Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Mayo Football Is Alive and Well

William Smith O'Brien wears a Mayo flag
William Smith O'Brien sporting
a Mayo flag yesterday

If a team loses an evenly-matched game by a point, there’s no great mystery in it. The reality of the 2013 Final is that if Mayo caught or broke the next kickout after Cillian O’Connor kicked the final point of the game, thirty seconds would have been an age to either kick the equaliser or engineer a free. That’s all that Mayo lost by. A hop of a ball. Nothing else.

Would that have been fair on Dublin? No. It wouldn’t. Dublin were the better team over the seventy minutes and deserved their second All-Ireland in three years. Mayo got off to a flyer but didn’t score commensurate with their dominance. A very bad goal to give away brought Dublin back, and then Dublin had the upper hand for the rest of the game without ever really putting Mayo away. If Mayo had caught that last kickout, today’s narrative would be about how this is a different Mayo team and about Dublin’s failure to close it out against Mayo’s worst display of the year.

But that’s not what happened. Mayo didn’t field the final kickout and that was the end of them. Things could very easily have gone differently, and although Dublin deserved to win, that doesn’t mean that Mayo couldn’t have snatched a draw. Think of the events of 1996, when the shoe was on the other foot.

But this is only your correspondent’s opinion, of course. A quick flick through yesterday’s papers suggests a different analysis.

I have always, and will always, maintain [sic] that a team will not win an All-Ireland without a marquee forward.
Eoin "The Bomber" Liston, Irish Independent.

But whereas last week I said to myself that if Mayo lost this final it would be a massive setback because they were so good and well prepared, I now feel that they are certainly capable of going further – but not unless they can unearth a forward or two that could be ranked in the top 10 [sic] in the country.
Eugene McGee, Irish Independent.

Interesting, isn’t it? McGee isn’t always noted for his sympathy to Mayo, but the old buster is the only man for whom the penny has dropped about just how tantalisingly close Mayo were yesterday. Closer than even McGee himself realises.

McGee and the Bomber an the rest trot out this same old stuff about Mayo’s lack of quality forwards every year, each man going to stable to take out the same old hobbyhorses for a gallop around the paddock. These are the same people – well, except McGee; he’s always been very careful of letting Mayo support get big-headed – who’ve been telling us all summer long this is the new-model-Mayo, completely different from the one that went before. One game later, and it turns out to be same-old-Mayo all along.

But they can’t have it both ways. They can’t say that Alan Dillon has been the one shining light upfront for Mayo in ten years and then turn around and say Alan Dillon never had it. Alan Dillon just isn’t big time.

They can’t say that Mayo were crippled last year by the loss of Andy Moran and then say well, you know, Andy Moran has never been a top-ten forward.

The greatest mystery of all is that of Cillian O’Connor. Cillian O’Connor has racked up 6-22, an average of eight points a game to make him the top scorer in this year’s Championship, and then turn around and say that Mayo don’t have one marquee forward. If the top-scorer of the Championship isn’t a marquee forward, who in God’s holy name is?

The argument, insofar as an argument exists, is that many of O’Connor’s scores were put up against children of a lesser god; that is to say, that they were scored in the Connacht Championship.

You don’t see anyone holding their noses when James O’Donoghue scores 1-3 against mighty Tipperary or when Cork’s Daniel Goulding pops five points past hapless Limerick. Tipp and Limerick? Titans of football. Galway and Roscommon? Bums and makeweights. As for why O’Connor’s 3-4 against the All-Ireland Champions themselves doesn’t count, your correspondent really doesn’t know.

But it seems that football pundits just don’t care. When it comes to Mayo they are only interested in taking the hobbyhorse over the jumps rather than looking at what’s just happened.

If the Mayo full-forward line yesterday wore any jersey other than the green above the red, they would have been given the benefit of the doubt. People are second-guessing James Horan on his substitution of Alan Freeman, but look at the choice he had picking his team during the week.

Horan knows that there are issues with the form of the wing forwards, that Keith Higgins is marking a man who doesn’t need marking because he doesn’t attack and that Andy Moran and Cillian O’Connor are both walking wounded.

