Department of Geography/NIRSA and NCG research associate, NUI Maynooth This paper proposes to study the recent participation of Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest, with a specific focus on Ireland's declining fortunes in the 2000s, the cause of which has often been put down to political voting. Studying voting statistics from past contests and making reference to qualitative research carried out in relation to the contest (Reidy, 2009), the paper will analyse these trends and determine the degree to which the introduction of a televoting voting system now offers "new participants" from the Former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe an unfair advantage in relation to the 'old' Western European participants, including Ireland. The paper will also study other "politically interesting" dimensions of this contest. In the mid 1990s the Irish were the undoubted kingpins of the Eurovision Song Contest. Starting in 1992, Ireland had enjoyed an unprecedented run of success in the contest. Between 1992 and 1996 Ireland would win the contest on four occasions (including a three in a row between 1992 and 1995); even in the year (1995) Ireland did not win the contest the winning act from Norway was to feature an Irish performer (Fionnuala Sherry) in a leading role. The winning run came to an end in 1997, but even in that year the Irish representative, Marc Roberts, would finish comfortably in second place. It seemed then as if it would be just a question of when, not if, Eurovision would be returning to Ireland.
Since 1997 however, Ireland’s Eurovision fortunes have fallen decidedly into decline.
While Ireland, between 1975 and 1997, had earned an average of 130 points per contest (averaged out on basis of what scores would be with 25 countries taking part/voting in each contest – maximum possible tally would be 288 points), with this average increasing to 169 points during Ireland’s glory days of the mid 1990s, Ireland’s average point tally has fallen to just 39 points per contest over the contests held during the 1998-2010 period.
Between 1992 and 1997, Irish entries were awarded douze points (maximum number of points awarded by different participating countries)on 26 occasions, getting the “12″ from 3 different countries in 1992 (Linda Martin), 7 in 1993 (Niamh Kavanagh!), 8 in 1994 (Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan), 0 in 1995 (Eddie Friel), 7 in 1996 (Eimear Quinn) and 1 in 1997 (Marc Roberts). Since the late 1990s, however, Irish entries have only been awarded the coveted douze points on three different occasions, getting a “12″ from Lithuania in 1999 and from Switzerland in the 2010 semi final, and also getting “12″s from our nearest neighbour, the UK, in 2003 (Mickey Joe Harte) and the 2005 semi-final (the McCauls).
This paper will assess the reasons behind Ireland’s declining Eurovision fortunes and tease out the degree to which “political voting” may have had a role to play in this. But the political dimensions of the Eurovision Song Contest relate not only to voting patterns, as will be considered later when the relationship between the Dustin debacle of the 2008 contest and the failure of the first referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, which followed hot on the heels of the high profile Eurovision failure. Outside of Ireland, even though the contest professes itself to be apolitical and the organisers have intervene to prevent it becoming politicised, the political alliances and divisions that mark Europe often become too readily evident with the contest. Political and cultural allies (for example, Russia and Armenia, Cyprus and Greece) tend to consistently award each other high votes at Eurovision, while countries that are at war, or have recently been at war, tend not to vote for each other even if they are neighbours (Cyprus and Turkey, Russia and Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan) although this interestingly does not seem to apply in the case of the Former Yugoslav states. There are a series of incidents where politics has directly impinged on the contest; one of the earliest probably being the “Francogate” controversy surrounding the 1968 contest which allegedly cost Cliff Richard victory. In 2003 political opposition within Europe to the UK’s involvement in the Iraq conflict was argued to be the reason why the UK entry attained the dreaded nils points score in the Eurovision final in Riga. The Orange Revolution in the Ukraine in 2004 was to strongly influence hosting of the 2005 Eurovision by that country, as well as the song represented to select the Ukraine in that contest – the lyrics of which had to be changed after the European Broadcasting Union took issue with political references to the Orange Revolution in the song. In the same year, tensions in the lead up to a Montengrin independence referendum came to the fore in the Serbia and Montenegro Eurovision selection contest, almost leading to a riot at the event and ultimately leading Serbia and Montenegro to withdraw from that year’s contest. Following the conflict with Russia in 2008, Georgia initially seemed likely to boycott the following year’s contest which was being held in Moscow, but eventually relented. The song chosen by Georgia for the 2009 contest, We Don’t Wanna Put In, awoke controversy with alleged references to Russia and its prime minister, Vladimir Putin:
We don't wanna put in
the negative move
It's killin' the groove
I'm a-tryin' to shoot in some disco tonight
Boogie with you (Diggiloo Thrush, 2009)
After protests from Russia, the European Broadcasting Union requested that Georgia either enter change the song lyrics or else enter a different song; when Georgia refused to do they were disqualified from the 2009 contest. Controversy also emerged surrounding Azerbaijan, when it was discovered that authorities there had called in for questioning the 43 people who had voted for Armenia in the 2009 final. The 2010 contest did not attract the same degree of political controversy as the previous year’s contest did, although there was controversy surrounding the initial selection of the Ukrainian entry, which was allegedly politically influenced, and a change of government in the Ukraine subsequently kick started a new selection process for their Eurovision entry.
