Friday, January 31, 2014

Journalists Their Own Worst Enemy in Libel Reform

First published in the Western People on Monday.

Frank Sinatra cared little for journalists. “All day long, they lie in the sun,” he said once. “Then they get up, and they lie some more.”

Ouch. Thanks for that, Mr S. But despite Old Blue Eyes’ disdain, journalism has a vital role to play in a democracy. What a pity then that the profession is betrayed on two sides in contemporary Ireland – unfair libel laws on the one hand, and extraordinarily scurrilous journalism on the other.

What is news? News is something that is in the public interest, something that the public are better off knowing than not knowing. But the public interest is not always what the public is interested in.

News in the public interest is like eating broccoli – you don’t like the stuff, but you know it’s good for you, and so you chomp it down regardless. News the public is interested in is like eating sweets – you could happily munch them all day every day, but if you do you shouldn’t be surprised when your teeth fall out and you need a block and tackle to get into your trousers in the morning.

The coverage of a recent alleged murder in Dublin is a case in point of news that is not in the public interest at all. Some newspapers spared no detail in giving the very gory details of the death, a standard of journalism that makes journalists the kind of people who are looked down on by money-lenders, three-card-trick men and ticket touts.

A man died violently, and another man is accused of his murder. What more do you need to know? We are none of us better off wallowing in gory details. All that happens when we do that is that our lives have got that little bit cheaper, and our world that little bit meaner.

Where journalism is meant to come into its own is in telling people what’s going on and keeping them informed about the world, both near and far. The whole idea of democracy is that the voter is in a position to make an informed decision. When the voter doesn’t have time to read every Ministerial Brief or EU Directive, he or she expects the press to report on these things fairly and accurately, leaving the citizens to make up their own minds now that they’ve been informed.

That, at least, is the theory. There have been tremendous successes in journalism, but most of those are in cultures where press freedom is either long established, such as Britain, or constitutionally guaranteed, such as the United States. In Ireland, it’s trickier, and that’s to do with the libel laws.

The principle of libel law is that every person is entitled to his or her good name. This is not something that any rational person would disagree with, as anyone who has been traduced can tell you. However. It’s one thing to respect someone’s good name. It’s another to give them 100% of the benefit of the doubt, especially when awkward questions just won’t go away.

Finding the correct balance is the trick. Balancing the individual’s right to a good name with the public’s right to be fully informed on matters of the public interest. Right now, the balance favours the rich, the powerful and the comfortable and that’s not how it should be. Everything else favours those three groups; why should the press as well? Who stands for the ordinary citizen?

Just how much the balance favours the rich, the powerful and the comfortable, and how the people suffer for that, can be seen from one of the most telling images in contemporary Irish politics – Trevor Sargent waving a cheque he had been sent from a developer during a Dublin City Council meeting in the 1990s, and his being stormed by a mob of fellow councillors trying to get him to stop.

At no stage during the contemporary reporting of that incident were any of the councillors who attacked Sargent named. If journalists saw them do it, and if those same journalists were covering every council meeting, there’s no way the press couldn’t have known who the misbehaving councillors were. But their names never appeared in print when it could have made a difference.

The reason being that it would not take long for a lawyer to make a case that, by naming the councillors, a paper was implying they were somehow guilty of wrongdoing, and that would be a terrible suggestion to make.

In a better-regulated press, such an allegation would not be presumed. The story would have been that Sargent waved a cheque, and Tom, Dick and Harry tried to get it off him. Why Tom, Dick and Harry would do that is up to themselves to answer, but that Tom, Dick and Harry actually did it is something the public has a right to know. There would be no obligation on the press to stand over the worst-case scenario. The press would be entitled to put the question out there, in the public interest.

The tight constraints of the libel law mean that the corruption that was going on in Dublin City Council was let go on for far longer than would have happened in a country with a freer press. Planning corruption is not a minor crime; planning corruption is one of the reasons people are living in Blanchardstown instead of Ballina, why childcare is so expensive, why hospitals are closing in the west and so on and on and on.