All of that is bad enough, but then the one man who is in form becomes ill during the week and there’s now a question mark over all six of the Mayo forwards. Every blessed one of them.

What could Horan do? He did the only thing he could. He danced with the ones who brung him, and hoped for the best. Is he given any credit for it? Does anybody say it’s a medical miracle that Cillian O’Connor played at all? Does anyone say that you can’t start a totally new inside line in the All-Ireland final of all games? That not even Kerry could do that?

No they don’t. Same old Mayo, they say. If Lee Harvey Oswald had been a Mayoman, JFK would be alive today. Ho ho ho. Giddy-up there, hobbyhorse.

Fair enough. It’s all only paper talk, after all. Perhaps the real proof of the pudding was in McHale Park last night, where eight thousand turned up to see the minors and seniors come home. That’s what football means in the County Mayo.

People are saying that Mayo will never come back from this. We all believe what we must but reader, if you are from outside Mayo think on this; any team with the two O’Sheas starting in midfield will have a fifty-fifty chance in every single game it plays, and the O’Sheas have a good few years in them yet. Mayo go away? Dream on. Mayo are only starting out.

FOCAL SCOIR: Best of luck to Dublin manager Jim Gavin in his attempt to become the fourth member of the Après Match team with his post-match comments about the referee on Sunday. This sort of zaniness is just what tickles the Irish funny bone. Roll on Brazil ’14!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Respect and the County Mayo

First published in the Western People on Monday.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T – find out what it means to me, because, in truth, it’s been something of a source of debate in the county over these past few weeks, if not the past few years. How do you get it – is it bestowed on you? Is respect like Shakespeare’s lovely description of mercy in The Merchant of Venice – does it drop like the gentle rain of Heaven unto the place beneath? Or is it only given to those who take their lesson from Henry V, and disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage? Is respect something to be won, just like the game of football itself?

Was it the presence of fair nature and the absence of hard-favour’d rage that denied Mayo respect for years? “Ye’re too nice,” people from other counties would say. Your correspondent watched the Sunday Game of the 1997 Final in a village in Meath where the locals were more than a little bemused by a team that would allow itself to be beaten by one man. Being too nice hasn’t been a problem for Meath down the years.

This year, the pundits are talking about a new steel in Mayo, and there is undoubtedly a certainly solidity to the current Mayo team. But Colm McMenamon was the personification of the Mayo team of the mid-nineties, and there nothing soft about that iron man. Or think back to the second-last time Mayo played Dublin when the team’s march on the Hill turned out to be just an aperitif for the thrills to come – what was soft about those boys?

One thing that is soft, and in more ways than one, is the attitude in Mayo now that there was nothing to be done about some of the recent All-Ireland defeats. That Mayo had as much chance before Kerry in 2004 and 2006 as the frog had before the harrow. But that’s not necessarily true – there is no such thing as an unbeatable team. Ask Pep Guardiola. Ask Brian Cody. Even Jim McGuinness himself may not be quite as sure of a team’s manifest destiny as he seemed to be.

Replaying those lost-All-Irelands in the what-if torture chamber of the mind, people are now coming to the conclusion that you won’t get any of this thing, respect, until you win an All-Ireland. That respect is one of the spoils of victory.

But then, that hasn’t always been the case either. There exists such a thing as the “soft” All-Ireland, in the culture if not in the actuality. Cork’s All-Ireland in 2010 wasn’t soft, but it wasn’t exactly glorious either. How much respect does that Cork team get, really?

When you think about it, this notion of respect is like an eel. The more you think you have it, the more it’s likely to slither out of your hand and back into the river. So let’s ask another question: who’s bright idea was it that whether or not Mayo, either the team, the land or the people, were to judged by someone, somebody or something outside ourselves?

For years in Mayo, the quest for an All-Ireland title itself wasn’t enough. Not only was the All-Ireland to be won, it had to be won by a team playing “the Mayo way” – flashy, stylish, knacky football, if you like. The changes that have overtaken the ancient game in the past decade have made that less of an imperative for people, but the need for “respect” is still there, nagging.