“Where oh where did it all go wrong?”
Up to, and including, 1997, Ireland, on average, was receiving at least 4 points each year from all the other participating ESC countries (apart from Israel), but over the 1998-2009 period only the UK (and also Hungary, but they only took part in a few contests during this period) has regularly awarded Ireland more than 4 points on average in the different ESC contests (although the UK gave Dervish nils points in 2007). Much of Europe has now become a desert in terms of Irish Eurovision prospects (Figure 1), with many countries awarding Ireland less than half a point per contest in this period; most notably including many of the former Soviet states (with the notable exception of the three Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia), but also a number of states in the Balkan region (Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece) as well as Spain and the Czech Republic.
Figure 1: Average number of points awarded to Irish entries per contest in Eurovision Song Contests between 1998 and 2009 As opposed to the ‘catch-all’ era of the 1980s and 1990s when Ireland could expect to win significant votes from juries all over the continent, the source of Irish Eurovision votes has become much more geographically defined. For its main source of Eurovision votes, Ireland now mainly looks to our nearest neighbours, the UK, as well as to a host of countries located within the Nordic/Baltic bloc, such as Lithuania, Estonia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Finland and (to a lesser degree) Iceland. Outside of this region, Turkey, Switzerland and Portugal, as well as the 2007 Albanian jury, has proven to be more generous to Ireland than the rest of their European1 counterparts.
Ireland’s declining fortunes can be explained in part by changes made to the contest format over the past twelve years, with the main changes being discussed in this section.
The introduction of televoting in 1997/1998: Ironically this is generally viewed as a response to growing frustrations amongst the Eurovision fan base that the inflexible jury voting system had brought about Ireland’s regular run of successes in the 1990s and the domination of the contest by MOR/ballad entries at the expense of more contemporary and up-tempo numbers. The main impact of televoting was to see the development of distinct voting Eurovision blocs as different ESC countries’ voting patterns tended to become more consistent across the years generally in favour of entries from neighbouring states. With televoting countries tending to (in what often has been termed political voting, but which can be more accurately termed geographical voting) favour songs of neighbouring states and (in the case of western European states, such as France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, as well as Ireland and the UK) also showing evidence of diaspora voting. Herein, for instance. large numbers of Turkish and Armenian migrants in north-western European countries meant that, with televoting, Turkey and Armenia could regularly expect ”big” votes (10s and 12s) from these countries for their entrants. In a similar vein, Ireland tended to award its highest televotes to Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, as well as the UK, during the 2000s.
Figure 2: "Voting blocs" for the Eurovision Song Contest - based on a principal components analysis of contest voting patterns between 1998 and 2008
The combination of diaspora and neighbour/geographical voting during the televoting era lead to the creation of distinct voting blocs (Figure 2) including a:
(a) Western Diaspora bloc: including large western European countries, such as Germany, France and Belgium, characterised by a tendency to award large marks, based on the size of emigre populations living within these states, to countries such as Turkey and Armenia.