The press has a duty to point to incidents and say: there are questions to answer here; this is something the people need to be aware of. And the press should have leeway to raise the question, rather than put together a hard and fast case that stands up in a court of law against the assaults of the best lawyers money can buy.

Press freedom is a democratic necessity. But every time a paper goes into the gory detail of a murder, or reports on the private life of somebody that is nobody’s business but that somebody’s own, they cut themselves off at the knees by giving the enemies of press freedom a stick with which to beat them. It’s a crying shame.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The National Football League - Sure Lookit, It Is What It Is

There’s an ad currently on the radio currently to promote the National Leagues. All well and good, except that it sounds like it was written by someone who was never at a National League game in his or her life. Or if he or she was, he or she certainly had no idea of what was going on for the duration of the event.

Presumably, the GAA is trying to orient itself as a competitor against other sports entertainment products (rugby, in other words; the LOI isn’t likely to have the Croke Park mandarins trembling in their boots anytime soon) currently available to the Irish consumer.

If that’s the plan it’s a bad one, for two reasons. The first is that the GAA will lose. Professional sports can make demands of professional players that the GAA cannot and – hopefully – would not dream of doing. Rugby, even with that watery Magners League, can put on a show that the GAA just can’t. I believe they even have bucks to tell the crowd when to cheer now. Every detailed covered, the rugby lads.

The real pity about it though, is that the GAA doesn’t have to compete. The GAA is like nothing else on earth. It touches Irish people in ways and places that they can’t describe. And it would make more sense for the GAA to celebrate its own uniqueness, rather than trying to sell a spirit-duplicated copy of someone else’s game.

The conventional formulae of advertising are not best suited to selling the National Football League, the Zeppo Marx of the Irish sports calendar, to the expectant masses. Stuff about “brace yourself for impact when titans collide” doesn’t really describe the atmosphere in somewhere like St Conleth’s Park, that tight little bandbox of a stadium by the banks of the Liffey in Newbridge in early February, or the strangely lonesome feeling you get in your bones on a cold, floodnight night in O’More Park, Portlaoise or Pearse Stadium, Salthill, on nights when titans collide but no-one turns up to look.

The closest your correspondent has ever been to Páirc Uí Chaoimh is watching old footage of Siamsa Cois Laoi from the 1970s, but if you were to tell me the place is pretty much like the poop deck of the Marie Celeste for any of Cork’s League’s games – well, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

The League isn’t for winning, either. Every February, there’s a unanimous chorus in the media and from the GAA managers who drone on about the importance of the League but if you’re playing for the big pot, the League is only a training ground and nothing else.

It’s only in the lower Divisions, III and IV, that you see real competition, as everybody knows you’re not going to last long in the summer if you’re only cutting your teeth against the Wicklows and Waterfords of this world in the springtime. But for the big dogs, for all their rhetoric, it’s no real skin of their nose if they never win a League game so long as they’re set better for the summer in May than they were at the butt end of January.

Getting relegated, of course, wouldn’t be good, but it doesn’t have to be a disaster either. If Mayo, say, got relegated, while James Horan might need a bodyguard for a few months until the notoriously volatile support got over it, it would be worth it if the price of relegation were figuring out a way to get the O’Shea brothers and Barry Moran all starting together. Or if Horan found a bit of company for Cillian O’Connor in the forwards, where some old soldiers are surely burning a little diesel at this stage.

Paddy Power, when not making fools of themselves in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, have Dublin hot favorites to retain their National League title at 6/4 with 4/1 the field, headed by Mayo, Tyrone and Kerry. Westmeath and Derry, the two promoted counties from last year, are favorites to drop right back down again, with O’Byrne Cup winners Kildare at 13/8 to start missing the Geezer very quickly.

Even at that short price, Dublin to win the League is not a bad bet. The huge Dublin panel gives Jim Gavin options that no other manager has, and his problem isn’t whom to start but whom to leave on the bench.

