Saturday, October 31, 2015

Dublin Bonfires

I saw the most extraordinary procession earlier today. It seemed like a ragbag army of the wretched, not a million miles away from the sort of scenes we’re seeing in Eastern Europe with the migrant issue. The dispossessed and forgotten, dragging their meager possessions behind them, marching towards what they hope will be a new life.

A closer inspection reveals that, rather than migrants or medieval pillagers, these are the children of the city, getting set for their single favourite thing of the year, the Hallowe’en bonfire.

The skirmish parties consist of two or three boys in groups. One of each group is dragging a wooden palette on the road behind him. Bear in mind that the roads are essentially closed to traffic while these troops march by – the rules of the road do not apply to them.

Behind the skirmish parties, as it inevitably must, comes the heavy artillery. In this case, it’s some sort of trolley piled high with palettes, while the striplings dance attendance around it. This is the centerpiece of the action, the motherlode of the Ceremony of Fire that is to come.

And bringing up the rear, then, were bicycled outriders, for once too pre-occupied to do wheelies, each signaling to the others where the army had marched on ahead.

The entire army is almost entirely made up of schoolboys, none of whom is old enough to shave. There was one girl, a George among the Julians and Dicks. Perhaps more of the fairer sex will come out after dark, once the ceremony has begun.

The boys are nearly all dressed in tracksuits, certainly the ubiquitous grey (off-white?) tracksuit bottoms, but some are wearing labourers’s gloves. More are wearing yellow or orange high-viz vests.

The high-viz vests are initially a mystery until you remember that these are only children. They’re wearing high-viz vests because they’re playing at being grown-ups. Grown-ups wear high-viz vests, therefore the children shall wear high-viz vests, and wear labouring gloves to show that they’re hard.

It’s all very winsome, until you remember that tonight they will build a bonfire that’s three or four times bigger than themselves, light it and then lose all control of what happens next.

The thing could topple over and burn them. The wind could rise, blow a piece of the bonfire where it’s not supposed to be and set part of the city ablaze. They have no idea of the consequences and, being children, can’t have an idea. How could they? They’re too young to understand. Childhood is about Now. Consequences live in a land beyond the edge of that innocent world.

The children’s parents, however, should be a little more aware of consequences. They should reflect deeply about how they’re raising their kids, just as society should think deeply about the annual toleration extended to Hallowe’en bonfires. It’ll be too late when something – or someone – is burned to the ground.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Reform the League, not the Championship

Whisht, a minute now, would ye whisht!
Conversations about remaking the Championship are as boring as ones about the gap between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres in rugby, and about equally pointless. This hasn’t put an end to them, of course. John Fogarty reported in yesterday's Examiner that there are eighteen – 18! – proposals to remake the Championship on their way to Central Council this very winter.

Here are some facts on which all concerned should reflect. The Championship will always be unequal for as long as only Mayomen can play for Mayo, Galwaymen for Galway, and so on. If that rule ever changes, whatever comes after will not be the Championship, or the GAA, any more. It will be something else, and the one cogent and successful expression of nationalism and patriotism since the 1916 Rising will be lost with all the others.

The inequality of the Championship used to be compensated by the fact it was a knockout competition. A lesser county may have no hope of an All-Ireland but it could certainly deny an All-Ireland to its bigshot neighbour. There was a certain joy in that – the Germans do not have a freehold on schadenfreude, after all. There’s nothing about schadenfreude you can’t tell a nation of begrudgers.

Beating your neighbour will always count for more than beating someone drawn out of a hat, whose county-people you don’t know, with whom you didn’t go to school or college, don’t meet at work, and all the rest of it. There can only be one winner every year, but the Championship was comprised of so many smaller Championships, between Laois and Offaly, between Galway and Mayo, between Derry and Tyrone.

That small compensation of softening a few bigshots’ coughs is denied the lesser counties by the back-door system. The story that the back door was there to favour small counties was only ever a lie. Laws, as a friend of the blog likes to remark, were never made for the poor.

However. The problem of inequality among counties was addressed in what your correspondent can only describe as a flash of genius from Kieran Shannon in an Examiner column of a few weeks ago. Shannon's simple proposal should be the Number One item on the bill for central council deliberations instead of the Champions-League knit-one, purl-two around the house and mind the dresser alternatives being proposed.

There are many reasons for the gap between haves and have-nots, most of them down to tradition, but the problem has become worse in recent years. It’s become worse because best teams play each other every spring in the National League, each honing their skills against the others. Other counties don’t get a look in at that highest level of football and then, when they do run into it in the Championship, they get destroyed without ever knowing what hit them.

