Monday, May 06, 2019

So. Farewell then, Eugene McGee, Conqueror of the Conqueror of the World

Buaiteoir Buaiteora an Domhain
Alexander II, Tsar of all the Russias, described the Duke of Wellington as the “conqueror of the conqueror of the world” after Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. And it’s a fitting epitaph also for Eugene McGee, who died suddenly on Sunday morning.

McGee was a complex man. One of the greatest Gaelic football managers, while one of its worst players. A sometimes dour, if not downright rude, man who could inspire fierce loyalty. A pundit who was at once blinkered and revolutionary.

But whatever else is said or written of the man, and for all the great and terrible personal loss he is for his family, Eugene McGee will forever be associated with 1982, and the greatest All-Ireland football final the nation has ever seen.

We are lucky that, in an Association whose dedication to preserving its own history is spotty at best, we have a marvellous document of that Offaly team, their spectacular act of giant-killing, and a Kerry Golden Generation that came back from that defeat to become even more lustrous than before. It is Kings of September by Michael Foley, and it is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand Ireland. Essential reading.

McGee is not noted as a Gaelic football tactician, as Jim McGuinness or Mickey Harte are. He liked his football, to use his own phrase, “tough, but manly.” Both Roy Keane and Graeme Souness have been preaching the worth of getting to the damn ball and worrying about tactics later in another code. McGee was of their church.

So was he lucky, or was he good? The results are there. Mick O’Dwyer conquered the world, and McGee conquered Dwyer. McGee was successful with UCD in Sigerson football, Offaly in senior inter-county, and even in International Rules, back when the Australians cared in the ‘eighties. (After an Irish triumph, some Australians believed that the Irish had an advantage because the game was played with a round ball. McGee was asked if he thought the Australians would have won if the games were played with the Australian oval ball. “We’d have won playing with a square ball,” spat McGee).

McGee was a proponent of the black card and the qualifier system, and was wrong on both counts in the opinion of the current writer. He believed that the first step to professionalism in the GAA came with sponsored jerseys, and was correct, again in the opinion of the current writer.

But that’s all these things are; opinions. The man’s record cannot be denied, and neither can the personality, the cut, the gimp of the man. He was proudly rural in a way that didn’t even allow for a rural-urban debate. He was who he was, and he made neither bones nor apologies about it.

It is possible that, reading the eulogies today, some misfortunate sophist with a algorithm where his or her soul ought to be will sit down and watch a tape of that 1982 final. He’ll see a game played on a wet day, with poor fitness levels compared to modern standards, poor skill levels compared to modern standards, and a game in which the best team did not win.

Reader, pity that man. There are those who would look on a rose and see only a bush, or hear a symphony and hear only noise.

The scientific approach to sport has its place, of course, but if it reigns supreme then sport becomes just another job, with carefully measured outputs and inputs and strengths and weaknesses and opportunities and threats.

It’s the sheer human drama of sports that compels, as players battle skills, yes, but also bravery and courage and the huge hand of Fate itself.

Sport is at once serious and trivial. Winning the All-Ireland is the most important thing in the year, after everything else, like births, marriages and deaths. There is a ceiling to how much sport can be parsed.

A wise and thoughtful friend of the blog cried when Kerry lost in 1982. He believed in merit as a child, and that the best team should win. And if that game between Kerry and Offaly were played ten times, Kerry would win it nine times. Of course they would. But the game was played only once, and Kerry didn’t win it. Offaly did, in the most unforgettable moment in Irish sport.

That could not have happened without Eugene McGee. Offaly went one stage further in the Championship every year he was in charge until they won the entire thing, and they did it at that turning point in history when the greatest team of all time were set to collect the uncollectable crown.

If that’s not the very illustration of the sublime, what is? And none of it could have happened without Eugene McGee, now called Home to his Reward. Suaimhneas síoraí dó, agus go raibh príomh-áit aige i nDáil na Laochra Gael.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

All-Ireland Football Championship 2019 Preview

Dublin are odds-on favourites to win their fifth title in a row, an achievement that would make them the greatest GAA team of all time, football or hurling. They would be the only team to achieve that feat, and that therefore makes them the best. Of course it does.

