Monday, September 13, 2010

Fergus Finlay is Ready for His Close-Up

President Finlay meets The Wolf in the ParkIs Fergus Finlay the Quentin Tarantino of Irish politics? An influential director of the 1990s who now dreams of the spotlight himself?

It’s never easy watching Tarantino act. To echo William Goldman, Tarantino craves the Bogart part, but he is the Elisha Cook, Jr, part. Will Finlay be as successful in the shop window as he was behind the scenes?

Certainly Finlay launched his campaign quite smoothly, with interviews on Morning Ireland on Thursday and with Ivan Yates immediately afterwards on Newstalk.

Finlay, a man known to be touchy, sounded quite avuncular, except for letting a cloven hoof pop out with a winsome quote from Chairman Mao at the end of the Morning Ireland interview, when he must have thought himself home and dry. It’s hard to see a Maoist head of state as being as step in the right direction for the Green Isle of Erin. Who needs another famine, after all?

Finlay seems to place great store in his time on the Mary Robinson Presidential campaign as good experience for his own Presidential run. Is that entirely a good idea? Robinson’s campaign slogan was “A President with a Purpose” – does anybody remember exactly what that purpose was?

At the time, the purpose was almost certainly solely to soften a Fianna Fáil cough but over the twenty years since, the Presidency seems to have evolved into being the Mammy of the nation.

Robinson was the Beta Test, a matriarch like one of those fearsome old Victorians whose issue would be presented to her by their governesses at bedtime for the one minute’s quality time with Mamma. Mary McAleese, by contrast, is the Mater Ne Plus Ultra, the Mammyiest Mammy of them all. And good luck to them both but if Fergus Finlay thinks he can emulate that he’s backing the wrong horse. He’d have to lose the whiskers at the very least.

The other remarkable trait of the Robinson Presidency was that Mary Robinson is the only President of Ireland to vacate her post before her term of office was up, having traded up to a nice UN job. It’s a free country of course, but goodness, I don’t think the people would be happy to elect someone to treat the office like that again.

Perhaps Fergus Finlay will be able to use the coming year to tell us what exactly he hopes his purpose will be. Because the single most bizarre thing about the inchoate Finlay campaign is that he’s launched it so early.

The Presidential election isn’t due until of next year, fourteen months away. Who thinks the Government will last that long? It’s rather stunning to think that they’ve lasted so long in the first place. The General Election and the state of nation are what preoccupy the nation now; the tenant of the Vice-Regal Lodge seems rather small beer in comparison.

Last week we had hourly Twitter updates from The Journal about the fluctuations in the yield price of Irish ten-year bonds as the country teetered once more on the precipice. There are grey haired men in grey suits in grey offices in Frankfurt and Washington, DC, who look at Irish balance sheets and wonder whether or not it’s time to send in the Heavy Mob. Who in earth gives a toss right now about who’ll be President in 2011 in the light of that grim reality? It doesn’t matter who’ll open schools once the IMF have halved the number of them in the state and wished half the teachers a sweet fare-thee-well.

But Finlay has ploughed on regardless and now, instead of sweating what will almost certainly be the toughest budget since 1929 the much put-upon citizenry have this dog and pony show to further muddy discussions on who we are and where we’re going. There is only good thing from all this and that is that at last, Fergus Finlay and Bertie Ahern have something in common. They are both ready for their close-up.