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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: May 22, 2009 @ 10:33 am

    Speak the Speech, I Pray You

    Deaglán de Bréadún

     The word went around Leinster House yesterday that Brian Cowen was about to make a Major Speech. Journos being journos, there was considerable scepticism and curling of lips. They had been down this road before. 

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    However long it lasts, when the history of the Cowen-led Government comes to be written, the author will have to devote space to the issue of the State of the Nation Address. Why did he never give one (although he may still do it . . .)?

    Despite longstanding complaints about “empty political rhetoric”, there is a need among ordinary people for inspiration and leadership that can only be assuaged by a rousing oration.

    Naturally, people want actions as well as deeds. In truth, this administration has not been short on actions – although whether they were the right or wrong ones, particularly in relation to the banks, is a matter of intense controversy.

    But someone needs to put it all into words and point the way forward. In the event, Cowen’s speech last night at Slane seems to have been a workmanlike attack on his political opponents, raising issues and pointing out what he sees as faults in the approach of his political rivals.

    It wasn’t a “State of the Nation” in any real sense. It is probably too late for that now, in any case. We are where we are and let’s make the best of it. Anyway, election time is not the occasion for a speech for a rallying-cry that embraces all sections of the community and all shades of political and partisan opinion.

    The relationship between politics and psychology is a fascinating one that has not been properly explored to my knowledge. Talk is cheap, they say, but not in relation to the great speeches such as John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, which is available on YouTube and can be accessed if you click on the link above. The technical quality is fairly basic: there seems to be only one camera and we don’t see Jackie Kennedy, for example, until the very end. But the words come across loud and clear. (The American C-Span channel re-ran the speech on the occasion of George W. Bush’s second inauguration in January 2005.)

    Kennedy relied heavily on rhetoric, he was very good at it and it can be said that he inspired a nation and even the entire non-totalitarian world at the time. In Irish politics today, it is hard to think of a single good speaker. In Leinster House, there is nobody who comes to mind that I would rush into the Press Gallery to listen to, just to savour the sheer brilliance of his or her thoughts, expressed with outstanding eloquence. The political system and the nation as a whole are the poorer for it.

    • An Fear Bolg says:

      Cowen’s speech last night was laughable. The Economic and Social Research Institute’s heavily-qualified and disclaimered optimism cannot be grounds for saying we’re on the way up. The international signs of recovery he mentions are, in fact, hopeful signs that maybe the worst is over and the decline is slowing – if these are green shoots, we are in the gutter, indeed.

      I can only imagine that economists scoffed at this speech. This is the head of the team leading us out of this mess and he either (a) is employing unrealistic optimism and hyperbole for electioneering purposes, which is shameful in the current situation, or (b) truly believes this, which is terrifying.

      I might add, this all undermines the great work apparently being done by Brian Lenihan on his tour of financial capitals. Perhaps the media might stop lumping him together with Cowen and Coughlan as a trio that stands or falls together – if and when Cowen and Coughlan are gone, Lenihan should be retained or promoted (if FF are still in government). He appears to have grasped his brief now and has got a handle on those f***ers (to use the teacher’s vernacular).

    • Joanna Tuffy says:


      Problem is that the Press is often not in the Press Gallery for many of the speeches anyway, good, bad or indifferent. There there for Leader’s questions and then they leave. One Dáil speech that got some coverage in recent years and was spoken of as a great speech and delivered from the heart is a speech given by Emmet Stagg T.D. in January 2004 about the plight of Irish Emigrants. It can be accessed at this link here:


      I am pretty sure that Emmet’s speech was replayed on radio at the time.

      A great speech was given by Dianne Abbot recently in the British Parliament on plans for 42 days detention that can be viewed on her website here:


      Dianne won a British Media Parliamentarian speech of the Year for that speech. Maybe the Press should organise something similar here?

      Both Emmet’s and Dianne’s speeches are good because they are from the heart and unscripted. Not about State of the Nation or anything hifalutin like that but rather about issues they feel very strongly about.

      I think there often are good speeches in the Dáil and Seanad to be fair. I accept often that is not the case too. The phenomenon of empty press galleries and empty chambers when speeches are being made probably does not promote good speechmaking. Also too much media coverage and credit is given to scripts that are very obviously written for the speaker.

      Maybe listen out a bit more generally to the speeches in the Dáail and Seanad and you might come accross more of the above.


    • Peter B says:

      I agree with An Fear Bolg’s comments – I actually rate Brian Lenihan and sense he is being constrained by Cowen. Cowen is proving to be nothing short of a DISASTER! He just gets worse and worse! I cannot honestly believe his support in FF is sturdy at this stage. As for Mary Coughan, she’s not even worth mentioning. Her appointment to the positon of Tánaiste and her current ministry, is further proof of Cowen’s dire judgement.

    • Deaglán says:

      Joanna, I think the culture of the supplied script has spoilt political oratory. Given the need to keep people “on message” it is inevitable. I wish the scriptwriters were better though.

    • An Fear Bolg says:

      The speechwriters are dire, particularly Cowen’s. One wonders if they ever read them aloud. A machine could write less dense, more human prose.

    • kynos says:

      Noted elsewhere on this blogsite today a comment by de Valera to the effect that a noble thought well expressed can have a much greater effect on the young than commonly perceived. There’s a lot of nihilism out there. Or anomie or whatever. Dangerous stuff that.

    • kynos says:

      “Lives of great men all remind us
      We can make our lives sublime
      And departing leave behind us
      Footprints on the sands of time” – HW Longfellow

    • lorcan says:

      What’s the point in a state-of-the-nation address anyway, we already know the state we are in ! And get daily reminders from the prophets of doom and gloom that make up our pitiful so-called “Opposition” .

    • Kynos says:

      Perhaps if you’d not kept them in opposition for so long you’d have a different state of a nation. Yerrah, nothing so hard as making men see that which they think their fortunes depend on their not seeing.

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