Of course, they would not be a sensible investment. An odd-on price is never a sensible bet in multi-horse field, even if there are fewer horses running in the race than you might prefer.

Your correspondent is inclined to take League form with a pinch of salt, but what was interesting about Dublin in the League wasn’t so much the results as the sudden loss of appetite. Dublin in their pomp revelled in burying teams. This new, steady-as-she-goes approach ill-suits them. Seeing them like this is like calling into the local and seeing the local Champion Pintman not only drinking tay, but drinking it out of a cup and saucer. Has the world changed, or is he only doing the dog?

There is an opinion abroad that Dublin could get broadsided in Leinster. Delicious though this prospect would be, it’s impossible to make a case for any other Leinster team doing anything other than falling valiantly. In recent years, it’s only Westmeath that have really put it up to the Dubs, but they’ve never had the sort of playing resources that Meath or Kildare or even Offaly once enjoyed. The pick of the three wouldn’t keep it kicked out to Dublin now.

A shrewd eye should be kept on Kerry. There was much made of how immature Kerry looked against Mayo in the League final, but you can grow faster in football years than you can in actual years. Seán O’Shea will only be a few months older come the summer than he was in that League final, but he’ll be carrying scar tissue that will stand to him in bigger battles to come.

How long it takes him and others to toughen up will determine how quickly it takes Kerry to win their next All-Ireland. It is not impossible it may happen sooner than we would have thought when the final whistle blew in that League Final.

The hardest challenge to the Dublin imperium will come from the North, as usual. The Ulster Championship is easily the most competitive, and perhaps it’s because of this that a dumping into the qualifiers seems to knock Ulster teams less out of their stride than others.

The leading hounds of Ulster are Monaghan, Tyrone and Donegal. Monaghan had a stinker of a league, and did well not to get relegated in the end. This, after beating Dublin in the first game and being hailed by some critics as the second best team in Ireland.

The reason why Monaghan had such a poor League isn’t obvious. But it’s difficult to believe that so valiant a team as we’ve known Monaghan to be in recent years have just suddenly thrown in the towel. The suspicion here is that it would be unwise to dismiss the Farney challenge without further intelligence.

Donegal and Tyrone have been praised for their league performances, and praise has been grudgingly given to those counties in recent years. It’s interesting that the praise heaped on the counties is at odds with the rumours drifting from the camps, about players not happy about playing for their particular managers and other stories of internal strife and woe.

Try though I might, I can’t force myself to believe that Tyrone have found a Philosopher’s Stone to take them one further than last year’s All-Ireland Final loss where, in truth, they never really competed. You have the players or you don’t, and Tyrone, for all Mickey Harte’s in-game tactical ability, seem one or two players short.

Donegal are blessed with the best player in the country, Michael Murphy, and will always be a threat while that man can pull on a jersey and answer Tír Chonnail’s dread war cry. The more help he has the greater Donegal’s chance becomes.

Galway were the darlings of the League last year, only to again disappoint in Dublin in the summertime. That Galway reign as kings of Connacht is beyond dispute and, should they face Mayo in a Connacht semi-final as many expect, they will enjoy home advantage at the butt of the broad Atlantic, also known as Stáid an Phiarsaigh, Bóthar na Trá. Kevin Comer’s absence continues, which has to be a source of worry.

Again, the word on the wind is that Comer is one of these players who is more than just another member of the team – he is seen, subconsciously at least, as the avatar of the Galway football tradition, and as such he cannot be replaced.

For all that, Galway are spoiled with talent, and learning all the time. Last year there were rumours of difficulty in integrating the Corofin players into the county team. That was noted, and the two teams have been bonding since the start of the year. Almost violently so if rumours of a January challenge match are to be believed, but then, people do like to tell stories.

Your correspondent’s friends insist to him that being afraid of Galway is like being afraid of the dark – an immature, childish terror, not borne out by scientific evidence. Right. Tell that to me again when we’re stuck in traffic for two hours on the Grattan Road after Galway pox a seventy-eighth minute winner over Mayo and we’re all thinking things can’t get any worse, only to see great Cthulhu himself rise up out of Galway Bay, release an eldritch roar, and make a beeline for the Róisín Dubh, foul tentacles thrashing the sea into foam around him. I’ll remember to laugh.

