Timing is everything
There is a recurring gag in the spoof movie Airplane featuring a veteran air traffic controller. It starts off with him lighting a cigarette and saying: I picked the wrong day to give up cigarettes.”
The next scene we see him declaring that he picked up the wrong day to give up alcohol. And so forth, until right at the end of the film, he is completely out of it and inchoherent when saying: “I picked up the wrong day to give up crystal meths”.
For some inexplicable reason, that scene came to mind when pondering on the events at the Fianna Fail parliamentary party.
Logically, there are compelling reasons for bringing forward more stringent drink driving limits now. Ireland remains one of the few countries in Europe with a higher limit.
But politically, the Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey’s proposals have been a disaster. Not the proposals per se, but their timing. He picked the wrong day to put them to the FF parliamentary party.
I was elsewhere last night (doing a public Q and A with Michael D Higgins in fact – for more, see below). But my colleagues last night, and FF backbenchers today, said that some were spitting fire at Dempsey.
In rural communities, especially the more isolated ones, this is going to cause hardship. The argument has been made that for some older people, the pub is their only social outlet. The new limits will mean they will not be able to have even one drink and drive home. And with pubs being small and communities being scattered it’s not practical for them to be left home.
I have no idea how widespread that phenonenon is, or if that cohort is responsible for many accidents/deaths on Irish road. There is a strong counter argument that the public good in the guise of fewer accidents is stronger than the negative effect of social isolation. It is, admittedly, a very tricky subject to debate.
What were the reasons for Dempsey to introduce the new rules at this particular moment in time? In the middle of economic chaos and the Government parties getting verbal lashings in the media every day. This is one more piece of bad news. But backbenchers have argued that it was unnecessary bad news as there was no compelling reason to introduce it now, a month before the Budget, rather than at some later stage. Equally, the RSA and the Government were keen to make sure it became reality before Christmas.
But such was the rebellion from backbenchers last night that the Government seem to be content to longfinger the problem, using the cover of awaiting developments in Northern Ireland where similar measures are in gestation. It seems like a classic fudge.
Dempsey was subject to verbal battering last night. He has lots of ideas but can often be very unfortunate in his timing like his abortive attempts to reintroduce third-level fees and to lower the number of seats in the Dáil by 40.
* Michael D. There was a fabulous turnout last night for the interview with Michael D Higgins in Dublin last night as part of an NUI Galway series of events. I was the guy who was given the task of leading him through his four decades involvement with politics. They had only the most tentative connection with the long, flowing, meandering, but fantastic answers.
He almost choked with emotion twice when remembering the hardship of his childhood near Newmarket-on Fergus in Co Clare. He also made an astounding defence of the role of the public intellectual in Irish political and social life.
NUIG will be posting the video onto its website soon. If you have spare time (I think there is an hour) it is well worth listening for his personal reflections plus views on public life.
And in a couple of his anecdotes, which Noel Dempsey might well learn from, he reemphasised the fact that timing in politics is everything.