People at matches text the folks back home at half-time to find out what Joe Brolly or Pat Spillane is saying. They rush to the pundit pages of the paper to see what the one-time greats are writing about Mayo in the hope that either the pundits are giving Mayo “respect” or, better again, that they’re not so they can be read out from the high stool later. Who crowned those jokers pope?

What right has king, Kaiser or commentator to pass judgment on the County Mayo, her land, her people or her footballers? Respect comes from deep within the soul and the mind and the heart, and not from without.

Just put the paper down for a moment, take a look around, and take note of what you see. Depending on where you are, you can see Croagh Patrick, where the Apostle of the Irish went to commune with Almighty God himself. You might see Nephin, the most beautiful of mountains, or Lough Conn, most beautiful of lakes.

You may go to Ballycastle, where men worked the land over five thousand years ago. You may go to Erris to hear the most beautiful of Irish spoken, home and wellspring of the true Irish soul, and native heath of such laochra na Gaeilge as the poet Riocárd Bairéad and the scholar Seán Ó Ruadháin.

You may go to Killala and from there to Ballina and Foxford and Castlebar, following the path of General Humbert and the banner of Napoleon, the man who brought freedom, liberty and equality from France south to Egypt and east to Poland, and did his best to bring it here. The liberty tree was planted and the Republic of Connaught declared in Castlebar in 1798 – reader, how many other counties have declared a republic and stood for freedom over tyranny? Very few.

Respect? What need has Mayo of respect, when the county is so bathed in glory? Bedeck the cars, vans and caravans with the green above the red on Saturday night and Sunday morning. March on Croke Park just as Humbert marched on Castlebar, with drums sounding and fifes playing. And when Andy Moran holds Sam high in the Hogan Stand on Sunday remember that winning this cup doesn’t redeem Mayo for past failings – it’s just a very sweet grace note on the long and beautiful melody of Mayo’s everlasting glory.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

De Dubbalin Man - a Natural History

First published in the Western People on Monday.

For all the diversity of its population, the true citizen of Dublin is convinced to his or her marrow of one fact that supersedes all others – Dublin is the greatest city in the world, and no-where else comes close. If you ask a Dubliner for a list of the greatest cities in the world, he or she will not hesitate to name his or her home town with New York, London, Paris, Rome and the rest.

Dublin is the standard against which all other things are measured. If you tell a Dubliner about the miracles of civil engineering that are the Brooklyn or Golden Gate bridges, or the rich history associated with the Pont Neuf in Paris or the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, he will concede your point out of politeness, but go on to remind you the O’Connell Bridge is actually wider than it is broad, and consider the matter settled.

Very few Dubliners have read Ulysses, but there isn’t a taxi driver in the city who will not give his oath that it’s the greatest novel ever written. The gods of Ancient Greece would have chucked their ambrosia out to the dog if only someone in Olympus could make coddle. And while Aoibheann Ní Shúilleabháin is certainly easy on the eye, for true female beauty the connoisseur should look no further than Mrs Agnes Browne. She’s a whole lotta woman, Mrs B.

Having the last word is very important to the Dublin man. It’s essential to his own self-respect that the Dublin man knows something you don’t and that he then deigns to share that something, out of the goodness of his heart.

For instance, Frank Sinatra died of a Tuesday fifteen years ago – at the time, your correspondent was desperately trying to reinvent himself by doing a FÁS course and catch up with the technological revolution. As I reached the office where the class was being held, I met a classmate, a native son of Anna Livia, outside the door, having a smoke. I told him the news, that Sinatra had been called home during the night. “Ah yeah,” said the Dub, taking a drag. “Frank Sinatra. A great man for singing.” Pause to exhale. “And dancing.”

And dancing. He couldn’t let it lie. It wasn’t in him. He was from Dublin, and I was not. He had to know something that I didn’t, and to make clear he knew. Strangely enough, he failed the course in the end – he mustn’t have known quite everything after all.

