“Hello, little pixie heads,” a parody of Angela Merkel greets the Irish.
The version of the German chancellor played by satirist Barry Murphy in a blond wig is one of Ireland’s most popular comedy sketches. In it, he captures the humor with which his countrymen have largely treated their lopsided relationship with Europe’s biggest economic power.
“I thought it was very funny, but maybe I have been here for too long,” said Gisela Holfter, co-director of the Center for Irish-German Studies at University of Limerick, who has lived in Ireland for the past 17 years. “The Irish form of criticism tends to be quite indirect.”
With Merkel visiting Dublin for the first time since 2008, the country is ensconced in the recovery ward after German money helped nurse it as the economy unraveled. Merkel told reporters today that Ireland’s exit from the bailout program is “a great success story.”
While Greece evoked the Nazi invasion following the country’s bailout and anti-austerity protesters are still being tear-gassed in Athens, the Irish took a gentler approach. Defiance amounted to a group of Irish soccer fans heading to Euro 2012 finals holding aloft a flag emblazoned with “Angela Merkel thinks we’re at work.” The image went viral.
“The Irish way of dealing with adversity is to laugh, maybe it’s part of our national inferiority complex,” said Diarmuid O’Flynn, the leader of a weekly protest march, which draws about 35 people, in Ballyhea in Cork. “There is anger out there, but I would prefer if it could be channeled into action. You can laugh and still be angry.”
The image of Merkel, 59, in Ireland as a slightly austere authority figure provoked laughter rather than anger among the Germans who helped finance Ireland’s 67.5 billion-euro ($93 billion) international loan package in 2010.
The soccer flag prompted the German ambassador in Ireland to invite the fans to his residence. The embassy praised it as a “fancy idea” that showcased Irish humor.
The sketch came to prominence in 2012, as part of the Apres Match satire during broadcaster RTE’s soccer coverage. The shows attracted as many as 1 million viewers, or about a quarter of Ireland’s population. On YouTube Inc., the Message from Angela clip and its reference to pixies, mythical fairy-like, mischievous creatures often portrayed with pointed ears, has drawn more than 250,000 views.
“There has always been much more goodwill toward Ireland than Greece and Portugal,” said Holfter in Limerick. “Fifteen years ago, had I asked my students who the German chancellor was, they might not have known. Now, every single person in Ireland knows who Angela Merkel is.”
Merkel is in Dublin for a gathering of the European People’s Party and is meeting with Prime Minister Enda Kenny today. The pair built a relationship to the point that Merkel indirectly encouraged Kenny to address a conference of her sister party, the Christian Social Union, in Bavaria last year.
“Merkel and Kenny seem to have a good relationship,” said Alan McQuaid, an economist at Merrion Capital in Dublin. “The Irish are seen as the good Europeans.”
To an extent, that’s paid off, with German officials helping guide Ireland out of its rescue program in December.
As a member of the European Central Bank’s executive board, Joerg Asmussen, now deputy labor minister, last year helped broker an accord to push out Ireland’s 35 billion-euro bill for bailing out the former Anglo Irish Bank Corp. until 2038.
Nein to Noonan
In 2012, the Merkel and Kenny released a statement calling Ireland a “special case” when it came to bank recapitalization. Kenny wants Europe’s new rescue funds to refund some of the state’s 64 billion-euro bill for saving its financial system, arguing that Ireland helped safeguard the euro region’s banking system by stopping its own lenders collapsing.
“Ireland and Germany have long links, but it hasn’t always been a rosy relationship,” said Holfter. “Some of the blame was placed on Germany for placing restrictions on how Ireland handled the crisis.”
As yet, his campaign has paid little dividends. Last year German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told Irish counterpart Michael Noonan there’s “no great leeway” for refunding nations which have already recapitalized their banks
“The rhetoric will be there, but will it translate into action?” McQuaid said. “In an ideal world, yes, but in the real world, Germany can’t really single one country out. It would open a much bigger can of worms.”
While Merkel said today in Dublin that she had a “positive outlook” on wider European banking union talks, she didn’t directly answer a question on whether she backed the Irish campaign to win retroactive recapitalization.
Protester O’Flynn, who is standing in European Parliamentary elections in May as an independent, said the non-confrontational approach hasn’t paid off.
“‘From the beginning, Ireland should have played hardball,’’ he said. ‘‘For me, Germany and France’s role has been disgraceful. They bear a huge responsibility for loading the bank debt on our shoulders. We haven’t got one cent of the debt written off, we’ve had it pushed out is all.’
Or as the Barry Murphy incarnation of Merkel tells her Irish serfs in her state-of-the-nation address: ‘‘Reality costs and someone has to pay: You.”