Thanks to Ireland's ruling party Fine Gael, we now have a minister for the Irish language who does not in fact speak Irish.
When asked last week to translate a basic phrase like "An open mouth catches a closed fist..." new minister Joe McHugh reportedly declined, saying he would soon be taking an Irish language refresher course and he did not want to be “caught out on getting things wrong at this stage."
You can see how potentially awkward it would be to reveal that he may be under qualified for his high profile, very well paying job at this stage (as it commences). Totally awkward. In the parlance of his own city it would be called a top grade reddner.
But if you think a pesky detail like being unable to formulate a sentence in Irish should have prevented McHugh from attaining the important position, you’re not thinking like a member of Ireland’s ruling classes.
For them being the minister for Irish is just another portfolio gig for a junior minister on the rise, and a position worthy of their myriad talents, in the much more important game of musical chairs that may see them become taoiseach (prime minister) one day.
To succeed as a junior minister now apparently all you need to have is a pulse and a functioning pulmonary chamber. The only thing you have to do is prevent a major controversy from erupting whilst you chair your comfortable post. Innovation and policy leadership will be surplus to the requirements.
In this way being an Irish minister is exactly like being a rural shepherd. Keep the dogs away on your watch and you might be promoted further down the line.
It’s not as it will be a terrific intellectual challenge. All you are tasked with is to hold the line as the language dies through sheer neglect and your lack of significant input.
Last week three of Fine Gael's core values were revealed -- insularity, horse trading and a total indifference to Irish culture.
But thanks to the Garth Books debacle the core values of the Irish people were also revealed -- insularity, horse trading and a total indifference to Irish culture. Nothing more needed to be said.
Minister Joe McHugh's hastily promoted "refresher course" to become “fluent” in Irish in a week is as laughable as his selection for the job. What does it say about Fine Gael’s seriousness of purpose that Taoiseach Enda Kenny gave this job to a non-Irish speaker, someone incapable of grasping the scope of the task before him?
There's a new Fine Gael minister for the arts too. Remember that the arts are the only area in which Ireland consistently excels. To the extent that people think of us -- and they think of us more than most tiny island nations – it’s because our artists have astonished the world with their rich creative gifts.
Who should we pick to protect and promote that unparalleled legacy at home and abroad? We should pick the nation’s most qualified high profile candidate.
We should pick Heather Humphreys.
It's fair to say that no one working in the Irish arts from Malin to Mizen Head had ever heard of the piano playing farming lady from Co. Cavan until Kenny announced her. That might well become an issue later on in a field where a reputation for excellence is its hallmark. Having a reputation of her own would likely help.
So we are where we are. In another potential rerun of Father Ted written by politicians rather than the brilliantly funny Graham Linehan. I doubt it will run as long or be as often quoted, however.
Because sooner or later the core values of Ireland’s political classes always reveal themselves. It doesn’t matter which high end PR service they employ, or how they choose to spin it.
When it comes time to appoint new junior ministers it’s time to see what our political parties actually stand for: themselves alone.
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