg immediately after he speaks to RTÉ and TV3. The influence of the international media is now recognised."
All the TV networks – from Fox News to CNN to Sky News – seemed incapable of completing a news report about Ireland last week without reference to either shamrocks or leprechauns.
O'Leary Analytics also examined how many references in the international online media described Ireland in stereotypical terms. It seems that colourful descriptions of our gombeen nation are being bandied about with reckless abandon. In total, 4,212 articles have been printed in the online international press in the first 24 days of the month deriding the country in clichéd terms. Aside from leprechauns and shamrocks, other buzz words to poke fun at Ireland include references to "the Irish pot of gold" (where has it gone?) and a nation "drunk on too much Guinness".
The Americans have been most adapt at churning out the clichés, printing 1,881 stories that in some way poke fun at Irishness. So too has the German online media, which ran 449 stories while the British media has printed 357 articles ridiculing the Ireland of old. But the Irish online media has been quick to jump on the bandwagon (or nearest horse and cart) – publishing 485 stories effectively taking the mickey out of ourselves.
In many ways, this type of coverage is to be expected. Journalists will always jump at the opportunity to put some comic relief into what is a very serious and complicated financial story. But the continuous ridiculing of Ireland both at home and abroad could worsen our problems.
There's a real concern we'll never be taken seriously again. "Some of the references to Ireland in the international press are cringe-worthy," continues O'Leary. "The worldwide media coverage has undoubtedly damaged our international reputation. The government need to address this problem ? and soon."
A popular newspaper in Australia, The Australian, managed to pack several clichés into one article last week. "Sometimes the Irish need more than a shamrock of luck and the world's best Guinness," was its take on our affairs.
Other efforts fared better. A widely-read US website, glossynews.com, had one of the funnier headlines this week: "Irish in Feverish Leprechaun Hunt to Rescue Economy." But beneath the jokes, our problems remain.
An angry guy walks into a bar, orders a drink and says to the barman:
"All Fianna Fáilers are assholes."
A man sitting at the other end of the bar pipes up, "Hey! I resent that."
"Why? Are you a Fianna Fáiler?"
"No. I'm an asshole."
Q: How many Fianna Fáil ministers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: It doesn't matter, we can't afford the electricity.
Lenihan: Knock, knock.
Cowen: Who's there?
Lenihan: The IMF.
Cowen: No it isn't.
With this new water meter to come in, it makes you realise how lucky you are to be an alcoholic.
In the light of Ireland's financial troubles, Apple owner Steve Jobs has offered to buy out the country. In a dramatic rebrand, it will now be known as iLand.
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