You may notice that there is one contender that remains unnamed. The reality is that Mayo have bounced back so high from taking the road from Newbridge to Nowhere last year that any attempt at rational thought on the part of any Mayo man, woman or child in the matter of football is now quite out of the question.

In her beautiful sonnet, Love is Not All, poet Edna St Vincent Millay remarks that, in a difficult hour, she may be tempted to sell your love for peace, or the memory of this night for food. Your correspondent would sell a damn sight more than that to see Diarmuid O’Connor lift Sam in the Hogan Stand on the first of September, and is unable to sensibly contemplate even the notion of it without either fainting or going insane.

For that reason then, I predict that not only will Dublin not win five-in-a-row, they won’t even reach the final. The final will be a repeat of the 2000 final, a draw between Kerry and Galway, and I’m danged if I know who’ll win the replay.

If anybody’s in Castlebar on the night of September 2nd, by the way, I’ll either be in Byrne’s, McHale’s, or above in a tree somewhere, looing. Up Mayo.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Dealing with Today's Protest in Dublin

Dublin city centre is due to be thrown into chaos for God-knows how long from lunchtime this afternoon due to a protest organised by a group called “Extinction Rebellion Ireland,” and the authorities seem incapable of addressing the issue. Your faithful correspondent returns to his escritoire, then, to see what suggestions he can make to help.

A spokesman for Extinction Rebellion Ireland, a Doctor Ciarán O’Carroll, is quoted in this morning’s Irish Times as saying that they “have no choice” but to throttle traffic in the city-centre at the start of the only four-day bank-holiday in the year.

“We have tried marching, and lobbying, and signing petitions,” the doctor tells the Times. “Nothing has brought about the change that is needed. And no damage that we incur can compare to the criminal inaction of the Irish Government in the face of climate and ecological breakdown.”

It’s a funny thing that, what with this being the only choice left to them, and they having worn themselves out marching, and lobbying, and signing petitions, that so very few people have heard of Doctor O’Carroll and Extinction Rebellion Ireland before. It’s odd also that the Irish Times did not put this question to Doctor O’Carroll – if Extinction Rebellion Ireland have been doing all this marching, lobbying and petition, why is the only hearing of it now? Have they not heard of Twitter? Or even, God help us, the ‘gram?

As a scientist, your faithful correspondent has to admit that it's entirely possible that all this has been going without my noticing it. I struggle to keep up with pop culture - until very recently I thought Drake was a gentleman duck, for instance.

So, in the interest of giving Extinction Rebellion Ireland a fair shake, I looked them up in Google Trends. In Ireland over the past ninety days, Extinction Rebellion Ireland have been of more interest than "hemorrhoid ointment", but not as much interest as "soda bread recipe." Here's the chart:

But the politics of all this are for another day. Right now the city has to deal with the fact that an enormous public nuisance is going to be caused in the city centre this afternoon and the city has a duty to protect its citizens from that enormous public nuisance. Extinction Rebellion Ireland’s right to protest does not override every citizen’s right to travel across the city as she wishes.

What, then, is to be done? Slooshing the protesters off the bridge with water cannon is the first and obvious solution. A joyous idea, and one sure to be popular with the people slowly roasting in their cars, but unfortunately not practical.

Just as a tackler in rugby has a duty of care to the player he tackles in the air landing safely on the ground, so the moral water cannon operator has a duty of care to those whom he scrubs from the pavement. The protest will centre on O’Connell Bridge, and it’s impossible to guarantee against one of these wretches going into the Liffey and drowning for the cause. This would be a Pyrrhic victory indeed, and so we must think of Plan B.

Plan B is to simply arrest the bums and cart them off to the barracks. Unfortunately, the contemporaneous situation in London, where protestors are also vigilantly acting the bollocks, suggests that being arrested is exactly what the protestors want. Therefore, the city should use the water cannon and let Extinction Rebellion Ireland chance Anna Livia’s cold embrace before playing into their hands.

