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.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Eamon Dunphy and Official Ireland

A working-class hero is something to be

Eamon Dunphy helped elect two Irish governments. No small achievement for anybody. For a man who made his name by claiming not to be part of “Official Ireland,” it’s surely something of a miracle.

Dunphy details his first involvement in government formation in his (relatively) recent autobiography, The Rocky Road. It’s in the first few pages, should anybody feel like a browse – investing in the book cannot be recommended.

The year is 1993. Dessie O’Malley, the great nearly man of Irish politics, has resigned as leader of the party he founded, the Progressive Democrats. The succession is between two people – Pat Cox, and Mary Harney.

Harney is convinced that she is much more popular nationally than Cox. But Cox is the definition of a smooth operator, and the PD parliamentary party is in love with him. What is Mary Harney to do?

She explains the situation to a close personal friend. Eamon Dunphy was then writing a much-discussed column on the back page of the Sunday Independent, in which he used to butcher such persons in public life as the editor deemed worthy of butchering.

Harney told Dunphy that she knew, just knew, that she was the popular choice, but how to convince the PD parliamentary party? Dunphy discussed the situation with the editor and deputy editor of the Sunday Independent at the time, and persuaded them to run an opinion poll on who was the public’s choice for Dessie O’Malley’s successor. They were reluctant, but Dunphy was a star at the paper and he got his way.

The poll showed that Mary Harney was indeed the people’s choice. She beat Pat Cox for the leadership, and went on to lead PDs into the 1997 coalition with Fianna Fáil that shaped contemporary Ireland as we currently know it.

And all because of Eamon Dunphy. If she and Dunphy weren’t friends, if Dunphy hadn’t been able to get that poll run in the Sunday Independent, Pat Cox would have become leader of the PDs and the history of the past twenty-five years could be different.

That’s power. And fifteen years later, Dunphy anointed another Irish political leader.

Shane Ross was part of the Irish political wallpaper for thirty years. He was first elected to the Seanad in 1981, and used to make speeches to nobody in the way that Irish Senators do. He was also Business Editor of the Sunday Independent, where he wrote columns about how the boom could only get boomier.

By the time the boom went bust, Eamon Dunphy had reinvented himself yet again. His Sindo bootboy column having gone stale, Dunphy was a radio news/discussion show presenter with a Janus-like presence. Janus was the Roman god of beginnings and endings; representations of Janus show the god with two faces, one facing left, one facing right.

Dunphy’s radio persona worked the same way. He still carried himself as the gunfighter, the outsider, the sworn enemy of “Official Ireland.” His actual interviewing style was a most peculiar sort of soft-soap, once both fawning and leading.

Those he once excoriated in the Sindo were now leaders of the revolution that would build the new Ireland. A typical Dunphy question at the time would be “Martin McGuinness, is it not the case that you are building a brave new Ireland?” to which McGuinness could but reply why yes, Eamon, yes, I am.

And then the crash happened in 2008, and Dunphy found a new hero. His former Sindo colleague, Shane Ross.

Dunphy always addressed Ross as Senator in those radio interviews, continuing the Roman theme. “Senator Ross,” he would ask/direct, “is it not the case that official Ireland has acted disgracefully in the matter of the Bank guarantee and that you would have done a much better job had you only been in charge?” Why yes, Eamon. Yes, I would.

And now Senator Ross is in charge. Could Shane Ross have got elected without Dunphy folding Ross into his rebel’s cloak? Of the many reinventions in Irish public life, surely Shane Ross as the Champion of the Common Man is the most remarkable.

When Europe was ruled by kings and emperors, it was the powers behind the thrones that called the shots. Bismarck for Germany, Metternich for Austria, Martens for Imperial Russia. Ireland is a long way from such power, but for one man to have played so prominent a role in forming two governments says something.

This lad Dunphy is a cod. Eamon Dunphy is as much part of "Official Ireland" as dodgy planning permission and guards that lose their phones at inopportune moments. Dunphy's role points out just how innocent, vulnerable and childishly-easily manipulated a people we are, and how very far from being a functional democracy this country is. God help us all.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Liadh Ní Riada Can Win Sinn Féin the Presidency

Sinn Féin can claim an astonishing double-result this autumn if they contest the Presidency. Firstly, they can strike another devastating blow to Fianna Fáil, who were too quick to row in behind a second term for President Higgins. But more importantly, by selecting Liadh Ní Riada as their candidate, Sinn Féin can make a profound statement of nationalism and Irish identity, the kind of which we haven’t heard in at least half-a-century.