However. A notion is now abroad that a Dublin dynasty is about to rule the land for the next five or ten years, and your correspondent isn’t quite convinced. Certainly, this is the best Dublin team since Kevin Heffernan’s time, God be good to him, but five-year navy-and-blue Reich is by no means a sure thing.

Dublin have a huge panel, but there are men on whom Dublin are heavily reliant, with Stephen Cluxton the most obvious of those. Michael Dara McAuley is another, and the volatile but gifted Diarmuid Connolly is a third. Dublin could be a different team if those men weren’t to start. They’d still stroll Leinster, of course, but Dublin could be suddenly vulnerable in those games of inches in August, when presence or absence of talisman can make the difference between and losing.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The summer is a long time away and in the meantime, we have to content ourselves with the League. For all the muttering in Mayo, the All-Ireland finalists will be disappointed with anything less than both points in Newbridge on Sunday, leaving just another three to be found from the remaining six games to guarantee safety. Westmeath and Derry must win their first games or else their years could be over before Valentine’s Day, while the others in Division I are likely to just keep on keeping on.

Division II looks quite competitive this year, with only two to come out of Donegal, Meath, Ulster Champions Monaghan, Down and Galway. If they don’t make it, at least they’ll learn something playing each other.

In Division III Sligo and Roscommon will be desperate to escape while Cavan surely want to build on momentum built last summer as the Kraken prepares to finally awake after all these long years.

As for Division IV, best leave that to the always sublime Keith Duggan in this marvellous profile of Leitrim’s great Emyln Mulligan in Saturday’s Irish Times. The radio copywriter could do with a read of it too – he or she might learn something about the true titans of the Association.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Where Does the Buck Stop in Ireland?

First published in the Western People on Monday.

Harry Truman, the thirty-third President of the United States, used to have a sign on his desk that read: “The buck stops here.” The idea was that if something went so wrong that its causality could be traced all the way back to the President, then the President would take the blame. He was the man ultimately in charge, after all.

Where does that sign sit in Ireland in 2014? Where does the buck stop? Who, exactly, is in charge? As controversy swirls around three separate debacles – the Limerick City of Culture, the pylon menace and Irish Water – the sovereign people are no wiser about who’s responsible for these messes, and have no reason to believe that they won’t happen over and over again. Which is the single most depressing part about these stories.

Ballyhea is a townland in Cork, just outside Charleville, where the locals have been protesting the bank bailout for the past three years, and mean to continue. During the Dáil debate before Christmas on the Troika’s exit, many speakers made a point of extolling the Ballyhea protest as an example of heroism in the face of oppression.

But it’s not heroic. The Ballyhea protest is a complete waste of time. Spilled milk doesn’t go back into the bottle, the toothpaste doesn’t go back in the tube, Pat McEneany will never declare the 1996 All-Ireland Final null and void and the GAA will never offer a replay. It’s over.

If people want to get busy, if people want to focus their rage at the events of the past decade or more, they have to look forward and not back. We got badly stung by the crash. Surely we can salvage something by making sure the same mistakes will never happen again?

That’s what’s so particularly depressing about the Limerick City of Culture, Eirgrid and Irish Water controversies. Because it appears that we have learned nothing at all over five years of austerity. Nothing in the wide and earthly.

The new year’s daisy chain of disaster first came to public notice when Karl Wallace, artistic director of the Limerick City of Culture, threw the rattle and quit the job, thus notifying the nation that there was a Limerick City of Culture in the first place. As the tale unfolded, it turns out that there are a number of people in charge of the Limerick City of Culture but none of them seem actually responsible for anything.

It seems Karl Wallace resigned because he didn’t like the CEO, Patricia Ryan’s, attempt to censor some rap act. As Limerick’s chief current claims to artistic fame and achievement are the shopping-bag-headed Rubber Bandits, Ms Ryan will have her work cut out if she plans to censor those buckaroos. It’ll be like having Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd on stage by the time she’s finished – silent comedians.

On a national scale, we’ll get over the Limerick City of Culture. The pylon business is more worrying, because it looks now as though it will be a major issue in the local elections. People are upset, and crafty politicians are taking their chance.