Happily, there is Plan C – or B+, if you’re feeling witty.

Plan B+ is to arrest the protestors as before, but rather than cart them off to the Bridewell or Pearse Street cop shop, they are simply taken to the Papal Cross in the Phoenix Park and released into the wild, to gambol with the deer or make their way back into the city as they please.

The Phoenix Park, as readers may be aware, is not small. No buses run by the Papal Cross and there is no way out except on foot. Those Extinction Rebellion Ireland members who wish to return to the fray are, of course, entirely free to do so, but if they do it, they will have to do it on foot. An hour’s forced march back to the bridge may take some of the pep from their step and make them wonder if there really isn’t one more petition that they could sign that could yet win the day.

And when the rebels get to O’Connell Bridge, if it is the case that the protest is still going on, it’s simple enough to scoop them all up as before and spin them out again. Of course, each trip goes a little further than before. A Phoenix Park veteran can be dropped off to that green area in Cappagh Road, in Finglas, near the National Orthopaedic Hospital. After Cappagh, you get a spin out to Mulhuddart, say. And so on, and on, and on.

We could even have some sport on it, with Paddy Power making book on any activist being able to make it back to Dublin from west of the Shannon before midnight. Or Boyle's - we're neither snobs nor monopolists, you know.

It has long been the case that Dublin’s citizens are expected to put up with having their lives and business interrupted at the whim of any jackass with a bee in his bonnet. Maybe it’s time the city stopped being played for a chump for once, and gave those people who look for trouble exactly what it is they seek.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Members of the Oireachtas Have Nothing to Feel Smug About

It was around about the same time that UK prime minister Theresa May was in front of a baying House of Common. The contrast between this respectful celebration of 100 years of unbroken parliamentary democracy here [sic] and the shambles in London was not lost on the Dublin audience.

It is the nature of the politician to be blessed with an above-average amount of self-regard. An adamantine hide is necessary in a life where you submit yourself to public judgement at least once every five years. However; the notion of the current members of the Oireachtas stiffening with pride at the thought that they are the finest of parliamentarians, not like those knuckle-dragging Tans across the way, is too much for even the most ravenous of goats to stomach.

One hundred years after the first sitting of Dáil Éireann, Ireland is a state where the Gardaí have merrily ignored 7,900 crimes, some of them very serious, over the past seven years. Nobody knows why these crimes have been ignored, but the GRA, the Garda Representative Association, has made it quite clear that however it happened it wasn't their boys' fault. It may turn out that dog ate each and every one of their notebooks. It’s what Mr S Holmes used to refer to as a three-pipe problem.

This is the same police force who were discovered to have made up breathalyser tests, bullied whistleblowers out of the force and saw the last two Garda Commissioners and the last two Ministers for Justice resign under never-really-fully-explained circumstances. The police exist to enforce the law; what does the law currently mean to the police? It seems to them as a midge on a summer’s evening on the mountain; bothersome, but not really to be taken seriously.

The situation is so worrying a man could end up in hospital as a result. Except that were he foolish enough to do so he might be better of going straight to the graveyard with his wooden overcoat on, such is the state of the Health Service.

The current Minister for Health is - nominally, theoretically - in charge of a Health Service that is unable to diagnose cervical cancer and over-estimates the price of the new children's hospital by one billion Euro, and counting. That's not the price of the thing, remember; that's how much the original estimate differs from the current estimate, and it's gone up, rather than down.

How much is a billion Euro? It's enough to buy every single residential house in the town of Ballina, with about half of those in Castlebar thrown in as well. It's a lot of money, and yet the current Minister for Health, famously "mad as hell" about the cervical crisis, seems completely content to sign off on this bill, no matter how many more billions it goes up to. Don't forget either that this new hospital will not deliver one extra bed compared to the number of children’s beds currently available. Details!