James Horan, who has proved excellent in his second life as a pundit, remarked on Newstalk during the summer about how much he and Mayo learned from every single Division 1 game that they played. It is unfair that Mayo and others should have access to so much tutoring and other counties should not. Which is where Kieran Shannon’s plan comes in.

Shannon’s simple suggestion is that the League return to the 1A and 1B format. The current Division 1 and 2 can populate Divisions 1A and 1B, with the teams that finished first, third, fifth and seventh in Divisions 1 and 2 going into 1A and those who finished second, fourth, sixth and eighth going to 1B, and the same procedure used for filling 2A and 2B from Divisions 3 and 4.

The point here is that while the Championship structure is set in stone, the League is always open to reconstitution. So, instead of trying to change what you can’t, people concerned with inequality in the Championship should concern themselves with what they can change – the League.

There would be some kinks to iron out over who was promoted or relegated, and about maintaining the balance between the A and B sections of the divisions, but these are small details. The former Division 1 teams now only get half the benefit they used to get from their League games, while the Division 2 teams get to test themselves against the big guns and learn a thing or two before it’s time to load the live ammunition in summer.

People have entrenched views on the Championship while the League, once a competition of prestige, is now a red-haired stepchild to be kicked around the place. A simple change would benefit everybody, and there would be no thumps or spilled pints during the debate. Please note, Central Council.

Monday, October 12, 2015

32 Things - Insider Gossip v Public Service Journalism

RTÉ are currently running an online series called 32 Things Paddy Wants to Know about the upcoming general election. This series is a precise illustration of the failure of Irish political journalism to inform the electorate about how the country is run.

The first of the 32 things Paddy wants to know is who’ll get elected in Cork South Central. This isn’t politics. This is gossip. Personalities are trivial. Policies are important.

The second of the 32 things is who’ll get elected in Tipperary. Again, gossip.

The third and fourth of the 32 things are how Labour and Renua will get on. This is a who’ll bigger, the Beatles or the Stones?-type story. Gossip.

The fifth of the 32 things is how women candidates will get on. It's an ideological topic, but there's no real substance there. The quotas have given the argument a false perspective, so you end up with a cat-fight report from Dún Laoghaire Fianna Fáil. Gossip.

Sixth and seventh are how Fine Gael and Sinn Féin will get on. See third and fourth.

The eighth is who’ll get the chop when Mayo reduces from five seats to four. Gossip, gossip, gossip.

That’s not public service journalism. That’s water-cooler conversation in the Dublin 2 Beltway. Fascinating for Insiders, not worth two balls of roasted snow to Joe or Jane Citizen. Here’s what Paddy and Patricia really want to know.

  1. At the time of the crash, we were told that Ireland was sold into bondage for the next thirty years. Now the economy is growing at six per cent per annum. So – what happened to the projected 30 years of living off hot gravel? Has an economic miracle occurred? Or has nobody really known what was going on since August 2008 they’ve spent the past seven years bluffing for their lives and thanking God and Frau Merkel?
  2. Six per cent growth per annum. Two per cent is ideal, isn’t it? Two point something, maybe? If the economy is growing at six per cent, doesn’t that mean it’s overheating? If it’s overheating, shouldn’t the government be trying to cool it down, rather than heat it up some more?
  3. Or has the government embraced Charlie McCreevy’s belief that if you have it you should spend it?
  4. Doesn’t that run against the advice of JM Keynes, who had the idea of a salting away the silver for a rainy day as a bedrock of his macro-economic policy? Weren’t we hearing about Keynes all during the crash?
  5. Or when they hear “Keynes,” are Roy and Robbie the only men that come to the government’s mind?
  6. I see those lads who terrorized that family in Tipperary had seventy previous convictions between them. How many previous convictions do you need until the Guards start to think you might be worth keeping an eye on?
  7. If you run up twelve points on your driver’s license you’re taken off the road. How can you have multiple previous convictions and still be running around?
  8. A guy with eleven previous convictions, for public order, robbery and assault, got a suspended sentence for beating the head off a girl on a bus recently. He was also recommended to do a course in anger management issues. Any idea where a citizen could do an anger management course after reading that court report?
  9. Speaking of our learned friends, does anyone remember that cutting legal fees was something the Troika stressed over and over again during the time here? How’s that coming along?
  10. Any plans to set up an Irish-Water-esque quango to get that show in the road?
  11. Yeah. Poor example, I know, I know.
  12. Remember when Enda promised a quango cull?
  13. Or the report card for Ministers?
  14. Whose report card are you looking forward to the most?
  15. Alan “AK-47” Kelly?
  16. Phil “Big Phil” Hogan?
  17. Doctor James “Bottler” Reilly?
  18. Heather “A Rebel I came, I’m still the same” Humphries?
  19. Jan O’Sullivan, who’s so helpless she doesn’t even have a nickname?
  20. Alan Shatter, who had the poor Attorney General plagued ringing her at all hours of the day and the night about the nicer points of torts, malfeasances and likewise legalease?
  21. He might even have asked her about fees now and again, of course. Just to break the tension and have a laugh, like.
  22. Speaking of reports, how long it’s been since Moriarty Tribunal Report came out?
  23. Four years? Four-and-a-half?
  24. And that’s resulted in – what, exactly?
  25. And Labour are all fine with that, I suppose? Them oul’ ethics aren’t bothering them? Martyrs for the ethics, Labour. Labour used to be worse bothered with the ethics than great-aunt Maggie with the lumbago. The ethics must have cleared up after Labour got into government. Poor Maggie is still crippled, of course. 
  26. And how are things looking in the North? Not too great?
  27. After all these years, wouldn’t it be something if Ireland were to be finally united by politicians on both sides realising that there are enough cookies in the cookie-jar for all the boys, Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter?
  28. And are we all sure there’ll be enough room in Longford for all those Syrians along with everyone else?
  29. No Minister, I couldn’t name three streets in Longford either. Although I suppose Pearse and O’Connell are always good guesses.
  30. Did you see where the Phoenix reckoned the next Presidential election will be between Michael D, Miriam O’Callaghan and Enda? The Lord save us.
  31. Come here, Do you still have that brother beyond in Cricklewood Broadway?
  32. Do you think he could put me up for a week or two until I find a job and a place to stay? I’ve had my fill of this nightmare country.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Mayo's Civil War