(b) Former Soviet bloc: including most of the new states that emerged with the break up of the old Soviet Union, as well as other Orthodox Eastern European countries, such as Greece and Bulgaria, and Israel - these countries tend to mainly vote for other countries in this bloc but especially tend to award high votes to Russia. In the 2010 Final for instance 82 of Russia’s 90 points came from this voting bloc; Slovakia (6) and Portugal being the only countries outside of this bloc to award Russia points on the night. Georgia was the only one of the nine other competing Former Soviet states not to award Russia any points (Azerbaijan awarded Russia a lowly 3 point score).
(c) Nordic/Baltic bloc, including the Baltic and Nordic states, as well as Iceland, Ireland, the UK, in addition to Poland and Hungary: countries in this bloc tend to award/receive their highest votes to/from other countries in this bloc, with evidence of a diaspora effect also evident in the large number of points awarded by Ireland and the UK to Baltic states such as Lithuania during the 2000s - prior to recent years, Sweden was probably the most likely receipient of such ‘bloc’ votes but they have been overtaken by Norway and Denmark in recent years. (In the 2010 Final, Denmark proved to be especially popular amongst the Nordic Bloc countries, winning an average of 7.3 points from these countries, but the contest winners, Germany (average of 9.7 points) proved to be the most popular entry amongst the Nordic Bloc states.)
(d) Iberian bloc: including Spain, Portugal and Andorra, diaspora voting is evident here again with high votes being generally awarded to the entries from Moldova and Romania; in 2010 the strong entry from Romania, which finished in 3rd place, won 20 points from Spain and Portugal.
(e) Former Yugoslav bloc: encompassing all the former Yugoslav states and Albania, countries in this bloc generally tend to vote for each other, but in recent years have especially tended to favour Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
During the televoting era, countries such as Armenia and Greece, who can rely both on diaspora and geographical voting, are be at a decided advantage, while countries lacking large numbers of ”friendly neighbours” and diaspora populations in other European (or rather Eurovision) states, such as Ireland, the UK, Slovakia, Switzerland, Andorra and Belgium, will be at a decided disadvantage.
But it’s not all about political voting (or rather diaspora and geographical voting) – while these voting trends have tended to favour the newer Eastern European participants – often to quite dramatic levels as in the 2007 semi-final in Helsinki where none of the ‘old’ western European participants managed to make the list of ten qualifiers from the semi final) – Western countries could still do well with good songs and striking performances (Lordi winning for Finland in 2006, Norway and Iceland taking the first two spots and improved UK and French results in 2009, Germany winning in 2010 and strong showings for Denmark and Belgium). Another point to make was the fact that the new entrants from the eastern part of the continent were, for the large part, taking the contest more seriously during the 2000s than their more experienced and cynical western counterparts, selecting their leading artists to represent them (many of whom, such as Russia’s Dima Bilan and Turkey’s maNga, were big stars not just in their own countries but in much of the rest of the continent). For new entrants and indeed new states, such as the former Yugoslav and Soviet states, taking part in Eurovision was a means of staking a place on the European stage and furthering the process of “becoming European”, as well as viewing the contest as a means to furthering their country’s economic development in a similar vein to the way Ireland viewed the contest in the 1980s and 1990s. As Sophia Nizharadze, Georgia’s entrant in the 2010 contest was to claim ahead of the Oslo finals:
“If I win, and the next contest is held in Georgia, it would be great for investment in the country…loads of sponsors would come to help organize the event. It would show Georgia in a positive light, and after what happened, we need it.”(GeorgianDaily.com, 2010)
Another significant development has been the reintroduction of professional voting juries as part of a new 50-50 jury vote-televote system, as a means of addressing growing concerns about bloc voting; this was used for the first time in the 2009 Final (in which much more jury votes, as opposed to televotes, tended to be awarded to ballads, such as those from Israel, France, the UK and Iceland) in which the fortunes of western European participants improved dramatically. Some commentators believe the improved western European fortunes in 2009 could be put down to stronger entries from these countries (the UK, for instance, making a very evident effort to take the contest more seriously with the Jade Ewan/Andrew Llyod Webber collaboration), but there is no doubt that jury voting did significantly improve these countries’ prospect, as Figure 3 shows.
