The West's Awake by Cormac MacConnell
Political diversions in Ireland are giving us mighty craic
Posted on Wednesday, February 24, 2010 at 07:32 PM
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There are far too many scribes around the place writing about the doom and gloom of our current social and economic plight.
Ye know me by now. I prefer to navigate a path around the dreary mountains of doom and gloom and look at things from another point of view where possible.
From this perspective our politicians have given us mighty craic recently. Let us give them credit for that. You can laugh until you cry about every day.
It was dull enough until February, and then the fun started with the abrupt departure from Fine Gael of the golden recruit George Lee.
The former economics guru on the national TV station, who in fairness accurately forecast the demise of the Celtic Tiger long before the death, left RTE to join Fine Gael, the main opposition party. He was elected at the top of the poll in a by-election and seemed poised to become the messiah of the party on the economic front.
They trotted him out at recruitment meetings all over the country. He was the flavor of all the nine months he spent in politics.
But he departed from the party in high dudgeon at the start of this month, claiming that the leaders would not let him contribute in any meaningful way to their economic policies. He said he was frozen out, sidelined, virtually ignored.
He appeared on about every TV and radio program in the state for 24 hours, and then disappeared back into RTE to resume his journalism on a reported salary of around $200,000 a year. But no mention of politics can be heard from his lips for a statutory seven-year period!
It was such a sensation that none of us thought about the dire state of the economy for an entire week. And Fianna Fail, the governing party with the Green Party, licked their chops with delight.
But no sooner had the Lee episode died away slightly, leaving grim headlines of job losses and a failing economy in its place, before a certain Green senator called Deirdre de Burca also abandoned her party and the Dail (Parliament) and launched a slashing attack on the party leader John Gormley for, she said, allowing himself and his party to be converted into a doormat by Fianna Fail and compromising the Greens' core principles in the process.
Again the doom and gloom headlines were replaced by rattling good political banners, and Gormley's gentle and gentlemanly countenance was on the screens of the nation for days as he defended his leadership record. In those days factories closed and jobs were lost and credit was denied to small businesses, but we hardly noticed at all. Diversion is as good as ointment on a scald. And Fianna Fail was still laughing.
The Green senator headed off to America like many's the good woman before her, and economic reality began to bite again as the chilly winter persisted.
Ash Wednesday came and the chastened Irish bishops came back from Rome after a dressing down from Pope Benedict on the dreadful child abuse cover-up.
Walking through Shannon and watching the news on Ash Wednesday evening, I wryly noted that I met clergymen with no ashen cross of penitence on their foreheads even as I met young Polish workers (still very devout) and old Irish ladies all strongly marked with the mark of sackcloth and ashes of the day. Gloom closed in again.
And then...BANG! The most electric excitement of all, and of course it came from the ranks of Fianna Fail. Their English title is the Soldiers of Destiny and their defense minister was called Willie O'Dea, a very famous character in Limerick City and county.
Willie had to resign because of political convulsions which followed his swearing an inaccurate sworn affidavit to the High Court in relation to a row on the ground with a Sinn Fein councilor, during which allegations were made about the councilor's connections with a building in which a brothel had been run.
This was rich stuff. Before the matter reached the Dail Willie had withdrawn his affidavit, apologized for his error to the court, and paid damages of about $120,000 to the slandered councilor.
Central to the situation was the existence of a reporter's tape recording of Willie’s remarks. This was aired and made electrically compulsive listening.
But better still from a political voyeur's point of view was the fact that the minister was backed by a vote of confidence in the Dail by Fianna Fail and the Green Party on the day before the uproar outside forced his resignation. A great story in which at one stage Willie described himself on radio as being one of the victims too!
For a whole week, as the unemployed figures climbed and as credit tightened in all the banks, and as the government was in real trouble over not jumping at the chance of 300 new jobs in Dublin Airport courtesy of Ryanair, all the national attention and excitement was focused on the Willie story to the virtual exclusion of everything else.
Politics is great entertainment when viewed in a certain light! The story is still running and we are waiting for more developments.
Meanwhile can I tell ye here and now that Willie O'Dea will easily survive his fall from the Cabinet and, because he is a great constituency worker, will again be elected at or near the top of the Limerick poll when the next election is called. Mark my words.
And the sooner that election is called the better. We can forget about the serious stuff for three or four weeks!