Monday, April 29, 2013

Aodhan Ó Ríordáin and the Urban-Rural Divide

The fact that Aodhan Ó Ríordáin is pro-choice in the matter of abortion is only news to people for whom it’s news that ducks have feathers. What else would he be? What else could he be?

Equally, the fact that Ó Ríordáin chooses to be discrete – until last summer, of course – about how he shares this information isn’t really news either. He is an Irish politician, after all. There may be some of that vocation to whom you could feed a five pound bag of nails and not expect five pounds of corkscrews to be egested after due time, but my goodness there wouldn’t be many.

What is much more jaw-dropping is Ó Ríordáin’s attitude to people from County Monaghan and, presumably, most of that place outside Dublin that the general population think of as “Ireland.” He’s not gone on them, to say the least.

Ó Ríordáin’s wife is from Monaghan and it seems that he finds going up to visit the Farney folk something of a trial. Ó Ríordáin remarks, in the course of his gloriously indiscreet interview in yesterday's Sunday Independent, that “I go up there and sometimes I just scratch my head at some of the . . . just the . . .”

Words fail him at the horrors he’s seen. You can imagine him holding his nose walking down the streets of Castleblaney or Clones, pinkie extended, alternately horrified at the milieu to which he’s exiled yet still able to marvel at the local yokels walking upright and what not.

Not that he’ll be going back anytime soon, of course. Someone from the cast of Tallaghtfornia has a better chance of solving Fermet's Last Theorem than Ó Ríordáin has of seeing the next dawn should he choose to enjoy a Saturday night pint in the Busted Sofa in Clones or anywhere like it. In fact, the thing most likely to keep him intact in Monaghan may be a belief among the Farneymen that it’s Ó Ríordáin’s wife’s people who should have first claim on satisfaction. But the silver-tongued socialist might be better off not chancing it, just in case.

Not that a Monaghan exile would be any great sacrifice to him, judging by his comments. Ó Ríordáin seems to be a prime specimen of that peculiar type of Dubliner for whom the existence of some sort of rural rump anywhere outside of Dublin is something of a mystery.

The continent exists for weekends away and wine-tasting, Great Britain for setting a certain tone and standard, you know, and the United States for Macy’s department store. But for Ó Ríordáin and his tribe, that strange place north, south and west of the M50 is like one of those medieval maps that show nothing but great empty spaces, speckled here and there with bendy dragons, fierce and fire-breathing.

It’s a peculiar trait of the Dubliner to be insular even amongst his own. This is true across all social divides. A fellow from Finglas could live his whole life and never visit Cabra, even though it’s the next parish to him. A native of Terenure might get lost in neighbouring Templeogue, and have to turn his jacket inside out in order to break the spell and come safely home again.

But the insularity between urban (meaning Dublin, by the way – try telling a Dubliner that you are not a culchie because you’re Cork, say, and Cork is also a city, and see how far it gets you) and rural Ireland is more pronounced among the middle than the working class. Not that the working class particularly care for culchies, of course, but loyalty to the GAA and some of the tropes of republicanism cause a certain nostalgia when they hear of places like Aughrim, Kilmichael or the lonely Banna Strand.

For the middle classes though, Ó Ríordáin’s attitude is not at all uncommon. They are charmed to see Munster rugby players wearing the emerald green of Erin but Marian is always more likely to ring Brian O’Driscoll’s pater before a game than Paul O’Connell’s. And of course, if there were no culchies, who would populate the Garda Síochána, and hold the line marked by the river Liffey?

But the notion of being in the actual culchie heartland, far away from Fade Street or the Dundrum Town Centre – well, it doesn’t bear thinking about. “I just scratch my head,” as Aodhan Ó Ríordáin so eloquently put it.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

There is No Free Press Without Regulation

Greybeards and seanfhondóirí who remember the ‘nineties can’t help but to have been a little bemused by the alliance formed by Eamon Dunphy and Pat Kelly on Pat Kenny’s radio show the other day. The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has issued a code of conduct for broadcasters in Ireland. In response, Pat and Eamon teamed up to pretty much pour scorn on the whole idea before Michael O’Keeffe, chairman of the BAI, who didn’t really land a glove in his own proposals’ defence over twenty minutes.

What made the mouths of those greybeards grin beneath their grizzled whiskers was the memory of an article Eamon Dunphy wrote about Pat Kenny on the back page of the Sunday Independent in the early-to-mid ‘nineties, when Dunphy was the Designated Boot Boy of that particular organ. Unfortunately, the article can’t be quoted here as research shows this blog is sometimes read by children but take An Spailpín’s word for it – by the time Dunphy was finished kicking the stuffing out of Plank (sic) Kenny, there wasn’t enough of poor Pat left to put in a teaspoon and send back to his people.

Dunphy’s profile of Pat Kenny was utterly vicious. A stomping the like of which you rarely see. Appropriate to Pol Pot, maybe, or Stalin or Hitler. But not to TV show host who wore a jumper on his chat show.

And now here they were, kicked and kicker as bosom buddies, defending the right of the broadcasters to make their own decisions without interference from the dastardly BAI. Proof that principles come and go, but show business goes on forever.