But with that sort of swagger in the city, that sort of bravado, you can imagine the regard with which the football team is held. Seán Ó Síocháin, former Árd-Stiúrthóir of the GAA, once told Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh that, before the modern information age, the worst fans in Ireland for buying programs were the Dubs. They already knew who was on their own team and they really didn’t care who was on the other team. The entire attitude of the city is summed up in that one observation.

Of course, once removed from the city, the Dubliner is a little less at his ease. He is puzzled when his culchie friends announce they want to move home, “for the sake of the kids.” He can’t understand how life can truly be lived in the absence of Clery’s, Croke Park and coddle. But he realises that his friends are culchies, after all, and feels more pity than anything.

The Dub’s own forays beyond the M50 are undertaken with same level of planning and grim-set determination as Stanley’s trip to Africa in search of Doctor Livingstone in the 19th Century. Sandwiches are packed, in case there is no food in the country. A medical bag is packed, in case there are no doctors. And most importantly of all, the driver is told to only stick to main roads insofar as that’s possible. So, if a party of Dubs are going to Westport for a big Saturday night, they will first go to Galway and hang a right. No point taking chances and breaking an axle in the tracks left by the cartwheels.

Some journalists in the national media are inclined to write how the city gets behind its boys in blue when those boys in blue are playing well, but that’s not really true. It’s been said that one of the reasons that the GAA has been so strong over the years is because of how deeply its embedded in local communities, but that is not true of Dublin.

The size of the city and the density of its population means that parish boundaries did not mean as much in the city as they did in the country. The city has always been culturally diverse – “Augustan Capital / Of a Gaelic nation,” as Louis MacNeice so eloquently put it – and the changing demographics of Ireland in the 21st Century have made it even more so.

Mayo people who have travelled long distances in the hope of a ticket but who strike out on the day should brace themselves for further disappointment when they have to repair to the pub to watch the game instead. You go in expecting a cathedral-like quiet as the congregation prepares for the greatest sporting and cultural event of the Irish year. What you get instead is Manchester City versus Manchester United, live from Eastlands on the big screen. And if you get Crystal Palace v Swansea as well, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

Dublin GAA people find this every bit as unbearable as anyone else. The true Dublin GAA people will live and die with every kick of the game on Sunday and will be well able to analyse it afterwards – one of the treats of 2006 semi-final was how well the Dublin fans handled their disappointment, and what good company they were afterwards. If this Dublin generation do win another All-Ireland, it won’t be begrudged to them by the County Mayo. Just so long as they do it next year. Any damned year, but this one. We’ve waited long enough.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

All-Ireland Football Final Preview - Mayo v Dublin

Any sensible bettor looking at this year’s All-Ireland final has to bet the draw. Dublin are even money favourites, Mayo are 6/5 but the draw returns nine clams for every single clam invested, which isn’t too bad for a result that’s often 15/2 or thereabouts in games where draws are less likely.

Right now, a draw is the nightmare prospect because the country still rings with hunting horns as the faithful search for tickets and the prospect of having to do it again chills the blood. There is something fundamentally unsatisfying about the draw too, as Darragh Ó Sé remarked in last week’s Irish Times.

However, as last Sunday week’s hurling final showed, if a draw is the difference between getting another crack at it and losing an All-Ireland that you had in your pocket, you’ll take the draw and be glad of it.

We’ll have to wait and see how the final turns out. It’s one of the most eagerly-anticipated finals in years, and will no doubt show facets as it’s played that nobody expected, as big games so often do. What is certain is that the teams are the two best in Ireland this year, that they are the best exponents of the modern game this year, and that they are so similar as regards their football if they were people you would suspect them of being twins, separated at birth.

Both Dublin and Mayo play the high-tempo game that has evolved from the blanket Tyrone introduced ten years ago. It’s a version of the Dutch total football in soccer of the 1970s, where attackers are expected to defend and defenders are expected to attack.

The criticism that sometimes appears, about it being some sort of bad thing if a back scores more than a forward, is based on dial-up football, instead of the broadband that’s currently being played.