Figure 3: Differences between televotes and jury votes awarded to participating countries in the 2009 Eurovision Final
In 2010 the 50-50 jury/televote system was also used for the two Eurovision semi finals. It was anticipated that the return of the juries would act to Ireland’s benefit and this proved to be the case. The return of the voting juries played a key role in helping Niamh Kavanagh qualify for the 2010 final in Oslo. With ten countries to qualify from each semi final, she qualified from her semi final in joint 9th position with 67 points, just five points ahead of 11th placed Sweden. However, had the positions been determined solely on the basis of televoting (as in previous years) she would have finished in 13th place with 43 points, missing out on qualification – by contrast, the jury vote placed her in joint 5th position in that semi final with 84 points. In the Final, the discrepancy between jury voting and televoting was even more obvious; the 23rd placing overall, with 25 points, was largely caused by a low televote score (based solely on televoting, Ireland would have just amassed 15 points and finished in 24th place) and Ireland would have done significantly better (16th place with 62 points) had the contest been solely decided on the basis of the jury vote.
The removal of the native language rule in 1999: English is by far the “most successful language” in Eurovision history - 23 winning songs have been sung in English. A “native language” rule, which meant that each country’s entry had to be sung in one of the official languages of that country, was in place between 1977 and 1999, during which time Eurovision was won eight times by English-speaking countries - six times by Ireland and twice by the UK – while Malta, the other entrant to enter songs in English, finished consistently in the Top 10 in all the contests held between 1991 (when it returned to Eurovision after a lengthy break) and 1998. Given the perception that English speaking countries were at a distinct advantage to other ESC countries, the native language rule was relaxed in 1999. Since 1999 the contest has been won each year by entries performed in English with the exception of Serbia’s victory in 2007 (Ukraine’s winning 2004 was performed both in English and Ukranian). At the same time, the prospects of the offical English-speaking countries have dipped dramatically.
The opening up of the contest to include new countries, mainly from eastern Europe: The first wave of new countries came in the mid 1990s starting with the inclusion of the three former Yugoslav states of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia in Millstreet contest in 1993, and followed in 1994 by Lithuania, Estonia, Russia, Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia. The inclusion of these new countries initially acted to Ireland’s advantage, given that they were entering the contest in the midst of Ireland’s mid-1990s period of ESC dominance. The juries of many of these new 1990s entrants (but especially Lithuania and Slovenia) often proved to be more generous than the juries of the “old ESC countries” in western Europe, almost to the degree that one suspects that they were almost socialised into believing that they should be awarding their highest points to the Irish entry every year! From 1998 onwards however, with the notable exception of countries such as Lithuania and the other Baltic states, these countries tended to rarely vote for Irish entries, preferring instead the entries performed by their nearest neighbours, with this trend towards geographical/neighbourly voting being even evident in the voting patterns of the raft of Central and Eastern European states who joined Eurovision during the next wave of new entrants over the 2004-2008 period, as discussed above.