It was a pity that Michael O’Keeffe wasn’t a bit more ready for them. He came across like a substitute teacher from whom naughty children have detected the smell of fear, and are determined to reduce to tears in the time allotted to them.

O’Keeffe should have pointed out that neither Kenny nor Dunphy are against regulation, per se. It’s just that they themselves are the ones who wanted to do the regulating, rather than someone else. Scholars will remember the ancient world had the same attitude to slavery; people had no objection in principle, as long as it was not they themselves who were the actual slaves.

Kenny and Dunphy found the proposed BAI regulations too constrictive. The found the forbidding of TV or radio show host to express his or her own opinion terrible, one of them remarking that such a regulation would put George Hook out of a job.

Like this would somehow be a bad thing.

And O’Keeffe took all this on the chin. What he could have said, of course, is that there are two words that prove that the broadcasters do indeed need a regulatory authority over them – The Frontline, and see what Pat Kenny made of them apples.

Not much, probably, but the facts are clear. Sean Gallagher had one foot in the Áras at half-nine on that Monday night, by midnight his head was cut clean off. No head has rolled. Not one.

The Chairman of the RTÉ Board is married to the most powerful spindoctor in the country. They say it doesn’t matter, because they never talk about work at home.

[And may An Spailpín take a moment to repeat again that the house does not belong to me. It belongs to my wife. A complete different person. Sure I barely know the woman, I don’t know why you people in the Revenue keep busting my nuts over it].

And so on, and on, and on. Of course it’s necessary for journalists to hold politicians to account, but journalists are also part of that same dance in the public square. Journalists have to be held to account too.

The BAI proposals aren’t perfect. They may not even be good. But that they are necessary in as clubby a society as Ireland’s is beyond all shadow of a doubt.

Monday, April 08, 2013

The Labour Party's Zero-Sum Game

Mr Colm Keaveney, Chairman of the Labour Party, had something interesting to say in the Sunday Independent yesterday. The paper quotes Keaveney as saying that “the recent defections from the party are in no way co-ordinated. They are simply the organic expression of the dissatisfication with certain aspects of our behaviour in government.”

Which then should have been followed by the question of why aren’t they co-ordinated? What’s the point in not co-ordinating them? Why not get the whole thing over with?

The Labour Party is falling to bits and is looking at the same root in the seat of the pants from the electorate at next year’s local elections as the electorate delivered Fianna Fáil in the general election, and it’s every socialist for him or herself from here on in.

Labour promised the devil and all before the election – tables thumped in Brussels, no education cuts, bondholders burned at the stake, clear skies, dry turf, hot weather and lashings of the cold, wet porter. That’s not quite how it turned out, and someone’s got to pay.

The someone being Eamon Gilmore, whom Labour were touting for Taoiseach until about seven to ten days before polling, when they realised they were cooked and would take what they could get. Now, Gilmore is going to get the blame. It’s not entirely fair but life isn’t fair and politics is even less fair again. Besides; this isn’t the party’s first time to go looking for a head.

The division in party is so heated now that there must be a reckoning or the party will explode entirely. A tweet yesterday from SenatorJohn Whelan shows just how bad things are: “Susan O Keeffe's attempts to discredit Nessa Childers and to suggest she is a closet Fianna Failer on Marian Finnucane is despicable.”

Not only is “despicable” an extremely strong word to use about a member of your own party but the veteran ex-journalist’s fury is so intense that not only does he misspell “Finucane” but he also fails to have his subject (“attempts”) agree with his verb (“is”). This is unprecedented stuff.

But the real problem for Labour is that even if Eamon Gilmore is rolled away to his political doom by Labour’s sans-culottes, it won’t make a blind bit of difference to anyone bar Gilmore himself.

If Gilmore gets the chop, the party can go two ways. It can appoint Joan Burton as leader on the basis of her being the obvious successor, or it can get radical and appoint Keaveney himself, as some sort of Irish Hugo Chavez.

If the members appoint Burton, nothing changes. What’s she going to do that will be different, other than dance a long-awaited jig on Gilmore’s remains? What can she do? She can move Gilmore’s mates out of cabinet and her own in, but business will continue as before in every other respect.

If the party appoint Keaveney or some likewise radical, things do change. The problem is they do not change for the better.

If a Keaveney-ite Labour party emerges to kick up about the Troika and austerity, how do they get on with Fine Gael in Government? They don’t, is the short answer. The government falls, and there’s an election that returns a Dáil of – what, exactly? Labour drop a few seats, but perhaps not as many as they are currently on course to do. Fine Gael drop a few, but not that many either. Fianna Fáil pick up a few but not enough to return them to Government after the massacre of 2011.

And then there’s all-out war – ahem – between Sinn Féin and God knows what sort of collection of raggle-taggle independents for a third of the seats in parliament. How in God’s name will anyone form a government out of that feral lunacy?

Chances are, they won’t. The Troika will have to continue for another five years while the Teachtaí Dhála roll about in the mud. And then maybe, just maybe, the penny will drop for the Irish people and they’ll realise that the current electoral system has failed and reform means more than reducing the Presidential term and scrapping the Seanad. It’s a slim hope, but right now the nation must clutch at such straws as it can get.