Whatever about the rights or wrongs or the pylon issue, it is a fact that rural depopulation is one of the scourges of modern Ireland. It sometimes feels like the country is being funnelled either into Dublin, where all the multi-nationals, and therefore jobs, are, or else people are packing their bags and going to the other side of the world, the further away the better.

Jobs at home would stop this, and better power supply would help create those jobs in Mayo, and in Connacht, and in the rest of rural Ireland. It took the independent state fifty years, from 1923 to 1973, to bring electricity to all parts of the twenty-six counties. For a government to turn so many rural communities against rural electrification is an achievement similar to getting Aiden O’Shea to swap football for dressage. It’s a waste of his talents, it serves no good purpose and it’s kind of tough on the horse.

And then, there is the five of trumps sitting pretty in our hand, Irish Water, the nation’s latest quango. Reader, you are probably sick of reading about it already. The top brass of Irish Water spent two days before the Environment Committee and the Public Accounts Committee, with a net result of zero. Nothing changed.

The most insightful remark of the week came from an unusually subdued Luke “Ming” Flanagan of Roscommon-South Leitrim, who remarked “it is very handy to dish all of the dirt on Irish Water as that is how things work in this country. The HSE was set up in order that we could dish the dirt on somebody else when it came to health matters. That is how the country works.”

And it’s that simple. The issue is now politically dead. Whatever you think about how Irish Water was set up, fees paid to consultants, whether or not anyone knows the difference between contractors or consultants, how contracts were awarded, cost bases, bonuses and the whole shooting match you might as well tell the dog or the cat for all the difference it’ll make. It’s business as usual in the corridors of power.

And this is what people have to think about now. Not so much for the elections this summer, but for the general election of 2015 or 2016. The mantra last time out was change, change, change. The Limerick City of Culture, Eirgrid and Irish Water stories suggest it’s all the same, same, same. What are we going to do about it?

Are we going to throw our hands up and say they’re all the same, isn’t it the Germans that are running the show anyway? Or, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, will the people say, no more? We don’t care about the voting age, equal marriage or the term of the Presidency. We just want a Government that won’t waste our money. Is that so much to ask?

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Hunger Games' Katniss Everdeen is an Excellent Role Model

First published in the Western People on Monday.

Positive role models for girls and young women are thin on the ground in our current culture. As such, for one of the few to get a belt a national paper’s crozier is disappointing in the extreme.

The Irish Independent reported last week that “blockbuster film 'The Hunger Games' was responsible for the most complaints to the Irish Film Classification Office (IFCO) in the last two years.” When you read that, you wonder just what was this awful film about, that so many people rose up against it? What are they doing that’s so appalled the public?

And then you read on and discover that the bar for the “most complaints” isn’t that terribly high. Do you know how many complaints the IFCO got about The Hunger Games movie over two years? Five. That’s one every five months.

If you’re doing something that only registers a complaint once every twenty-one weeks I’d say you’re doing pretty well. If you told James Horan that complaints about him, his selectors, his team, his team’s style of play or even the particular hat he chooses to wear on the sideline would come in at rate of one every five months he’d weep real tears of relief and gratitude. As it is, I doubt he can go down to the shop for a pint of milk without someone bending his ear about something. Five complaints in two years really isn’t a problem.

We read further, and discover the nature of the complaints. One complainant objected to the nature of the film itself, which he or she claimed featured "teenagers killing each other!! Stabbing each other, twisting each other's necks off, beating each other to death, a little black girl got an arrow into the chest … that’s when the children started crying."

On the face of it, that sounds bad. But then again, what would you say about a movie, ostensibly for children, that features a husky, big-boned child who is only subtly mocked because of society’s monstrous and judgmental attitude to body shape? Not only that, but the child ends up cast into a river, stuck in a pipe and ultimately ends with his distraught mother having to rescue him from being poured into a boiler. A boiler! A child! Inside in a boiler!

But Christmas wouldn’t be the same without Wily Wonka, now would it?