The introduction of the semi-final system in 2004: Prior to 2004, the European Broadcasting Union addressed the problem of coping with the increased number of Eurovision entrants (given that there was a limit to the number of countries that could take part in the Final; generally 24/25, although 26 countries took part in the 2003 final in Riga) by introducing a relegation system (pre-qualification systems were used before the 1993 Final and, more controversially, the 1996 Finals). With this system, the worst performing countries of the previous year were not able to take part in the following year’s contest in order to make way for new or “returning” countries. The relegation system had the impact of diluting the impacts of bloc voting, as it meant that a certain number of countries from the different blocs would not be competing in a given year. However, the introduction of the semi-final system in 2004 meant that now every country who wished to take part in Eurovision could do so each year; with all these participants now voting in both the semi final(s) and the final this had the effect of strengthening the impact of the different voting blocs. Russia now, for instance, could benefit from votes cast by all the countries in the Former Soviet bloc (see above), instead of just a few. In 2003, Russia narrowly missed out on its maiden victory despite winning full points (36) from the three other former Soviet states taking part that year. When Russia eventually won the contest in 2008, it won 98 points from the other nine former Soviet participants (including 10s and 12s from all bar Georgia and Azerbaijan). Growing accusations that “political voting” was allowing the contest to be dominated by Eastern European entries, most notably in the wake of the 2007 semi final in which all the qualifiers were from Eastern Europe, lead to changes in the semi final format in 2008. Two semi finals have been used since 2008, with countries only allowed to vote in their own semi final – pre-qualified finalists (the host country and the “Big 4”) are also allowed to vote in one of the semi finals, with this being determined by a draw – which has had the impact of somewhat diluting the impact of voting blocs.
Luck of the Draw: Certain draw positions tend to be more favourable than others, while it also helps an entry’s chances of “standing out” if they are drawn on or after distinctly different entries. The “draw of death” (especially during the televote era) is to be drawn to perform 2nd – being drawn in 2nd position in the 2009 semi-final was probably as significant a factor as diaspora/geographical voting in Sinead Mulvey narrowly missing out on qualifying for the final – while being drawn to perform in 3rd or 4th position have similarly proven to be quite unfavourable draws. Countries getting later draws have tended to do much better (see Figure 4), with being drawn to perform in the 2nd or 3rd last positions statistically offering the best prospects for a Eurovision entry; indeed the ultimate victor in Eurovision 2010, Germany, enjoyed a late draw, performing on the night from 22nd position, as did also other Top 5 placed entries from Romania (19th) and Denmark (25th) (The EBU recognised the impact of draw positions ahead of the 2010 contest and changed the televoting format to allow televoting to commence from the start of the contest instead of this taking place just during a 15 minute window after all songs are performed.) The impact of being drawn to perform first or last often depends on the type of song – uptempo sings (e.g. Moldova in Semi Final 1 in 2010) do well but performing first with a ballad can (e.g. Romania and Lithuania in the 2008 and 2009 finals) produce a poor result. By contrast ballads/mid-tempo entries (e.g. Norway in 2008 final) often do well when drawn to perform last while uptempo entries (e.g. Spain in 2009 final) can do poorly. Some mid/mid-to-late draw positions have also proven to be very good draws to get based on past statistics, but especially the 17th position draw which has produced six winners in previous Eurovision finals and – with three of these winners being Irish - is an especially lucky draw for Ireland.
The introduction of a two semi final system adds a further dimension to the “luck of the draw” aspect, with the last three contests being characterised as having one distinctly tougher semi final (into which Ireland was drawn on all three occasions). The other dimension relates to which pre-qualified countries get to vote in different semi finals – in 2010 the UK was drawn to vote in Ireland’s semi final for the first time in the three years and, as it transpired, Ireland would have failed to qualify for the final without the 10 points it got in the semi final from the UK.
