Kathy Sheridan: Why Hugh McElvaney expects to top poll and probably will
People like us will decide that on balance, Hughie is a grand fellow, up front at every funeral and ready with a hand-out for a family in trouble
You will recall Cllr Hugh McElvaney demanding sterling for his troubles. The question for the next generation of pub quizzes will focus on how precisely he phrased it. And the correct answer is: “What’s in it for the darkie?” The darkie? “Offensive word for a black person,” says the Collins English Dictionary. What inspired his charming use of the word? At some impressionable age, had he pledged solidarity with the black slaves in Gone with the Wind, when old slave-driver Gerald O’Hara said things like ,“You must be firm, but you must be gentle, especially with darkies”?
Or perhaps he found his inspiration in Jimmy Rabbitte’s rousing speech to The Commitments back in the day. “Do you not get it, lads? The Irish are the blacks of Europe. And Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. And the northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin.” Perhaps Hughie and his little band fell down the rabbit hole and came to see Monaghan folk as the great oppressed of Europe? In that case, old Gerald O’Hara (an Irish immigrant) would be pretty darned impressed by the levels of gentleness out there for Hughie and his ilk. It’s the firmness that’s lacking.
McElvaney is sticking to his story about luring RTÉ into his web, using what Joe Duffy astutely termed the “Homeland” defence, whereby the accused turns the tables on the accusers and becomes the hero. But in Homeland, the CIA’s Berlin chief is almost credible in her righteous indignation and ingenuity. What defines the Irish version is the near absence of both. Unlike the Berlin chief, McElvaney claims he knew he was being set up and so had the advantage.
Surely then, he would have recorded the proceedings and/or gone public immediately, screaming blue murder about the evil temptress inveigling a decent man to betray his own community? And where do we, the people, stand? Shocked. Outraged. Gobsmacked. Under law, on footage already viewed, there is insufficient evidence to incriminate anyone by all accounts. Shocking altogether. Yet, here’s the point. Hughie firmly believes he will top the poll again and on previous evidence around this country, he has every reason for his confidence. Why ? Because people like us will decide that on balance, Hughie is a grand fellow, up front at every funeral and ready with a handout for a family in trouble.
If someone like Hughie spearheads the kind of wind farm zoning that will destroy a family’s quality of life or enables construction on flood plains or fails to declare his considerable wealth, well that’s another thing entirely. It’s not that we approve, of course. It’s the Haughey effect. If a guy is capable of enriching himself with just his wits, then surely he can do the same for his own little band? The tendency to favour “minding our own” over “doing what we’re told”, is explored by Niamh Hourigan in Rule-Breakers (subtitled “Why ‘being there’ trumps ‘being fair’ in Ireland”), a highly readable look at how the national character was shaped. It would make an excellent Christmas present for anyone curious about how we got here.
It helps to explain why so many step up to excoriate such behaviour but few enough are prepared to explore the electorate’s role in it. It also explains why so many “stars” of RTÉ Investigates and all the investigations before it, were hugged, consoled, reassured and re-elected by people in their own communities. We can be sure that councillors out canvassing for a Dáil seat will be grilled and abused about water charges and levies, but how many will be tackled about their compliance with declarations of interest? For all the tut-tutting, where exactly does ethical purity rank in our priorities?
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We, the people, have the power, should we choose to use it. Will we?