All outfield players’ first duty is to retain possession now – if a forward catches the ball and doesn’t shoot but recycles for another man to score, that point is just as good as one the forward might have scored himself. Go back and watch the last ten minutes of the first half of Mayo v Tyrone – that’s how the game works now at the highest level.

And this is the game both Mayo and Dublin play, and play well. It’s a kind of scorpion football – the opposition are watching those great pincers in the 13 and 15 shirts, only for tail to swish forward for the kill.

The differences between the teams are slight, and balance out overall. Mayo have an advantage in experience, having played in the final last year. Dublin won in 2011, but the team has seen a lot of changes since then – perhaps too many; we’ll wait and see. Dublin have home advantage, but that home advantage has been a double-edged sword in the past. The Hill has been known to shower its heroes with scorn as well as praise when things aren’t quite working out.

Dublin have a more mobile midfield in McAuley and O’Sullivan, whereas the O’Sheas have the advantage in terms of bone and muscle. Ger Brennan has nothing like the attacking potential of Dónal Vaughan, but Brennan has those gifts that would get him a place on the great Dublin teams of the past, with such Legends of the Hill as Seán Doherty, Gay O’Driscoll and Brian Mullins. Brennan knows what he’s there to do.

Upfront, there’s more bite in Dublin. Paul Mannion is one of the stars of the year, Bernard Brogan is coming back to form, Paul Flynn is outstanding and, if he can keep his head, Diarmuid Connolly has all the talent in the world. Mayo have injury concerns over Cillian O’Connor and Andy Moran. It’s grief James Horan doesn’t need.

That said, Mayo are a little steadier at the back. Ger Brennan is undeniably slow, and his compadres are inexperienced. The Mayo defence has been forged in the flames, and their tackling this year has been a masterclass in a misunderstood art.

What, then, of the bench? Again, it’s honours even. Dublin have experienced All-Ireland medalists sitting on the bench, among them the greatest impact sub the game has seen since Jody Devine used to wear the big numbers for Meath in the mid-nineties. Mayo aren’t thin on the bench either, and have replacements for every line – a luxury denied Mayo teams of the past.

Anyone who can say with confidence how this game will pan out is using their heart more than their head. He or she either believes in Dublin in a way he or she can’t believe in Mayo, or else he or she thinks Mayo are “due,” whatever that means. Assuming that Horan has told his players that there are no circumstances in which they can start as badly as they have in previous finals – a reasonably safe assumption – that means the game is likely to be even into the final minutes.

This is a final, above all others, that will be decided by the small things. The 27th minute shot that went barely wide. When Cillian O’Connor went off. Who got carded, when, and for why.

When it’s all over, hindsight will inform judgment – Dublin’s experience carried them through, or Mayo weren’t to be denied, or a draw was the fairest result, for both teams. But reader, remember this – that’s not how it’ll look at the time. Between half-past three and five on Sunday, it’ll all be in the bounce of the ball more than anything else.

Up Mayo.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Irish Pub

First published (PUB-lished - ho, ho) in the Western People on Monday.

The trailer for a new documentary film about the Irish pub has just been released online. Movie trailers can often flatter to deceive, but this one looks like a gem.

The movie, called The Irish Pub, will be released on the fourth of October, and it documents and celebrates that cornerstone of Irish life that is the local pub. If we were Italians, we would perhaps drink thimbles of coffee while meeting our neighbours and discussing events of the day. France is noted for its street cafes, where the impossibly chic drink the impossibly expensive. But the Gael goes to the pub, for better or worse.

There are those whom drink doesn’t suit and are well advised to stay away from it. But for those who know that all things have their season the pub is a place of enchantment and wonder. If its time has passed, due to changes in culture, legislation or whatever else, we will have lost something of ourselves.

What is a pub, anyway? Is it just a place that sells drink that can be consumed on the premises? We have a notion that pubs in Ireland have been the same since old God’s time, but this isn’t true. The pub is like Gaelic football – always changing, and yet always remaining the same.