The line in the complaint that refers to the moment “when the children started crying” gives something else away about this particular complainant. The Hunger Games was given a 12A rating by the Irish Film Board, which means that the movie is inappropriate for any children younger than twelve, and that twelve-year-olds themselves must be accompanied by an adult.

These ratings aren’t picked out of a hat. A lot of effort goes into setting these ratings. And if parents are too dumb to understand them or too lazy to pay the ratings any heed than there’s going to be a reaction.

Generally speaking, modern twelve-year-old girls only cry over Master Niall Horan, and twelve-year-old boys only cry over Mr Robin Van Persie. The Hunger Games features neither personality, and therefore there is no reason for twelve-year-olds not to take it in their stride. It’s a reasonable guess that the children who cried should not have been brought to that movie in the first place, because they were far too young.

Some years ago there was a Livelive brouhaha over a movie called Bad Santa. Some genius brought her kids to the movie, despite the fact that it was rated for eighteen-year-olds and over only, despite the fact that tag line on the poster said “He doesn’t care if you’re naughty or nice,” despite the fact that the poster featured Billy Bob Thorton leering out at you with his beard hanging off, and despite the fact that this visibly Bad Santa is about to be licked like an ice-cream by a lady who is a little too young to be Mrs Claus and a little too va-va-voom to be one of Santa Little’s Helpers, normally a much more demure group of ladies.

And despite all this evidence, despite the warning signs everywhere that Bad Santa (Bad Santa! Couldn’t she even have twigged it from the name?) is not a kids’ movie, your wan rolls in anyway with the kids, and then turns around to tell Joe Duffy she was conned.

As for The Hunger Games itself, your correspondent is personally far from an expert on what’s appropriate for children / young adults in terms of movies, books, music or video games. No idea. But I saw The Hunger Games on the back of a seat on one of Aer Lingus’s excellent jumbo jets during an eight-hour flight, and I was enchanted by it.

The Hunger Games is about a young woman, Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to compete in a fight-to-the-death competition so that her kid sister doesn’t have to. Katniss is played by Jennifer Lawrence in the movie, and she’s wonderful. She’s good and kind and brave and smart. Is she hailed from the rooftops for being good and kind and brave and smart in the Irish Independent? No, she is not. People will skim the headline in the Independent, not read the story but stil make a mental note to ban the Hunger Games movie from the family home.

It’s such a pity. Katniss’s competition for female role models seem to be the Kardashian sisters, the wives and girlfriends of English Premier League soccer players, or else singers like Lady Gaga and Rhianna. So the role model alternatives for girls and young women are the heroine of the Hunger Games, who is good and kind and brave and smart, or else someone who goes prancing around the wheatfields of County Down dressed in her underwear. Dodgy at the best of times, but in the Irish climate especially, a real risk of catching your death of cold.

I know which I prefer. You go, Katniss. You go, girl.

Friday, January 10, 2014


First published in the Western People on Monday.

Irish politics is like an iceberg. Only a small amount is visible at any one time, while there is a great mass of it that’s hidden, away from prying eyes.

This was especially obvious this Christmas, as the TDs and Senators luxuriate in a break that lasts for another ten days or so. But while they continue to relax, at home or abroad, the more thoughtful members of the Oireachtas will be wondering: what is Lucinda Creighton going to do next, and how dearly might I myself pay for it?

As discussed in this place earlier, Lucinda Creighton has it in her power to finally close the book on the civil war, and lead Ireland into the second century of independence (such as it is). So far, she has not put a foot wrong and, while the theoretically-retired Gay Byrne has been on television more often than Creighton, her influence is everywhere.

Creighton outsmarted Sinn Féin in backing a winner during the Seanad Referendum, and now she’s released another cat among the pigeons when the news broke over the holidays that the Reform Alliance has registered as a political party with the Standards in Public Office Commission.

What does this mean? It means as much as you want it to be mean, really. Registering with the Standards in Public Office Commission means that the Reform Alliance can fundraise. That in itself doesn’t necessarily mean the party will fundraise. The act of registration is just another chess piece, sliding along the board. It may mean nothing, or everything. We’ll have to wait and see.

