Culchie appropriation: How Michael Healy-Rae grabbed us by the gogglebox

The Kerry TD co-presented ‘The Tonight Show’ with Matt Cooper, cleverly infiltrating Dublin’s liberal media. What next, ghost-writing Fintan O’Toole’s column?

And it’s goodnight from me . . . The Coop and the Cap on Virgin Media’s ‘The Tonight Show’

And it’s goodnight from me . . . The Coop and the Cap on Virgin Media’s ‘The Tonight Show’

 

This week Michael Healy-Rae infiltrated the Dublin 4 media bubble as the co-presenter of Virgin Media’s Tonight Show.

He does so with the panache of the Scarlet Pimpernel, albeit a Scarlet Pimpernel who eats dinner in the middle of the day, smells like rolled-up euros in a biscuit tin and is scarlet only because of the TK red lemonade coursing through his veins.

I suppose we’ve known something like this was coming, ever since we officially decided that anyone who had an opinion on something should get to have a go at it.

“Pssst, nurse . . . why is my anaesthesiologist playing an accordion, wearing a flat cap and shaking hands with my widow?”

“Yes, we could call the bomb squad, but Michael’s here already and he’s brought pliers.”

“Hello passengers, this evening your pilot will be Michael Healy-Rae because it’s 2018 and we don’t give a f*********k.”

He looks tiny next to Cooper, like a 10-year-old child, a hand puppet or a mythical woodland creature who grants wishes if you answer his riddle

The Tonight Show has a strange format anyway, in that its heavyweight presenter (Matt Cooper) comes with a spare (Ivan Yates) lest one of them malfunctions. When one does (in this instance, Yates) they seek interesting alternatives – a trained journalist, six cats in a sack or, in this instance, Michael Healy-Rae, God King of the Southern Reach.

And that’s why Healy-Rae is sitting there beside Matt Cooper wearing Clark Kent spectacles because he’s done his research about what journalists look like and also, presumably, because he’s in disguise (“Aha, it’s me!” he says, whipping off his glasses halfway through).

First observation: He looks tiny next to Cooper, like a 10-year-old child, a hand puppet or a mythical woodland creature who grants wishes if you answer his riddle (the latter, the people of Kerry will tell you, is accurate). Initially, Healy-Rae’s questions to guests are so reasonable Cooper, a seasoned question-asker, probably assumes he is asking them himself.

At no point, at any rate, does Cooper grab journalist Gavan Reilly by the wrists and shout “YOU CAN SEE HIM TOO?” though he does look over in Healy-Rae’s direction from time to time with an expression that says, “So, it has finally come to this.”

Not-Michael 1 to 5

Sitting nearby are five politicians, academics and journalists who do not wear flat caps and are hence less memorable and telegenic than Michael Healy-Rae and who also look at Michael as though saying, “So, it has finally come to this.” I’m going to call them Not-Michael 1 to 5.

It’s soon clear why having a sitting politician moderating makes no sense. While Not-Michael 5 (Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin) and Not-Michael 4 (Fianna Fáil’s Lorraine Clifford-Lee) bicker over housing policy and the latter’s refusal to support the former’s no-confidence motion in housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, Michael briefly steps in to defend landlords. Michael is, incidentally, the biggest landlord in the Dáil. When, later, they discuss the plan to put cancer warnings on alcohol packaging, he laments the “demonisation” of the industry and starts listing all the wonderful people who work in it. Michael, incidentally, has a brother who runs a pub.

“Have you been lobbied, Michael, or do you need to be lobbied?” asks Matt Cooper, clear he’s not a figment of his imagination now.

“I think he’s one of the lobbyists,” says Senator Frances Black

The truth is, Michael Healy-Rae isn’t really presenting at all. He’s making a public appearance. His autocue, if he has one, probably looks like one of those toy steering wheels we give to babies. He is here to make the heads of metropolitan elitists like myself explode all over Twitter like digital spores.

If Varadkar can appropriate culchie culture, then Michael Healy-Rae can pull one over on the big eejits in Dublin by pretending to be a television presenter

“Surely this was the type of thing our multi-seat proportional representation system was meant to contain in the outlands, with all the ghost estates and country ’n’ Irish bands and former members of Westlife?” they tweet. Yes, weeping here at my desk in “metropolitan elite headquarters” (The Irish Times), I have so many questions.

Since when can Healy-Raes even leave Kerry? (The Dáil doesn’t count; I assume there’s an EU-subsidised underground tunnel running directly from the Healy-Rae compound to Leinster House.)

Greater Kerry

Could a Healy-Rae ever be president? I mean, everyone else is having a go. They’d probably do it if Ireland was declared “Greater Kerry” (running Kerry is a bigger ambition to them than running a parochial backwater like “Ireland”).

Is Michael, in donning glasses and asking journo questions, insensitively appropriating my culture? I suppose he is. But cultural appropriation is part of politics. A few weeks ago, for example, a besuited Leo Varadkar had a go on a horse drawn plough at the Ploughing Championships. “Look at me!” his expression seemed to say. “Though I am better than you with your lowly peasant pastimes and, how you say, ‘cow-shite’, I too can walk on uneven ground and feign an interest in diesel.”

If Varadkar and the rest can appropriate culchie culture when it suits them, then I guess Michael Healy-Rae can pull one over on the big eejits in Dublin by pretending to be a television presenter (as a grotesque culchie/metropolitan elite hybrid, I’m torn on both issues).

Also, what difference does it make? I mean, look who he’s replacing. Ivan Yates, a former bookie with a ministerial pension, is an end-of-level boss version of Healy-Rae anyway.

Because this is the big secret of Irish politics and the reason “mainstream” politicians like to mock the Healy-Raes in the first place: their blatant pandering to their constituents is a core political value in Ireland. If you gave most Irish TDs an MRI scan you’d see that most were, in fact, wearing tiny little Healy-Rae flat caps (hence, as Karl Deeter notes on this show, why so many politicians complain about a lack of housing while simultaneously protesting developments in their own constituencies).

The new breed of photogenic Fine Gaelers may kiss pictures of Macron at night, have the word “technocrat” on their Tinder profiles and name their children things like “Google” and “Development Plan 2020”, but get them on the doorstep and they’ll sing a rebel song, kiss your stupid baby and rustle up a medical card before you can say the words “single transferable vote”. In Irish politics we are all Michael Healy-Rae. And this, I presume, is the crushing point the producers of The Tonight Show are trying to make.

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