The lounge bar of the 1970s was the equivalent of the handpass in the football of that era. An interloper from another culture, designed to make the ancient pastimes more modern and appealing but interlopers that appear very strange now when we look back on them, either on TG4 Gold or bootleg boxsets of The Riordans.

In the 1970s, the lounge was as linked to the pub as the fig in the fig roll. You were very unlikely to find the one without the other. The lounge was for women or men who had washed themselves before the last full moon. The pub was for the rest of the populace. You turned left or right, according to your station in life, and drank fancy lager or old-fashioned beer and stout according to where you were.

Evolution has seen the lounge bars wither and die, and they are little mourned. The mixing of the sexes is to be encouraged and celebrated – we understand each other so little in the first place that we can’t get to know each other well enough, and a soft touch of the hard drop is great social lubricant. Unfortunately, the lounge bar, that used to be part of a pub, has mutated into an entity of its own.

It would be an insult to bars to call these places bars, as opposed to pubs. It would be more accurate to call them venues. And they’re all very well, if you like eating your dinner off a board, standing up with your arm curled around your drink to protect it, and my Lady Gaga blasting out of speakers in every blessed corner of the rom.

But don’t tell me you’re in a pub, because you really aren’t. Venues have their uses – not least of which is mopping up people who wouldn’t be much fun in a place that didn’t have enough mirrors for their needs – but pubs they’re not.

The establishments featured in The Irish Pub movie are not like this. Drawn from all over the country, including our own most excellent Leonard’s of Lahardane, with the bar on the left and the groceries on the right, the movie celebrates all that’s best about the Irish pub.

The trailer, which is only ninety seconds long, features soundbites from barmen and bar owners talking about their pubs. And they all understand that one fundamental thing about pubs that so many people don’t understand. Drink is important in a pub, of course, but it is the company that’s paramount.

There was a coffee-table book published a few years ago about the Irish pub, with lovely pictures of Victorian architecture in places like the Stag’s Head in Dublin or The Crown in Belfast. And that’s all fine, but you can’t really call a pub a pub unless there are people in it. Otherwise, it’s just a room, like any other.

For rural people, getting to the pub is an issue. It’s hard to get there and harder to get home but there is no good in sitting by yourself when the long winter draws in. We read soft chat in papers about buses for rural areas, but people don’t always realise just how expansive a route that would be. A helicopter might cover the catchment area, but I wouldn’t like to be the man or woman who has to valet the chopper after it’s been spinning people full of porter around Erris in the black dead of night, buffeted by winds from the broad Atlantic.

So why not try a bit of lateral thinking and introduce a bike-to-pub scheme, along the lines of the bike-to-work? The government pays half the price of the bicycle provided the buyer commits to using it for getting to and from the pub, where he or she may enjoy the social interaction that is unique to the culture. It would apply only in otherwise isolated rural areas where a reliable taxi service is an impossibility.

Of course, there are certain dangers inherent in cycling under the influence. The M4 is no place to be full of pints up on a bike with articulated lorries whizzing past. However, if a person were to keel over on a country road, the whitethorns and whins would first ease his fall, and then sober him up a biteen as the bushes did their thorny work. If anything, he or she would be better for the experience.

The bicycle, once so much a part of rural life, can return to the country lanes once more as the nation tops up with a few creamy ones after a hard day’s work and then cycles merrily home, bell tinkling all the way.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Education is the Only Key to the Poverty Trap

First published in the Western People on Monday.

Independent TD Denis Naughten floated an idea the week before last about making a connection between child benefit payments and a child’s educational record. The idea got no traction whatsoever, which is a pity – Denis Naughten may just have stumbled on a philosopher’s stone for a very modern problem, the problem of the poverty trap that is inherent in the welfare state.

The fundamental question of a welfare state is one of balance. In all the changes that have occurred in Ireland, there is no system of morality that suggests the less-well-off should be left to paddle their own canoes. However, legislators looking at the big picture have to ask themselves at what stage does the balance change and, instead of the state giving the less-well-off a chance to get back on their feet, the state atrophies hope, institutionalises despair and condemns the less-well-off to a fate as hopeless and without chance of improvement as that of the serfs in Imperial Russia for generation after generation?