The second interesting thing that came to light over the holidays is that if the party is formed, it will not be formed until September. And that delay leads to three more fascinating points of interest.

Firstly, the delay allows Lucinda Creighton herself to have her baby (announced in November) before she returns to the front lines. There had been speculation that Michael McDowell or Shane Ross were potential leaders of the Reform Alliance, but this does not stand up to scrutiny.

McDowell failed as leader of the PDs, and there is no evidence to believe that the sovereign people would follow Shane Ross in the queue at Tesco’s if they could avoid it. If there is no Lucinda Creighton, there will be no Reform Alliance. Right now, Creighton is Irish politics’ Joan of Arc, for good or ill.

Secondly, if the party isn’t to be launched until September, that means the Creightonites are avoiding the local elections entirely. Conventional wisdom is that you need boots on the ground for general elections – that your candidates must have served their time in local councils before moving on to the Premier League of the Teachtaí Dhála.

But of course, if the word “reform” in the party title is to mean anything, then it makes sense to avoid the local elections. Maybe reform means no longer presuming that the Dáil is just a king-size county-council, and that a TD is an equally king-sized county councillor. Maybe that’s not what you want in a legislator.

There is a risk in this strategy. If one particular party does particularly well during the locals, the momentum is then with that party, and taken from the Creightonites, but little in this life is guaranteed. It’s a risk worth taking, and besides the corollary – no clear momentum behind anyone, low turnout, oddball results – makes a further case for the Reform Alliance.

But the third interesting thing about leaving the formation of the Reform Alliance for nine months is that the delay gives nine months’ breathing room to mend fences between Fine Gael and the Creightonites before all is lost. And that possibility isn’t to be ruled out at all.

Have Fine Gael learned the lesson of history? Fine Gael has traditionally been the alternative party of government since 1932. When the PDs were formed in the 1980s, they took a slice off Fianna Fáil, specially FF’s long-cherished core value of never going into coalition, but the PDs did severe damage to Fine Gael.

No Fine Gael leader led his party to general election victory during the life of the PDs, not least as middle class votes that used to go to Fine Gael went to the PDs instead. Do Fine Gael want to risk that happening again? Is it better to have Lucinda Creighton inside the tent?

Fine Gael will think about that very seriously in the run-up to the local and European elections in the summer. Enda Kenny has been a phenomenal success as Taoiseach, and has grown into the role. But politics is not a sentimental game and Fine Gael will make a cold and hard assessment based on potential, rather than achievement. Gratitude is poor currency in politics.

If the local and European elections go well for Fine Gael, Creightonism will be over. Enda will be unassailable, it will be all the one to Fine Gael if Lucinda Creighton forms a new party or a rock band, and Creighton’s time will have passed. But if the elections go badly for Fine Gael, the potential for a Creighton reconciliation will be there, as the lesser of two potential evils.

It will depend where the power lies. There will be a faction who want Kenny gone and their own candidate in as leader. There will be another faction who are aware that Creighton’s return may make her heir-in-waiting to new leader, and that new leader will not relish the thought of always having to watch his or her back.

And these are just the macro-factors that anybody can figure out when you sit down and think about it. Politics, as the former British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan, are entirely dictated by events. Who knows what story will break between now and September that will turn over the entire board, and have everyone start again? NAMA? The public sector? A constitutional crisis? Who knows?

Whatever happens, it’s an interesting time to study Irish politics. It would be tremendous fun if only the future of the country weren’t at stake.

Friday, January 03, 2014

The Only Real Reform Candidate in 2014: Bloody Me

First published in the Western People on Monday.

Sometimes, the more something is talked about, the less actually gets done. The Irish public has been teased with this notion of a new party in Irish politics since Lucinda Creighton lost the Fine Gael whip over the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill but little has come of it. Apart from the odd coy remark or intervention, the nation’s political parsnips remain unbuttered.

