Was this a ‘State of the Nation’ address?
A few minutes after Enda Kenny finished speaking last night I tweeted a rather obvious sentiment that I’m sure was already put out by many others: When does a political party broadcast end and a state of the Nation speech begin?
My difficulty with Enda Kenny’s address last night was neither the delivery (which is unimportant) nor the content (which was solid). It was the context, and the branding.
It’s only the fifth ever such statement to be broadcast on the national airwaves. I could only recall two – Lynch’s “we can’t stand (idly) by” speech from 1969 and Haughey’s “we are living beyond our means” speech from 1980.
The other two were delivered by Garret FitzGerald during the 1980s. I had no memory of them until reading about them in recent days. I am quite sure the two speeches have slipped from the public memory… save for a very small minority.
Pat Kenny played clips from them this morning on his radio show this morning. They sounded uncannily similar to the address given by Enda Kenny last night – eg more party political than national address. My main problem with Kenny’s speech was that it was a party political broadcast (mainly) masquerading (in most parts) as a non-partisan address to the nation.
The first thing to say is that I have no difficulty with such addresses being made. In fact, I think that they should become a regular feature of the Irish political landscape – the leader of the day, and perhaps opposition leaders, spelling out the state of play and where they hope to bring us.
But the address, for all its mertis, was not a State of the Nation. My colleague Deaglan wrote a very good piece a week ago giving the historical background behind such speeches. The powers conferred by the Broadcasting Act 2009 are quite specific – a TV station can be directed to allocate broadcast time for an announcement “in the event of a major emergency”.
Sure we are in a kind of emergency situation, but it’s not new. It has been with us for three years now. The legislation envisages a ‘force majeure’ kind of event and, by any stretch of the imagination, they rarely last for three years. When Lynch and Haughey gave their addresses, both were peering over the edge into the abyss. What distinguished their speeches from those of FitzGerald and Kenny was that the latter were dealing with ongoing situations or a continuum. They were not delivered at a crucial turning point in the State’s history.
The pertient time to have given a State of the Nation address was in the summer of 2008 when a new taoiseach Brian Cowen realised that his inheritance from Bertie Ahern was a poison pill.
Cowen should have given such an address but he refused to do so. It was another major shortcoming on his part as taoiseach, mixing both stubborness and a shocking lack of judgement. People needed to know what kind of storm was brewing. Meanwhile, Cowen took a very firm decision to stick his head in the sand.
Kenny should be saluted for his courage to make such a speech. I was a little nonplussed by the timing of it. It was delivered on the eve of the two-day budgetary announcemement – the most pre-announced Budget in history.
Secondly, it came in advance of the crucial European summit next Friday (I know, I know, the other 15 Euro summits on the eurozone crisis were crucial too and all have come to naught). That is potentially a gamechanger and may change the course of political direction in Ireland forever.
There were no ‘newly discovered facts’, no revelations, no indication of a major change in political direction, no elucidation of a message to the wider EU and to the world.
I was a bit surprise at that. Kenny did hint that Ireland’s support for “stronger governance” may necessitate treaty change and a rderednum. But besides his general exhortation for EU leaders to make and implement a strong decision on Friday, there were none of the specifics or vision on the future of Europe that were set out by Sarkozy and Merkel in their speeches.
We are never conscious enough of the disconnect between us who write about politics on a daily basis (or establishment stooges as many of you so gracefully put it) and Joe Public out there. There were a couple of factoids that Kenny delivered that are very well known to us, but maybe not so much to others out there. Like the €16 billion gap between spending and income, about the full extent of the pain that will have to be inflicted over the next couple of years.
Kenny did square up and say that there was pain ahead and that pre-election promises won’t be delivered.
And there were a couple of good lines:
“I would like to tell you that the Budghet won’t impact on every citizen in need – but I can’t”.
Not so much “Yes, We Can.” Rather, it is: “No, We Can’t”. Equally effective thought.
Note to Kenny’s scriptwriters: Please retire the line about him wanting to make this the best small country in the world in which to do business etc… It has been flogged to death. It is a corpse. There is no life left in it.
My own verdict, for what it’s worth, is that it’s no bad thing to do these broadcasts on a relatively frequent basis.
My other main point: it was essentially a political broadcast rather than a State of the Nation address. The content was predominantly partisan, though more candid in places than, say, an Ard Fheis address. In fairness, the Government acknowledged this when declining to describe it as a “major emergency”.
Hence the opposition parties getting ‘cothrom na féinne’ and their own broadcasts.