One wonders what the Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe, thinks of all this. Paschal is one of the leading politicians in the country. He had enough nous to know that, as he himself could never become leader, his allying himself closely with Leo Varadkar once Varadkar made his run would make him the next-best thing. When appointed Minister for Finance, the cognoscenti thought of those many media performances where he smothered criticism of Fine Gael in the manner of a conscientious huntsman drowning surplus beagles, and thought: here is the man to keep an iron grip on the public finances.

If only. The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council responded to last year's budget by accusing the government of repeating the mistakes of the past - over-heating an already-overheated economy, thus guaranteeing that the country will be once again on its uppers when the tide goes out again, as it inevitably must.

There is an irony in this as the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council was set specifically to perform this very task. One of the reasons identified for the crash of 2008 was that a "support the green jersey" policy blinded officials to their duty of telling the economic truth as it is, rather than as people wanted it to be. Thus when things went splat!!, there was no rainy-day money at all. Not behind the couch, not under the bed, not buried in the garden in a biscuit tin.

And now, ten years later, we're doing it all again. The ambulance drivers struck yesterday. A nurses' strike is guaranteed. The teachers can't be far away from having the Art class studying Placarding 101. There's that monstrous, growing bill for the Children's Hospital collapsing into the weight of its own gravity like a fiscal black hole, set to swallow every single thing around it. And that's not even counting the six hundred million lids that the Health department was over budget last year, and for which money was found from .. well. We never do find out where this miracle money comes from, do we?

And how does the political class respond to these triplicate impending disasters, to say nothing of Brexit itself, homelessness, the narrow tax base, the flight from rural Ireland? By poncing about the Mansion House telling each other how well they would have done at Soloheadbeg or Kilmichael had Fate not decided they would be born too late, and then off to Buswells, Kehoe's, Doheny's and sundry other houses to pint the night away.

Brexit is a nightmare, but at least the British can see that there's a dirty big iceberg off the starboard bow and it could sink the whole ship. The first our politicians - and we the people, God help us, because it is us, after all, who are the ones who elect the donkeys in the first place – the first any of us will know about the iceberg is when we're clinging to a spar in the freezing Atlantic, watching the state go under once more, and asking ourselves: how the **** did that happen? It's a mystery alright, Paddy. Who could ever have seen that coming?

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Year in Sports

If you want it, you'll have to fight for it.
If you want it, you'll have to fight for it.
Your bookmaker will return you fifty cent profit on every Euro you bet on Dublin if Dublin win five All-Ireland Football Championships in a row next year, something no county has achieved in football or hurling. How astonishing. And of course, the price is very hard to argue with. It is impossible to make a cogent case for any other county winning it, as each of the contenders has profound flaws and, while Dublin are by no means perfect, they are considerably better equipped to win than any other county.

For all that, your correspondent can’t get it out of his head that Dublin won’t do it. The pressure and hype will be bananas, as more and more entities see the chance of a quick buck and climb up onto an already-overloaded Dub bandwagon. Even though the new rules are for the league only, who knows what tiny cracks the League will reveal that could be torn open in the white heat of Championship. But most of all, the biggest struggle that Dublin will face to win five-in-a-row is the struggle all dynasties face – the fact that players get old.

This runs against conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom is that Dublin have found the alchemist’s stone, and can regenerate players like no-one else has been able to before. Brian Fenton and Con O’Callaghan are cited as proof, the replacements that are better than what went before.

And that’s all fine, but there are more constants over the four-in-a-row starting fifteen than you might think. Cluxton, obviously. But also Jonny Cooper, Philly McMahon, Cian O’Sullivan and James McCarthy. That’s a lot of backs, keeping a lot of pressure off Cluxton, who cares little for pressure. It will not be the shock of shocks if Dublin do win five-in-a-row, of course. But it won’t be as big a shock as some think if they don’t. After all, Kilkenny were meant to be able replenish their players at ease too, but when Jackie Tyrell and Tommy Walsh and Henry Shefflin went off into the sunset, things began to fall apart.

Of course, the monstrosity that is the Super Eight section of the Championship will do all in its power to preserve the powerful against the threat of the weak. Would anyone have heard of Mullinalaghta if there had been Super Eights in the Leinster Club Championship, or even in the Longford Club Championship?