Figure 4: Average points by draw position, 2004 – 2010 Politics and Ireland’s Eurovision story
Having sifted through the data evidence, there is some basis offered to support a claim that changes in the Eurovision rules have acted to advantage the prospects of some countries relative to those of others. The règles du jeu had been decidedly stacked in Ireland’s favour in the mid-1990s (native language rule, jury voting), but the major changes to the format of the contest in the late 1990s and early 2000s saw a marked decline in Ireland’s prospects at the same time as a marked improvement in the Eurovision fortunes of countries such as Russia, Greece and Turkey – countries that were well placed to benefit from geographical/neighbour and/or diaspora voting. In the case of the Former Yugoslav and Former Soviet states – many of which joined the contest in the 1990s and 2000s – geographical/neighbour voting was even more pronounced, given that people in these states were once part of the same country and effectively the same “musical markets”, meaning that popular acts in these countries tended to be also well known in their neighbouring states. The successes of “new” Eurovision entrants and the failures of “old” Eurovision contestants during the 2000s (especially during the 2004-2008 period) lead many to denounce this as being down to “political voting” on the part of the new entrants from the east. In line with this, Terry Wogan, in his bitter Eurovision swan-song, was to complain after the 2008 Final that:
“those who care [about the contest] will have had it up to here with the blatant political voting from the former satellites of the USSR that awarded this year's event to Russia, and the even more scandalous lack of votes for the UK entry."” (Hastings and Jones, 2008)
Similar complaints have come from the Irish media:
“The collapse of communism allowed ancient nations, yearning for Slavic turbo folk and scary Russian disco queens, to overwhelm the voting system and shift the focus east from the Atlantic seaboard.” (Irish Independent, 2009)
Similar complaints have also come from other “western” European countries in the face of poor results. In 2008, after the contest was won by Russia’s Dima Bilan, it was strongly held that no western European country could ever win Eurovision again. The European Broadcasting Union responded to these concerns and fears that other countries would follow Austria’s lead in withdrawing from the contest by making changes to the format of the contest. The changes to the semi final format and reintroduction of the voting juries were instrumental, in some part, in the improved fortunes of western countries in the 2009 and 2010 contests. In 2009 Norway won, while Iceland and the United Kingdom also placed in the Top 5, while Germany won the 2010 contest with Denmark finishing 4th and Belgium finishing 6th – other western countries, such as Portugal and Ireland, also succeeded in qualifying for the final after long absences. But, as a study of televoting patterns in these contests shows, Norway and Germany both still would have won the contest had the results been decidedly largely on the basis of televoting patterns, and indeed the main difference between jury and televote patterns seemed to be as much about the type of song performed as much as what part of Europe you were located in. This is highlighted by the case of France. In 2009, the return of the voting juries offered a significant points bonus to the French power ballad, Et S'il Fallait Le Fairefrom Patricia Klass, in a similar vein to the trend for other Western European ballad in that contest. France finished 8th overall in Moscow with 107 points; had the voting been based solely on televoting France would only have finished in 17th place with 54 points but, by contrast, France would have finished in 4th place with 164 points had the result been solely based on jury votes. The following year a different type of French entry brought a significantly different result. The uptempo and contemporary Ole Ole from Jessy Matador in 12th place with 82 points; the time, however, the French entry was viewed decidedly more favourably by the televoters (ranked in 8th position with 151 points by the televote) than the voting juries (ranked in 22nd place with 35 points). 2010 marked a significant break from the expected pattern that jury voting would favour western entries and televoting favour eastern entries; in the Final entries from Georgia, Albania, Bosnia, Ukraine and Cyprus fared better amongst the jury vote while entries from France, Denmark, Germany and Spain fared better with the televoters. So, ironically just after jury voting was reintroduced to temper its impact, is televoting no longer offering a decided advantage to eastern European entries, and if so why? There is no doubt that, even if looking at the televoting component of Eurovision voting, a number of western countries have scored better in the last two years in large part due to sending better Eurovision entries and being perceived to be taking the contest as seriously as their eastern counterparts (the UK, for instance, made a big effort with the 2009 entry and this was rewarded with 5th place, their more low key 2010 entry finished in last place). And even prior to recent contests it was obvious that geographical/diaspora voting alone could not decide the contest winners; a high placing in Eurovision was largely dependant on an entry winning votes from all over Europe and not just within a country’s own voting bloc. Where geographical/diaspora voting is particularly impactful relates to the middle positions in the contest, wherein a guaranteed bloc of votes for countries such as Russia, Armenia, Turkey and Greece means that even lowly rated entries from these countries can expect a mid-table position and hence they will never attain the low positions that the UK, Ireland, France, Switzerland and Andorra have endured in recent contests. If Dervish had represented Russia in 20007 they would have probably finished around 12th place and not in last position. So “political” voting still can impact negatively on Irish Eurovision prospects, but perceptions that a strong showing and potential victory in the future is no longer possible for Ireland and other western European states are very much wide of the mark, as results for Germany, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, Iceland and the UK in the past two contests have shown.
