Crowd-puller of messianic proportions takes to pulpit to spread his message

Tue, Feb 23, 2010, 00:00

TWO WEEKS after he renounced Dáil Éireann, and all its works and all its pomps, George Lee appeared at a very different public forum last night – a Catholic Church Novena in Co Tipperary.

RTÉ’s former economics editor, who resigned as Fine Gael TD for Dublin South after just eight months, is one of a number of guest lay-speakers attending this week’s series of prayer meetings in Borrisokane.

His wife, Mary (nee Kitson) is a native of the town and his mother-in-law is the local sacristan. Mr Lee had, some months ago, accepted the invitation to speak on the topic of “Hope in Recession”.

Throughout the afternoon, his arrival was keenly anticipated. On Main Street, Mary Gavin (51) was looking forward to hearing from a man who was “too honest to be a politician”.

A man who did not wish to be named said he wasn’t going but his wife was. He was “watching her like a hawk” because “she has a thing about George Lee”.

A notice at the church entrance warned that cameras and recording equipment were forbidden. Journalists waiting in the freezing night air were told that Mr Lee would not be giving interviews and no script was available.

Parish priest, Fr Tom O’Halloran, couldn’t fail to have noticed that, in an era of declining church attendance, here was a crowd-puller of messianic proportions.  Mr Lee’s remarks were a mixture of personal and political and were well-received by a congregation estimated at over 500 people, in the Church of Saints Peter and Paul. They laughed when he self-deprecatingly described an economist as “a man who knows 100 ways to make love but doesn’t know any women”.

Addressing the topic, he said the country’s biggest problem was “the unemployment crisis” which could not just be fixed by “cutting costs”.

Prosperity had collapsed because of the hubris of Government, banks and even trade unions who had “wanted more and more and more” and “when risks became apparent we were told to ignore it”.

He said Nama “cannot work in isolation” and the economy could not be fixed unless the Government tackles the jobs crisis. “We need to put the builders back to work” and the Government needs to encourage investment in the economy, he said.

Referring to his spell in the Dáil, he said he had been “a busy fool in politics”. He revealed that a recent private opinion poll in his Dublin South constituency showed that in a general election, Fine Gael would win a 54 per cent share of first preference votes – the same level of support he had received and said “people are looking for change”.

The Borrisokane Novena is dedicated to the memory of Venerable Matt Talbot, a Dubliner who died in 1925, revered by many Catholics for a lifetime of piety and mortification of the flesh which he achieved by wearing chains on his body concealed by clothing. Prayers are being offered to provide “hope” to people who have lost jobs during the recession and “healing” for those afflicted by addiction to a range of vices from “shopping” to “mobile phones”.

Mr Lee is not the first RTÉ personality to undertake such an engagement. Last year, Six One newsreader, Bryan Dobson addressed pilgrims at the Marian Shrine in Knock, Co Mayo, on “Hope in Contemporary Culture”.