Bull O’Donoghue Loses Out to Matador Gilmore
Deaglán de Bréadún
So the Bull is gone as Ceann Comhairle following a lethal intervention by the Labour Party leader. Does anyone think he got a raw deal or was the bum’s rush the appropriate manner for him to exit?
Matador Eamon finished off the Bull (Photograph by Cyril Byrne)
Herewith my own views from today’s paper:-
O’Donoghue put up a fight but battle was already lost
Wed, Oct 14, 2009
ANALYSIS: John O’Donoghue rose to the occasion, but too late to save his political career, writes DEAGLÁN DE BRÉADÚN
PARAPHRASING Shakespeare, one might say that nothing in John O’Donoghue’s political life became him like the leaving of it. True, he is still a Dáil deputy and intends to run in the next general election, but his career as an office-holder came to an end, for the time being at least, in Leinster House yesterday.
There will be divided views on the content of his speech, but as a piece of oratory it was a substantial cut above the norm in a House where good speakers are few and far between. Supplied scripts and sound-bites have virtually brought an end to the well-phrased and strongly-delivered parliamentary address.
O’Donoghue came out of his corner fighting but, unfortunately for him, it was the last round of the title-fight and he had scored very few points with public opinion at the critical early stages.
Oratory is nowadays seen as old-fashioned and, though still relatively young, O’Donoghue is an old-style politician. When the media firestorm started to develop over the summer, he did nothing at first, then issued an apology best described as minimalist, along with a solicitor’s letter to the newspaper that had been pursuing him with the greatest zeal.
It’s often said that ministers and other senior office-holders live in a bubble. With almost every need being attended to by a squad of deferential officials and advisers, the dangers of becoming out of touch with ordinary people and their feelings is very real.
In his oration to the Dáil, he protested that he did not want to sully the dignity of his office by getting embroiled in political controversy. But just because you are not interested in controversy does not mean that controversy is not interested in you.
Lying low and hoping the storm would blow over was never going to work as a strategy. The lively tradition of muckraking journalism is based on the concept of publishing the facts about public figures perceived to be acting without due regard to the public interest and ultimately driving them from office.
O’Donoghue made some telling points in his own defence yesterday but he had left it too late. His approach throughout the entire imbroglio was a textbook example of how not to deal with political and public relations difficulties. The first rule is to take a position of total disclosure. If you have nothing to hide, then why not make all the available facts public and stand over your conduct and performance?
Although one would not wish to equate the two men, one could not help being reminded of former US president Richard Nixon during yesterday’s Dáil sitting. As a vice-presidential candidate in 1952, he got into serious political trouble over his expenses but turned the tables on his critics and emerged triumphant with the Checkers Speech where he successfully defended his behaviour but proclaimed that he was going to hold on to one political gift to his daughters, a dog called Checkers.
The moral of the story was: come out fighting and, if you have a good case, the critics will be silenced. But O’Donoghue’s remarks yesterday were closer to Nixon’s farewell speech as he departed the White House in August 1974, which saw him fighting a rearguard action in a battle that was already lost.
However, the chief target of O’Donoghue’s ire was not the media but the man who was sitting directly opposite him in the chamber as he spoke: Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore.
His fundamental message was that Gilmore had not permitted him due process and a fair hearing before leading the charge to drive him out of office. Whereas Gilmore made clear afterwards that he stood over his actions, it cannot have been entirely comfortable for him to sit through what amounted to a lengthy denunciation of his approach to the controversy, in the full glare of parliamentary and media scrutiny.
There was no triumphalism on the Opposition benches over the departure of O’Donoghue. All of them would acknowledge he was a fair-minded and impartial chairman. The speed with which he was dispatched has left the political system breathless and even those who regard his expenditure as grossly extravagant cannot fail to be disturbed by the manner in which the holder of such a high constitutional office was forced out.
Two years ago, O’Donoghue’s US counterpart Nancy Pelosi became embroiled in controversy in relation to the requested use of military aircraft for taxpayer-funded travel. Despite being the holder of high office, she had no compunction about launching a robust defence of her actions. Had she taken the O’Donoghue approach she might well be gone to the political shadows by now.
Reading his carefully-numbered points from a double-spaced, loose-leaf script, O’Donoghue told the Dáil: “Had I entered into robust debate, I thought I would inflict damage to the independent and neutral nature of the office.”
But then, as he put it, “the public mood changed”.
That’s when the pace of events began to hot up: Sinn Féin stole a march on Labour and put the larger party under pressure by being the first to call for O’Donoghue to step down. Outraged radio listeners – a tautology in this context – phoned Liveline to express their views.
At the end of the outgoing Ceann Comhairle’s speech yesterday there was general admiration for its technique and manner of delivery, whatever about the content. He had raised issues that he now apparently intends to pursue, setting the record straight from his point of view.
But whatever the rights and wrongs of the issue, he was gone. The matter was settled and the system will move on to other considerations. It seems the historians will have to decide whether or not it was a bad day for democracy.
Deaglán de Bréadún is a Political Correspondent
(c) 2009 The Irish Times