Well, no more. Sometimes, if a thing needs doing, you have to do it yourself. Personally, I am not at all interested in public life. There is nothing I enjoy better than sitting by the fire of an evening with an apple and a good book – a Blasket island biography in the original Gaelic, ideally, or else a calfskin-bound copy of the collected works of Fintan O’Toole.

However. Could I hear my country call and not respond? Could Cathleen Ni Houlihan, who stood alone against the perfidious oppressor for eight hundred years, raise a cry for help and have me not respond?

Not while there is life in my body. As such, I put down my educational volume, shoe myself in strong brogues, worthy of the canvass, and make my bid for power.

The first issue, as has so long been the issue over the many hundred years of blood and tears, is that of Irish sovereignty. Whereas for years the leash was held by the British, it is now held by the nation who gave the British their current royal family – the Germans. We may be out of the bailout but we are still ruled by the Reichstag.

As such, it will be my first duty as Taoiseach to fly to Berlin and face Angela Merkel with a few home truths. “Look here,” I’ll tell her. “It’s all very well you talking about Germany’s history of philosophers like Hegel, composers like Wagner, writers like Goethe and footballers like Karl-Heinz Rumminegge.

“We’re delighted that you have low inflation, excellent public services, trains that run on time and two genuine economic miracles achieved in the past sixty years, the recovery from the war and reunification, but what about us? What about us? We’re the Irish, and that means we drink porter and everyone in America thinks we’re charming. How about them onions?”

“Gott in Himmel,” she’ll say, “you could be onto something there. Is there anything at all I can do to make it up to you?”

“Well,” I’ll say, “you can let us write our own budgets for a start. And we’ll have that Mesut Ozil’s name changed to Maurice O’Zeal and he’ll be the midfield general for Ireland from here on in. Keano and that buck with the specs will need all the help they can get.”

I fully expect to be chaired all the way home from Berlin on the shoulders of delighted citizens after that bit of work.

However. My platform will not just be European-based, mostly because the nation couldn’t give a fiddle-dee-dee what goes on in Europe, even though they really ought to. Like the proud son of the heather I am, I will also address the great issues that concern rural Ireland – turf and pylons.

Turf-cutting was one of the great issues of the last election, and what to do about the giant pylons that belong to Eirgrid (no, I never heard of them until lately either) will be one of the great issues of the next election. In summary, the people are for the one and agin the other. How can this be solved?

Why man dear, it’s staring you right in the face. Eirgrid tell us that the wires for the pylons can’t be placed underground because the process of digging is too expensive. But anyone who has ever cut turf will know the actual act is more like digging a hole than cutting a cake.

As such, my government will be more than delighted to kill two birds with one stone. The wires will go underground, and the turf-cutters can cut as much turf at they like – along those zip-lines where we’ll be burying the wires. Don’t mind the fact that earth is a much better conductor of electricity than air, or that you can see broken wires on a pylon to repair them. Underground is what the people want and, under my government, what the people want the people will get.

I will respect this year’s democratic expression of the people to reform Seanad Éireann. Under my leadership, the panels will revert to their original function – the IFA and ICMSA will be on the Agricultural Panel while the public sector unions will make up the Administration Panel.

The teachers’ unions will be on the Cultural and Education Panel, whatever builders who aren’t behind bars will be on the Industrial and Commercial Panel, and Mr Brendan Ogle, our latter-day Big Jim Larkin, will be the sole member of the Labour Panel.

Then, instead of perpetually gassing, moaning, whining, squealing, squawking and likewise getting on my nerves ever time I sit down to watch the Nine O’Clock News, that pack of jokers will have to finally, for once and for always, do something constructive instead of just lowing at each other like cattle by the river.

Enda Kenny won the country last year with a five-point-plan. Reflecting the continuing era of austerity, I shall have a two-point plan – the two points of a pitchfork, and anyone who comes along wasting public money, lying to the sovereign people or building a nice feather nest for him, her or itself out of the public purse will get a root of that same pitchfork that they’ll remember for quite some time.

People of Mayo – we have nothing to lose but our grants, our freedom and possibly our lives! Rally to the flag, and vote early and often for the only real reform candidate in 2014!