This isn’t an Irish problem; this is one of the great questions of modern civilization. Prussia was the first country to introduce a welfare state, that is to say, a state where the government made provision for those of its citizens who could not make provision for themselves, but the it was only after the Second World War that the modern welfare state as we know it came into being. Of the major western countries, it’s only the USA that doesn’t operate a welfare state of some kind, and that’s partly to do with the balance between the balance of power between the individual US states and the federal government itself – the poor tend to fall between the cracks as each expects the other to act.

The state should have some role in looking after those who cannot help themselves. In his memoir of his time in public life, the first ever full minister for the Gaeltacht, Pat Lindsay of Gaoth Sáile, defended his creation of breac-gaeltachta, areas that were designated as Gaeltachta even though the actual level of Irish in those areas wasn’t great. As far as Lindsay was concerned, those were his own people who were suffering and if he could help them he would, and would not let insufficient expertise in the use of the Tuiseal Ginideach stand in his way.

Who would argue? Who would deny the woman of the roads her little house, with dresser, hearth and all?

The problem is that sixty and seventy years on, communities have developed that now know nothing but the welfare state. What was once a source of shame or embarrassment is as normal as having hands or feet. It’s highly politically incorrect to say so, but this is the reality. There are families in Ireland who have not had anyone working and paying taxes into the third generation. This is the poverty trap inherent in the system. A poverty of ideas and ambition as much as a poverty of material wealth.

In an earlier generation, the idea was that there was progression in society. The idea was that, even though your background was humble your opportunities were just as good as those whose backgrounds were better and if you worked hard you could change your circumstances, and guarantee a better background for your own children to enjoy.

What precise incentive exists for people in a long-term poverty trap to ensure that their children have different lives to them? Are they happy with their lives as they are? Are they worried that a change of life would alienate their children from them? Are they concerned for their children’s welfare but lack the wherewithal to effect a change?

This is where Denis Naughten’s proposal comes into its own. The only true weapon in the fight against poverty is education. It’s not money; money comes and goes. It’s education. It’s knowing what’s important and what’s not, it’s understanding delayed gratification, it’s planning for the future and it’s having skills to allow you to make more money than you could if you were unskilled.

Whatever about the prospects of adults caught in a poverty trap turning their luck around, the possibility exists for their children. But the possibility only exists through education. It’s not easy – for all the rhetoric about equality of access, children going to private schools will always have a jump start – but while not easy it is possible.

The problem is that people in a long-term poverty trap don’t always realise the difference that education can make to their children’s future, for any or all of the reasons already mentioned. They may not put the same pressure on their children to attend school as other parents do, they may not monitor homework, there may be other issues at home.

Denis Naughten’s proposal addresses all this. At a stroke it deals with people claiming family benefit who do not have children in Ireland at all, and it reminds parents of the vital importance of their children’s education by hitting them in exactly that spot where we all feel it the most – the pocket. A generation later an area that was a wasteland could be thriving, and populated with people who will pass on the value of education to their children and their children’s children.

Not only that, it also sets a bar for state intervention. It’s been the case when family tragedies occur that the newspapers ask why didn’t the State intervene sooner, and the State invariable shrugs and says but sure we didn’t know. If Denis Naughten’s idea is taken seriously, we will have a number of flags in the system that will help identify real problem families and concentrate resources on them.

Are there sticking-points? Of course. There are several details that have to be ironed out, but the kernel of Naughten’s idea is excellent. It identifies education as the single best thing the state can provide to a child, it rewards responsible parents who school their children well and it identifies problem families where full State intervention is needed. Well done, Denis Naughten, and more luck to you.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Brian Cowen - An Fear Gan Aithne Air

Theip ar Brian Cowen mar Thaoiseach go h-uile is go h-iomlán. Is léir sin do chách. Ach an rud nach léir d'éinne ná cén fáth gur theip air chomh dóna sin? Cén fáth nach bhfuil cara dá laghad ann a sheasfaidh leis anois? Cén fáth nach bhfuil aon duine ann a rachaidh ina chosaint?