Civil wars can never be won. They can only be ended. The sooner they are ended, the less damage they do. All sides in the current Mayo GAA dispute should come to terms with this fact as quickly as they can.

The very fact a civil war has broken out is appalling; for positions to become entrenched and a long campaign to break out would catapult the county out of the lofty company it’s become so accustomed to keeping, and back to the days of being on the business end of a twenty-point whipping from Cork or a one-point massacre at the hands of Leitrim.

All minds must now concentrate on finding a solution. It is a bizarre thing to say, but the rights and wrongs of the thing don’t really matter now. The dispute must be ended as quickly as possible. And the quickest end to the dispute would be for the current management to resign and for James Horan to return for one more swing on the merry-go-round.

If Mayo win their fourth All-Ireland title in 2016, well and good. But while Horan and the team are trying to do that, the County Board should be spending its time properly planning the succession. If Mayo don’t win the All-Ireland, the team as we’ve known it over the past five years is shattered, and someone totally new is going to have start from Square One again.

But at least the County Board will have a year to make their plans for that contingency. What they can’t do, under any circumstances, is let the current situation fester, unresolved.

There is a meeting tonight. Some speculate it’ll be like the Donnybrook Fairs of the 18th Century, and that’s possible. God knows there’s enough resentment being built up, and no small amount of tub-thumbing instead of reasoned calm. But if ever there were a day to leave egos outside the room it’s today.

Mayo have been so close to Sam in recent years they can nearly smell the silver polish. Everybody knows that. Football people in Mayo all know the pall that hangs over the county of being the eternal bridesmaids on the third Sunday. Once that hoodoo is broken, football is liberated in Mayo and a tradition can be built to rival any county’s.

But what people are allowing themselves to forget is that a team is as delicate a creature as a thoroughbred racehorse, and just as easily spooked. John O’Mahony liked to quip that the opportunity of a lifetime only lasts as long as the lifetime of the opportunity. Cillian O’Connor and Aidan O’Shea are young men, but they have a lot of miles on the clock. Kevin McLoughlin has played in fifty of Mayo’s last fifty-one games, between League and Championship. That’s a rate of attrition that can’t last.

Nobody knows this more than the players. And so they seem to have decided that if die they must, they will die with their boots on. It’s not the done thing to wash dirty linen in public, but in a county whose bottle and appetite for battle has often being questioned down the year, the current team are standing up to be counted, and they have to be respected for that.

I wish the delegates well tonight. I know that theirs is no easy task, and I do not envy them it. And while tempers run high, the delegates should remember this: if Saipan happened tomorrow, Mick McCarthy and Roy Keane would be able to settle their differences inside half an hour. Thirteen years on, each understands the other’s position in a way that they didn’t during that time. The pity of it is that it’s thirteen years too late.

Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy have the rest of their lives to think of what might have been. I don’t wish that on the current Mayo senior panel, the current management, past management or anyone involved in the dispute.

Civil wars can’t be won. They can only be ended, and they have to be ended as quickly as possible. Mayo, God help us.