The Super Eights is a further betrayal of all the Championship stands for and should stand for, a point made time and again in this place. In many ways, the highlight of the summer was the sight of empty seats in Croke Park for the Super Eights, something that so shocked the grubby moneymen who are behind the thing that changes have already been made. Hopefully, it’s too late and the thing will be sent back to whatever hell from whence it rose.

Shane Dowling. No better man.
Shane Dowling. No better man.
Your correspondent is generally loathe to comment on hurling as I know enough about it to know I know very little about it, actually. I do know that the people of Limerick continue to float on a blissful cloud in this horrid winter weather and more power to them. But whether it’s my innate conservatism or not, I can’t help but be suspect of the provincial round robins.

Heresy, I know. For those in Munster and Leinster – and even for people from Galway, I believe – these round-robin games seem to have been an unending series of delights. But for someone at a remove, it was a struggle to keep up and figure out exactly who is ahead and who is behind.
But that’s what a great competition should do! is the response. Of course. But only up to a point. There has to be a narrative or else it’s all very hard to sort in your head. If every game is an epic then no game can be an epic.

Someone remarked that Limerick’s win this year was actually the greatest win of all time as no other All-Ireland winner had to beat so many top-class teams to win the title. And that’s true, but it’s also true because no other teams had to – it used to be a knockout competition. Maybe, as time rolls on, we’ll get used to it. Maybe. But it’s very hard not to worry about hurling when people are spending a lot of money claiming to promote the game in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, when they don’t stir one princely finger to promote the game north of the M6 motorway. There is something here that doesn’t quite add up.

Jacobus Rex
Jacobus Rex
This was the greatest year in Irish international rugby history. Ireland won the Grand Slam, they won a southern hemisphere tour, and they beat New Zealand. Joe Schmidt is the best coach in the world, and Ireland have some of the best players in the world.

There are those who ask questions about friendlies and what will Ireland do in the World Cup. They don’t really want to know. Anyone who follows rugby knows the worth of what Ireland have achieved and anyone who doesn’t, probably doesn’t really want to in the first place, and is only looking for mischief.

But as with football and hurling, dark clouds loom in the distance. The game is changing all the time. Professionalism is twenty years old now, and rugby is so different from what went before. Amateur rugby was a backs’ game of field position. Professional rugby is a forwards’ game of ball retention.

The old order is under more and more strain because money wins every argument, and nothing that went before, as regards tradition or honour or how-we-do-things, can withstand money. Agustín Pichot, the former scrum-half for Argentina and now vice-chairman of World Rugby, has spoken of how the demands on players cannot be met in current circumstances, and he's right. Something's got to give, and some things already have.

France was a rugby powerhouse once. Now, her clubs have strangled the life out of the national team. It may be Stockholm Syndrome, as no team found more ways to annually batter Ireland than the French did, but now they’re gone it feels like the game has lost something, and there is an empty space where those gallant prancing cocks used to be. It just doesn’t feel right.

The best man in Ireland, England,
Scotland and Wales?
How wonderful it would be if Tyson Fury could save boxing. It is one of those things that is only obvious after it is pointed out that without a functional, competitive heavyweight division all other boxing divisions are somehow lessened. And now, thanks to this extraordinary man it may be saved.

It's a long path and it’s a lot to ask of Fury, who has his own demons to fight outside of the ring, but sport needs boxing. For a sport so easily corruptible, it is one of the noblest of sports in its way. I hope it can be saved in these changing times, and look forward to the rematch between Deontay Wilder and Fury with no little anticipation.

Monday, October 15, 2018

On Pride in the Nation

The Times Ireland published a column on Saturday in which Caroline O'Donoghue declared that, for the first time in her life, she is proud to be Irish. Your correspondent is damned if he can see why.

Right now the nation is blessed with a government that is looked down upon by other governments held together with baling twine, UHU glue and three rusty nails. The current government relies for its survival on Deputy Michael Lowry, TD, a deputy found guilty of incorrect tax returns this year and against whom a motion of censure was passed in 2011. Not what you'd call moral authority, as such.

