The view from Fairview
Most Saturday mornings, I go for a cycle. The route stays the same: leave the house in Fairview, up through Marino, along the coast road and out to Dollymount. It’s a route punctuated with regular sights. Like the bright orange …
Most Saturday mornings, I go for a cycle. The route stays the same: leave the house in Fairview, up through Marino, along the coast road and out to Dollymount. It’s a route punctuated with regular sights. Like the bright orange Volkswagen Beetle towing a caravan which turns up, as regular as rain, on the footpath at the bottom of the Malahide Road by the Crescent.
Since I moved here six years ago, it has been in situ every Saturday morning without fail. But last Saturday morning, that caravan and its owner were missing. On Thursday, the people of Dublin North Central had their say and so, Ivor Callely was forced to unhitch his wagon and move on.
All politics is local which is why I’m noting the absence of Ivor and his mobile constituency clinic from its usual pitch on the morning after he lost his seat. You can be sure that, as the post-election analysis continues, similar absences will be noted in every constituency around the country. The questions, too, will be the same from bailiwick to bailiwick. How the hell did that happen? Why the hell did that happen? Actually, what the hell happened? Much reflection, that great political trait, will be in train as pundits and politicians try to make sense of it all (and try to make sure no-one pulls them up on their own predictions).
Yet for everything that happened in a crazy couple of hours last Friday, the bigger picture remains the same. You can be sure that people will be climbing over each other to whinge to Joe this week about hospitals and crimes, education and traffic, the bread and butter issues which keep Liveline and other moan-in shows ticking over. The Irish have, after all, turned complaining into an Olympic sport so they need to keep in shape by regularly crowding the airwaves with their tales of woe.
These complaints will be largely the same as the ones which were aired a couple of months ago, a year ago, a couple of years ago. There’s nothing new to what you will hear, the same tales of misfortune and mismanagement. The crew of usual suspects who will be get a punching from irate citizens because of these mishaps will also remain the same. And they are the same usual suspects who are about to go back into Dail Eireann and government for another five years, thanks to our irate citizens.
It doesn’t make sense, does it? Public discourse has been dominated for the last couple of years by disquiet about key public service areas which were judged to be falling asunder because of lousy management, lack of investment and general Irish sure-it-will-do-isms. Didn’t we all believe and pontificate that the Irish health service was disgraceful (after all, can you name one other developed country which has to run TV and radio ads urging hospital visitors and workers to wash their hands?), that our road planning was inadequete, that our schools needed to be updated? Didn’t we fervently think that things could and should be done differently? Maybe we just dreamed the last five years of grouching and grumbling conveyed through radio shows, newspaper polls and conversations on the street? After all, if we wanted change, we get a chance every five years to do something about it.
But when it came to the crunch last Thursday, Irish voters went away to do some reflecting and soul-searching of their own. They had talked the talk about change but now, they were a little unsure. This wouldn’t the same as changing the colour of the walls in the spare bedroom. They looked around at their houses and gardens. They considered their outgoings, incomings, financial commitments and debts. They thought, of course, about the commute, the childcare fees and the traffic jams they endured twice daily. They had a look at what was on offer and couldn’t really see much between the two alternatives. Each were making promises, after all, and each could have been spinning a load of baloney.
But, on the Wednesday night, when these voters made their value calculation and decided what they were going to do the following day, they decided they were going to stick with Bertie and his boys and girls. When it came to the crunch, voters decided to play safe and give the ball back to Fianna Fail. Steady as she goes, lads, steady as she goes.
Yes, of course, it was a Bertie vote. See, as far as the country’s new mainstream are concerned, there’s nothing really wrong with Bertie.
As they drive-brake-drive-brake to work each day, they hear a gentle, respectful caricature of him on Gift Grub and chuckle along (Gift Grub has done more to project a likable image of Bertie than anyone in Fianna Fail HQ could ever do).
They read fawning colour pieces about him in newspapers and note that he seems to be a decent fellow who likes the sport, the few pints and his family.
Yeah, yeah, there’s something dodgy about this lack of a bank account back in the day and a big case of cash that The Irish Times were banging on about but, sure, what’s the harm? He is, as Blogorrah have so perfectly coined it, the Cheeky Little Divil and he really can do no wrong in the eyes of a large swathe of the new mainstream because, in their heart of hearts, they all want to be Cheeky Little Divils too.
Bertie, though, is just one part of the equation. If you’re still not convinced about why Fianna Fail triumphed, you only had to look at the commercial breaks during RTE’s coverage of the election count on Friday night to see just how much the mindset of the land has changed. An ad urging you to invest in foreign property. An ad telling our senior citizens how the conservatory of their dreams can be had by simply signing a few forms and digging into the value of their house. An ad hawking a plush hotel in Galway with designer gardens and golf courses. An ad for a new car which looks just like the old car.
The new mainstream is aspirational and it wants all of this. Actually, no, it thinks it deserves all of this. Out there in the exurbs choking Maynooth and Kilcock, they are dreaming of their holiday home in Bulgaria, the new car and the rest of it. They’ve earned it, damn it, they deserve it. That’s why the new mainstream puts up with the killer commute and the poor quality of life which comes with it. Someday, these folks reckon, it will all be worthwhile. Forget Sinn Fein, all number ones here are for mé fein.
All that groaning and moaning about hospital beds and gardai on the beat when the canvassers came knocking? A smokescreen. We may have become all aspirational and gimme-gimme-gimme, but we still don’t have the self-confidence to project these qualities with conviction. Better to give out yards on the doorstep and hold your real feelings in check for the the voting booth. The art of speaking from both sides of your mouth.
And then you go home, cross your fingers and hope that the economic crash that you sometimes feel is just around the corner will pass over Ireland like a scatter of dirty old clouds. Bertie, he’ll make it all go away. Won’t he?
That’s what Election 2007 did. Oh yes, it did a lot of things. It culled a load of political giants and a few little ones too. It saw the leader of a political party act like a petulant child and throw his toys out of the pram when he didn’t get what he wanted. It brought in a load of new faces, mostly in the ranks of the two main parties. It added greatly to the gaiety of that part of the nation who, like this writer, are political and election junkies.
But most of all Election 2007 showed that in the brave new world of 21st century Ireland, self-interest will always rule Irish hearts. Now, is there anyone looking to buy a secondhand caravan? I happen to know there’s a man in Dublin 3 who may be looking to get rid of one in a hurry.