Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An Irish solution to an Irish problem

Ajai Chopra, an embarrassed axeman
I must be slow on the uptake as I've only just grasped that whenever this cliché of Irish journalism is used, it is with ironic intent.

Back in April (how did I miss this one?) IMF axeman Ajai Chopra, discomforted himself by using the phrase when addressing a press conference to spin the bailout as good for Ireland.

Here's how the Irish Independent made sport with the innocent Mr Chopra on Saturday April 16th under the headline “Chopra's cock-up leaves him open to having the Michael extracted”.

Maybe Ajai Chopra had read or heard the phrase somewhere, and thought it had an elegant, simple ring to it. Moreover, it sounded sort of complimentary, and the IMF bigwig is a very polite pooh bah anyway.

And it's a tough task trying to convince the beleaguered citizenry of Ireland that the bailout is a Good Thing and doesn't represent the overthrow of democracy, and sure not to worry as we'll get our sovereignty back in a few years.

And so Ajai carefully explained it to the rows of media crammed into the Troika's press conference.

"This programme is a lifeline for Ireland," he said in his slightly plummy accent. And then he paused before delivering his new soundbite.

"It represents an Irish solution to Irish problems."

He looked a bit perplexed as titters and sniggers and chuckles rose from the locals massed in front of him.

Read the whole article

What Mr Chopra didn’t know, and nor did I but I do now, and so I guess does he, is that this term is associated with condoms.

And with any official response to a controversial issue that is timid, half-baked, expedient, an unsatisfactory compromise that sidesteps the fundamental issue.

Charlie Haughey - unembarrassed
For this state of linguistic affairs we have Charlie Haughey to thank. In 1979 when health minister, he proclaimed his family planning Bill as an “Irish solution to an Irish problem”.

The Irish problem was that it was illegal to import contraceptives into Ireland but legal to use them.

Illegal to import, due to a 1935 law which had been written to conform to Catholic teaching.

Legal to use, due to campaigning by the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement (IWLM), their 1971 “Contraceptive Train”, and a 1973 landmark legal case.

The Irish solution was to introduce an Act which laid down that contraceptives would only be available from pharmacies on the presentation of a valid doctor’s prescription. It did not say that the person receiving the contraceptive had to be married; only that “the person is seeking the contraceptive, bona fide, for family planning purposes”.

For more about the Irish Womens Liberation Movement and the Contraceptive Train, here's a personal account from Mary Maher, a journalist with The Irish Times, and a founder member of the IWLM. The link includes a report from the Irish Times archives on the contraceptive train.

This pdf file contains some historical background to Charlie Haughey’s Irish solution remark.

I've also posted about Garret Fitzgerald's input into these matters.

By the way, the Irish Independent article concludes:

On reflection, perhaps Ajai's use of the phrase "an Irish solution to an Irish problem" was particularly apt. Sure the country is screwed anyway.

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