Monday, July 24, 2006

Back to School for Professor Bacik?

Ivana find out a bit more about Irish historyIf a candidate is running for political office, how much should he or she know about politics and political history? That’s the fascinating question that An Spailpín Fánach pondered over his Weetabix yesterday morning, while listening to the Sunday Supplement on Today FM.

The Sunday Supplement, for those who do not indulge, is one of those shows where a panel of talking heads gather in the studio to gas over the Sunday papers and the great events of our times. Yesterday’s Sunday Independent led with a story about President McAleese being rebuked by Minister for Defence, Willie O’Dea, over some remarks that she had made concerning the war in Lebanon – a rebuke that the Minister strongly denies, of course. The kerfuffle caused presenter Sham Shmyth to muse on the last time there had been trouble between a minister and the President. “I’ll go back over the details for younger listeners,” wheezed Sham.

“And for younger panellists, as well,” laughed Reid Professor of Criminal Law at Trinity College, Dublin, Ivana Bacik, one of Sham’s panellists.

This is where An Spailpín paused, spoon of wheaty goodness poised in mid-air. I’ve been listening to Ivana Bacik on the telly and radio for damn near ten years – how on Earth can she be so involved in current affairs not to have heard of Paddy Donegan?

Sham Shymth then outlined the story, about how the Minister for Defence in 1976, Paddy Donegan, addressed a military meeting in Mullingar, and remarked that the President (and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces), Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, was a “thundering disgrace.” This provoked a constitutional crisis, and was only resolved when Ó Dálaigh himself resigned, to protect the good name of the office. Donegan offered to resign but the then Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrove, refused to accept the offer, for reasons that still baffle nearly thirty years on.

All of this came as news to Professor Bacik, who ran for the European Parliament in 2004, is currently running for the Seanad and you can bet your shoes will be running for the Dáil next time out in some leafy south Dublin suburb (where socialists live, you know). But wait – there’s more.

After Sham Shmyth had given a brief outline of the story, Professor Bacik asked Sham if “this was all part of the GUBU thing?”

If you fly to Rome, sneak into the Vatican, meet a little old man dressed in a white cassock with a little white skullcap, stick him in the ribs and ask him if he was a Catholic you would be at the same level of awareness as Professor Bacik displayed with that question. Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh’s resignation was one of the great selfless acts of Irish politics, and you do not need to be an aficionado to realise that the list of selfless acts in Irish politics is a short one. This alone would make President Ó Dálaigh’s actions stand out. The fact that Irish politics has been divided between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael since the Civil War makes Professor Bacik’s ignorance of who played for whom additionally distressing.

Does all this mean that the “thundering disgrace” story is something that isn’t worth Professor Bacik’s knowing, or could it be that she really isn’t that terribly bothered by details? Professor Bacik is running as an Independent candidate for the Seanad even though she’s a member of the Labour Party, which seems a little dualistic to An Spailpín Fánach’s rather literal intellect, who does not expect a shovel when he calls for a spade.

An Spailpín does not know how the discussion finished, having switched off in disgust; if previous hearings of the Shunday Shupplement are anything to go by, the matter was no doubt quickly subsumed in the eminently clubbable atmosphere of Irish public life. But An Spailpín, curmudgeon that he is, is not one bit happy about it. If someone is going to run for public office, he or she ought to have enough respect for the public institutions to know a little history. Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh’s nephew, Liam Ó hAlmhain, maintains a website to our fifth President’s memory. Professor Bacik might pay it a visit sometime, if she’s not too busy.

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