The reason the government had to go cap in hand to Deputy Lowry in the first place is because it found itself one member short when Deputy Denis Naughten jumped before he was pushed over a number of undeclared dinners he enjoyed with one David McCourt, who represents the only bidder left standing in the "competition" to win the licence to rollout the National Broadband Plan.

Deputy Naughten received not-at-all common cross-party support for his principled decision to resign but, as Gavin Jennings pointed out on Morning Ireland on Friday, it is not at all clear why exactly Naughten had to go.

On the face of it, Denis Naughten had to go because had lunch with someone involved in a bidding process over which Naughten himself had the final decision. But the fact Naughten had lunched at least once with Mr McCourt was already known to An Taoiseach and in the public domain. So what, then, is the dining tipping point? At what point does a Minister become compromised?

Is she fine if she has two dinners, but damned after three? At what point in the third dinner does the bell toll? First bite? Last slug of brandy, last pull of the cigar? Or just at the point where the big pot of spuds is placed on the table, with the steam rising off them and everyone ready to reach in and grab?

The answer is, of course, that there is no point. There are no standards in Irish politics. There are only circumstances.

If the wind is behind you, you may do what you damn-well please. If it's not, you have to tread very carefully, for you will be as damned for permitting the building of the halting site as you will be for stopping it.

You have to tread so carefully, in fact, that the best thing to do is to close the door of the Ministerial office, put the feet up and sleep peacefully until the next election and/or reshuffle, whichever comes first, and it's time for some other silly bastard juggle live hand grenades. At least you've got the pension sorted.

The absence of standards in Irish public life is equally visible in the Presidential election. Firstly, in the quality of the candidates, which is of the póinín variety - that type of miserable potato more often thrown out to the chickens than offered to feed the family.

It is secondly reflected in the media's inability to make head nor tail of the campaign, other than writing thinky-thought pieces beating the breast about the media's poor job in holding Michael D to the gas last time out, and promising to go harder this time - without actually going so far as to go harder, as such. All things considered, with prejudice to none.

And speaking of the First Citizen, An tUachtarán has decried black media coverage of his Presidency - being a poet, "black media" is Michael D's own coinage of "fake news," the pet term of one of his fellow Presidents - at his campaign launch. At no stage are the white media ever so base as to list what these horrid rumour are, or even ask him directly to answer them. That wouldn't be cricket.

However, when you spend as much time in the gutter as your correspondent, you get to hear a few things. Unless there is a rumour out there that has not come to the low haunts frequented by Spailpíní Fhánacha, Michael D has nothing to fear. It's not like he's done anything illegal or jeopardized the state. If the full story were to come out, it may not even cost him the election. If anything, it might even win him more votes.

And that's because nobody knows what "proper" behaviour is in Irish politics, because nobody has ever seen it, or expects to.

Ireland is not a democracy. It is a feudal system where chieftains gather to squabble over beads and trinkets to bring home to their own gullible followers, while making out like so many bandits themselves and laughing all the way to the bank. If this is the Ireland you're proud of you can have it. I myself am sick to my teeth of it, and I mourn all the blood it cost to build so base a state.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

What is the Point in Watching the Budget?

Pascal O'Donoghue, TD, Minister for Finance
Do you plan to watch the budget today, Reader? Will you listen to the Minister, thrill to the analysis, and carefully ponder the responses to the budget from the parties’ various spokespersons on finance when they, too, address Dáil Éireann?

And are you entirely sure that’s wise? All things considered, would you not be better off beating yourself unconscious with a brick instead?

You say that’s crazy talk. No, it’s not. Beating yourself unconscious with a brick is every bit as sensible as listening to the budget and expecting the government to exercise any control over the public finances – insofar as they government can figure out what the public finances are in the first place, of course.

The one reason the country hasn’t sunk beneath the waves – and I thank almighty God for it – is that we must have our budgets signed off in Berlin anymore, even since that time we went crazy buying two-bed apartments with one parking space and thinking they were little goldmines. The majority of the spending is already spent before the Minister got out of bed this morning. What the Minister will actually be talking about is what he’s allowed to spend from the change discovered at the back of the couch, as the big money is only handled by the big boys any more.

