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.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Mayo Post-Mortem #67: Exhaustion

One day you lower the bucket into the well and when you bring it back up the water just won’t be there anymore. That’s the day you know your goose is cooked, and that day arrived for Mayo on Saturday night in Newbridge, in the evening sunlight of this scorching summer.

It’s not the only thing that happened, of course. Kildare bet the house on the venue and won, and their players stood up to be counted. Aficionados of the game were teary-eyed at the foot passes of forty and fifty yards finding their men and, if they do nothing else this summer, Kildare will be worth a cheer for reminding the nation of the value of that skill.

All Kildare will have their ears pinned to the radio on Monday morning to see what’s next to get in the selection box. It’ll be of academic interest only in Mayo. After seven long summers, it’s going to be odd being locked out while the party goes on.

Will Sundays now see lost men and women going into the bookstores and browsing the adult coloring books, or the Danish home design books, or even 12 Simple Steps to Learn Business Cantonese books, as they desperately try to fill the Mayo-sized hole in time that’s opened in their lives? Thank God for porter and Smithwick’s ale – a fine refreshment and a sensible alternative in this hot and heavy weather – for their already-discovered powers of instituting oblivion.

There has been end-of-the-line talk about Mayo. It’s understandable, but it’s not fully thought out. Football teams can be understood in the same way the peculiar nature of fire is remembered down the centuries since the Greek philosopher Heraclitus first twigged it. A fire, said Heraclitus, is always changing, and always the same. How can something be changing and always the same? But look at the thing – how else can you describe it?

And so with Mayo, as it is with any football team. The pieces come and go, but the team, the movement, the idea, the spirit goes ever on.

What makes Saturday seem more of a watershed is that the fire hasn’t been flickering at quite the same rate as it should have been. A team will always change, and managing that dynamic is one of the keys to managing a team.

A reluctance to let reality intrude on romance has retarded that natural and necessary process of change, which will make it seem harsher than maybe it might have been when it comes, but there you go. You’re always best pulling off the band-aid in one tug. The ease-it-off approach is kidding yourself.

The good news for Mayo is that while Mayo are unusual in their extraordinary ability to not win All-Irelands, they are equally unusual in squandering a bizarre amount of riches in the process of competing for those All-Irelands.

Certain people hold that the issue with replacing players was that no players were coming true but that’s just not true. The FBD League was made by God in His workshop in Heaven for the express purpose of having a good look at young players. To use it to put even further miles on old men’s clocks is bizarre.

This is the team that started against Sligo in the FBD League in January, as recorded by the unrivalled Mayo GAA Blog: Clarke; Harrison, Cafferkey, O’Donoghue; Boyle, Hall, Paddy Durcan; Gibbons, Coen; McLoughlin, O’Shea, Diarmuid O’Connor; Doherty, Regan, Andy Moran. Reader: what on earth was the point?

But there it is. Rightly or wrongly, very few people think Stephen Rochford will ask for more once his three years run out in the autumn, and that will mean new management, new processes and, God help us all, new hope. One year after Mayo last lost in the Qualifiers, they beat the All-Ireland Champions to begin a seven-year All-Ireland quarter-final winning streak. The players are there. The players are always there. Mayo is always there. Up Mayo.