Tá an t-Iar-Thaoiseach sa nuacht arís agus agallamh leis chun chraoladh i gceann dhá lá. Tháinig scéalta ón agallamh - ar Chomhrá, ar TG4 - amach sa meáin an seachtain seo caite. Ní dúirt sé go raibh brón air, a thuairiscíodh. Cén fáth nach bhfuil brón air?

Ní raibh suim ag éinne sa méid a dúirt sé - ag fánacht ar an dólás amháin a bhí na meáin. Ní raibh spéis dá laghad acu le cad a bhí le rá ag Cowen, agus ní raibh ó 2008 nuair a tharla an tubáiste.

A leitheoir dhílis, an bhfuil fios agat cad é an rud is spéisiúla domsa maidir le filleadh gairid Brian Cowen sa saol pobail? Go ndearna sé as Gaeilge é.

Cén fáth Comhrá ar TG4? Is é Brian Cowen atá i gceist - dá gcuirfeadh sé glaoch gutháin ar eagarthóir ar bith in Éirinn beidh an príomh-leathanach aige agus gach leathanach istigh mar ba mhaith leis. Brian Cowen ab ea an chéad aoi ar an Late Late Show le Ryan Tubridy - nach síleann tú go mbeadh an dara fáilte ag Tubs dó? Cad faoi Marian, máthair faoistine na bpolaiteoirí le sách fada an lá? Cad faoi Pat Kenny, agus a chlár nua ar Newstalk?

Ach níor bhac Cowen le éinne acu. Shuigh sé síos le Máirtín Tom Sheáinín Mac Donnacha, fear atá chomh fada le galántacht Bhleá Cliath 4 mar ab fhéidir a shamháil.

Is dócha go bhfuil an tuairim amach go raibh fíos ag Cowen go ngeobhadh sé agallamh níos boige ná mar a gheobhach sé ó Marian nó Pat Kenny. B'fhéidir. Ach rinne Tubs iarracht a thaispeáint go raibh carraigeacha aige san agallamh úd sin ar an Late Late ach níor bhuail Tubs sonc dá laghad ar Cowen. Is é Brian Cowen an fear a rinne agallamh ar Morning Ireland agus póit damnaithe air - má tá peacaí air, níl faitíos roimh an micreafón ina measc.

Tá go leor rún ann maidir leis an Taoiseach is míchlúití riamh. Cén fáth gur theip air chomh dona? Cén fáth go raibh sé chomh soineanta maidir le cúrsaí polaitiúla, ina bhfuil an blás níos tábhachtaí ná an briathar, mar a bhí sé? Cén fáth gur chaill sé a ghuth nuair a cheapadh ina Thaoiseach é? Bhí clú ar Brian Cowen roimh a cheannaireacht gurb é ceann de na polaiteoirí is cliste sa nDáil, go raibh meas ag an lucht polaitiúla air mar pholaiteoir agus mar fhear smaointe. Cén fáth ansin go bhfuil an tuairim amach go docht daingean anois gurb amadán an bhaile é?

Cén fáth, cén fáth, cén fáth. Tá scéal mór le insint, agus cinnte an leabhar polaitiúla na hÉireann is fearr le scríobh ag Brian Cowen, más mian leo. Ach tá sé damnaithe deacair a thuiscint cad is mian leis an Taoiseach rúnda seo.

Seachas rud amháin. Tá rud amháin cinnte faoi Cowen tríd is tríd, ón a chéad lá mar Taoiseach go dtí an lá a d'fhógraigh sé an toghchán ina bhain an pobal a ndíoltas amach air, go dtí an agallamh seo le Máirtín Tom Sheáinín a chraolfar i gceann dhá lá. Is fear tírghách go smíor é, agus meas sách laidir ar chultúr agus ar teanga na nGael.

Tá súil agam go scríobhfaidh sé an leabhair. Agus má scríobhfaidh, scríobhfaidh sé as Gaeilge é.