And even then, the unhappy man will still make a bags of it. His is an impossible task.

Professor Séamus Coffey, head of the Fiscal Advisory Council, was interviewed on This Week on RTÉ Radio One on Sunday. Professor Coffey noted that every year for the past fifteen years the Department of Health has been unable to calculate its spending correctly.

This is phenomenally bad practice, and what makes it worse is that every time the Department manages to underestimate spending. It’s not that the Department of Health gets its sums wrong, as such. It’s that it always gets them wrong in the same way.

For fifteen years the Department has tried to calculate how much it needs, and each year it’s underestimated its budget and had to be dug out. This is despite always going higher than last year for each of the fifteen years.

This isn’t bad maths. If it were bad maths, they’d have over-estimated at least once. This is something else.

Let’s put that in perspective. Let’s say you’re saving for a mortgage, and you decide to cut down on the pints. You budget yourself a fifty-Euro-a-fortnight pinting allowance, and swear never to break it.

At the end of the fortnight, you do your sums and you find that instead of blowing fifty Euro on porter, you’ve blown eighty. OK. You were unrealistic in your initial calculation. There are few places in Dublin city centre where you can get a pint for less than a fiver, and five pints a week isn’t even half the weekly limit as set out by the killjoy Department of Health. OK. So you recalibrate, and your new fortnightly pinting budget is now eighty Euro.

You examine your spend after this second fortnight and find out you’ve spent one hundred Euro.

This isn’t great. Not only are you still over budget, but you’ve doubled your initial estimate. This is bad. You feel bad. You’re not looking forward to telling your girlfriend, who’s counting on you pulling your weight for this mortgage. But at least you know now what the price of booze is. You budget for a hundred bucks this time, and go again.

That’s three budgets reader. The Department of Health have got this wrong for fifteen budgets in a row. If that were the case where you were saving for your mortgage, it’s safe to say that you could forget about the mortgage. You could forget about the girlfriend too, as she’d long ago have walked out. But you yourself are not bothered about a mortgage now, of course. Why would you need a mortgage when you now live under a bridge, off your cake on a cocktail of Buckfast and dry sherry all the livelong day?

Minister Harris, a man borne down by the sense of his own dignity, is inclined to respond that there is no discretionary spend in Health. If some invalid, some wretched soul, were to call to a hospital, how could the hospital send him or her away?

Such an unfortunate should not be sent away, of course. But your faithful correspondent can tell you who should be sent away. The genius who agreed to pay €6.5 million per year in rent for the new Department of Health offices eighteen months before anybody actually moves into the place could do with sending away.

The only reason whoever is monitoring how well hospital consultants are maintaining their working division between private and public patients while working in public hospitals can’t be sent away because it seems that person doesn’t exist in the first place.

According to last week’s report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, no more than 20% of beds in public hospitals are meant to be set aside for private patients. However, beds are considered plain beds, not public beds or private beds, and “the HSE does not draw comparisons on activity levels between hospitals or individual consultants in order to monitor trends in activity over time.” So that’s bound to be going well.

You may think your faithful correspondent is picking on the Department of Health. Not at all. Consider this shaggy dog story, as reported in yesterday’s Times Ireland:

The Irish Greyhound Board had their old stadium in Harold’s Cross valued in March of last year. Savills' reckoned it was worth twelve million Euro if developed, six million if it remained a dog track.

A few weeks later, the Department of Education asked the Valuation Office to survey the dog track at Harold’s Cross, and see how much it was worth. Harold’s Cross could do with a new school, you see.

Where Savills' considered the site worth €12 million, the Valuation Office thought it worth more €23 million. The Department of Education bought the site for €23 million in May of last year. Did the site more than double in value in two months? What exactly are we missing here? Other than our shirts, of course - we lost those long ago.

Now. Suppose you’re some sort of nut who thinks maybe the country would be in better shape if we spent money wisely, instead of finding new and, frankly, quite astonishing ways to waste it? For whom exactly should you vote in the coming election? Whom can you trust to get a start on that task?

I’ll give you a minute, dear Reader. Then you can go off and find yourself a brick.
a brick.