While voting patterns can say a lot about Ireland’s relationship with the rest of Europe – and probably are indicative of a growing peripheralisation of an Ireland, that some claimed to be closer to Boston than to Berlin, in the 2000s from a Europe that was decidedly shifting further eastwards in focus. The results of contests in the 2000s lead many bemused Irish people and commentators to claim that they had never heard of countries such as FYR Macedonia or Azerbaijan before and that they weren’t aware of such countries being in Europe. At the same time, it was obvious that Ireland simply wasn’t registering as a voting option with voters from countries at the other side of the continent, such as Belarus, Bulgaria, Georgia and Azerbaijan. The growing easternisation of the contest and Ireland’s diminished fortunes fed into the political climate of mid-2000’s Celtic Tiger Ireland, in which immigration issues and Ireland’s changed position within an enlarging European Union was feeding into a growing antipathy towards the European Union within the state. Just as Ireland had been seen to lose out from the enlargement of the Eurovision to include new eastern entrants, it was feared that Ireland would similarly “lose out” in economic terms due to the 2004 and 2007 enlargements of the European Union. Just as (akin to a “boy who stops winning and takes the ball away” mentality) many were questioning whether Ireland should continue to take part in Eurovision, there was a growing feeling that affluent Ireland no longer needed the European Union. This culminated in the events of 2008, where Ireland controversially entered a novelty entry, Irelande Douze Points by Dustin the Turkey, for the Eurovision contest in Belgrade, specifically seen to be a protest against Ireland’s poor Eurovision results in the 2000s:
Oh, I come from a nation
What knows how to write a song
Oh Europe, where oh where did it all go wrong? (Diggiloo Thrush, 2008)
The entry, part searing poststructuralist critique of the changing dynamics within the post-Stalinist Eurovision, part total rubbish, met a cold reception from the Eurovision voters, no doubt not totally unrelated to references in the song such as “Drag acts and bad acts and Terry Wogan's wig, mad acts and sad acts” (Diggiloo Thrush, 2008), and Ireland got stuffed as a result, failing abysmally to qualify for the final despite having been one of the pre-contest favourites. While some commentators rightfully roasted the decision to send such an entry to Eurovision, especially at the expense of the quality entries that lost to it in the national selection, others blamed the failure of the song on a lack of a sense of humour on the part of Europeans, tying in with the growing disenchantment and disengagement that sectors within Celtic Tiger Ireland had with all things European and European Union in the mid 2000s, culminating in the loss of the first Lisbon Treaty referendum some weeks later. Indeed, the misguided fowl was to call for a no vote in the wake of the Belgrade humiliation as a response to Ireland’s Eurovision defeat; the extent to which the Eurovision result did bear on people’s voting decisions is perhaps moot but the Dustin episode did point to a growing distancing between Ireland and Europe. The actual Lisbon vote itself was particularly notable given that the “No” victory could not this time be put down to low turnout as happed with the earlier vote on the Nice Treaty referendum. The resultant sea-change in attitudes toward Europe in the wake of the economic recession, which saw a decided shift in favour of the treaty in the second referendum, also was replicated in Eurovision terms with credible acts being selected for the 2009 and 2010 contests and growing sense that the country was once again thirsting for Eurovision glory as an antidote to the economic gloom and doom:
Chastened and bowed by the collapse of the Celtic Tiger and by failure to qualify for the Eurosong finals three years in a row, how we would love the morale boost that a win for Niamh Kavanagh in Oslo tonight would give us.
How we would love to watch the Irish contingent whooping victoriously in the Telenor Arena. (Irish Independent editorial, 2010)
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1 As hinted by the inclusion of Israel in the contest, as well as the one-off participation of Morocco in 1980, participation in Eurovision is not decided by whether a country is European or not, but on the basis of membership of the European Broadcasting Union – because of this, the north African states, as well as Lebanon and Syria, are eligible to enter Eurovision if they so wished.