Why Ní Riada? Because of who she is and what she represents.

Liadh Ní Riada is the daughter of Seán Ó Riada, the man who saved Irish music from doom in the early 1960s. We have made a bags of many, many things as an independent state among the nations of the world, but two things we have to show for ourselves are our games and our music.

Before Seán Ó Riada, people were ashamed of the music. It was strictly for hicks. What made the difference was the music’s embrace by Ó Riada, because Ó Riada came from the classical tradition. He knew the table settings, as it were.

Ó Riada recognised traditional music’s inherent dignity, and brought it to the concert hall. And people who had thought nothing of the music heard the orchestration of Róisín Dubh that Ó Riada did for Mise Éire and thought: hold on – is that us? To echo Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Irish Nation suddenly realised that this music, which they had considered a joke, poor potsherd, was actually immortal diamond and worthy of admiration all over the world.

Ó Riada founded Ceoltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, from whom came the Chieftains. The Clancys and the Dubliners were the beloved sons of the masses but without the Chieftains the music would have sunk back to obscurity. Instead, it lives, survives and thrives.

Seán Ó Riada himself cannot run for the presidency. He died young, in 1971, two months after his fortieth birthday. But Liadh Ní Riada, in coming where she’s from and in being who she is, can be the avatar of what Ó Riada believed in, an Ireland Gaelic, united and free.

Because what does the President do, really? The office is the vestigial tail of the Lord Lieutenancy. It’s either a retirement home or a springboard to a cushy job in the UN or the Vatican (although that’s not going so well lately).

Perhaps the most important role of the Presidency is in telling us who we are, in being an avatar for the nation. And what better avatar than someone who believes in the causes for which independence was won, at the cost of so much blood?

At a time when it’s so hard to say what it is that makes us different, why Ireland deserves nationhood, why, God spare us, the island should be united under one flag, would it be so bad to return to first principles?

Even if she were not to win, Liadh Ní Riada could do her party some service in landing another kick to the prone body of what was once the mightiest force in Irish politics, the Fianna Fáil party.
Fianna Fáil was once renowned for its profound political sense.

DeValera said he only had to look into his heart to know what the nation was thinking. But that political sense is entirely absent from the party now as it lurches from one disaster to another.

The confidence-and-supply agreement was a good move. But everybody knew it was, to echo a phrase of the past, “a temporary little arrangement”. There was no way it could be long-lasting, because there would come a threshold when such kudos available to Fianna Fáil for putting the country first by supporting a government would all have been gained.

After that, the pendulum swings in the other direction, and Fianna Fáil gets all the blame for being in government, and none of the benefit. Fianna Fáil were always going to pull the plug.

Except they didn’t. Opportunities arose one by one, and passed by one by one as Mícheál Martin steadfastly refused to take advantage. The revelations about the Gardaí making up traffic violation reports was the sort of dream chance that oppositions of other eras requested from Santa in their Christmas letters, and still Fianna Fáil held fire.

And now, it is they who have presented an open goal to Sinn Féin, in a misunderstanding of both the age and the current political situation.

Our is a populist age. It an age of clearing swamps, and giving voices back to the people. It is an age of distrust of the establishment and cosy deals among the members of same.

Not only have Fianna Fáil backed President Higgins for a second term, they have done so absolutely, positively, with no way to back down. With Fianna Fáil now backed into a corner - the last place any sensible politician wants to be -  Sinn Féin can now run a candidate that hits Fianna Fáil in both the head and the guts.

The head, by making Sinn Féin look like a party more interested in what the people think than what is convenient for the establishment. The guts, by fielding a candidate who will be a siren song to the traditional vote of the (once) Republican Party.

Can Ní Riada win? Reader, she can win on the first count. She doesn’t even need to say anything. All they need do is play this at her rallies and the Park is hers. Go n-éirí léi.