Time to Get Out the Soap-Box, Brian
Deaglán de Bréadún
Someone in the newsroom was doing a sample page for the election campaign. There was no content, just slabs of type. Instead of a headline he had written, “Yada yada yada yada yada.” I looked at it and said to myself: “How true those words are.”
Come on, try my little box of goody-num-nums (Photograph: Bryan O’Brien)
Much of what we will hear between now and June 5th will be self-serving guff. Vote for Joe, the man you know, serving this community for many years. If the candidate is part of a dynasty – as is too often the case – you might have a variant of a slogan Labour tried unsuccessfully in a Cork byelection in the Nineties. Seeking to point out that the candidate was a daughter of the previous incumbent, the chosen motto was: “… And her father before her.”
It didn’t work but other dynasties have implanted themselves in the Irish body politic and re-election is almost automatic. Or has been up to now. There is no reason why the son or daughter of an established politician cannot be a good public servant, of course, but there is a surfeit of dynasties in Irish politics these days with these candidates exercising a version of droit de seigneur with the voters. Even the three key figures in our government – Taoiseach, Tanaiste and Minister for Finance – are children of former TDs.
It’s time we had some new blood. Yesterday I attended a press conference to showcase Fine Gael’s byelection candidates George Lee and Paschal Donohoe. Neither of them had a parent in the Dail, which is probably a plus. The excitement over Lee’s move from the TV studio to the hustings has died down and the rest of the media seem to have gotten over the shock. He may have left his small-screen guru role behind but there was still a touch of Messianic zeal about him as he told us of his experiences on the doorsteps and the anger and frustration undoubtedly felt among the voters in Dublin South and elsewhere.
But a wise old owl I met in the corridors of Leinster House earlier wondered how much of this anger is justified and how much is nimbyism (nimby is of course the acronym for “not in my back yard”). Ask Seán or Sinéad Public if they favour tough measures by government to deal with the economic crisis and the answer is, “Yeah, sart’n sure, Boss, hit them hard.” But when it comes to their own pay-packets and when they look at the actual outcome of the stiff measures, it’s another story, around to my owlish interlocutor.
There’s something in that but the public mood is also affected by the misjudgments of this government, going all the way back to the over-70s medical card fiasco. They got that one wrong and it wasn’t the last mistake they made. Perhaps it’s a dynastic thing. If they had to come up the hard way and slog their way into a Dail seat, they might have a better appreciation of how ordinary people view the world.
A left-wing colleague (don’t worry, not working in The Irish Times) lamented to me that the voters were about to exchange a right-wing Fianna Fail-led regime for another right-wing administration led by Fine Gael. That’s the way it looks despite Eamon Gilmore’s insistence that Irish politics is now a three-way contest. Labour is on the rise but FG still has 51 deputies compared to 20 Labour TDs. And how new is Labour thinking anyway? Over to you, Joanna!
In response to a question from this reporter, Enda Kenny pledged he would not enter into a government assembled from the existing Dail. There would have to be a general election.
Brave words but others might find it a tempting prospect. The byelections will probably mean two new opposition deputies so, as Kenny said, if the Greens cross the floor, a new government could be established. Stranger things have happened: click here.
But while I’m at it, don’t completely and utterly rule out beyond redemption the possibility that Bertie Ahern could swing it for De Brudder in Dublin Central. And don’t rule out – just yet – the possibility of FF rising from its death-bed to enter the fray with lethal intent. Remember John Major in 1992. Time to get out the soap-box, Brian.