This article originally appeared in the New York ‘Irish Examiner USA’ for11th June, 2013
Muppets in the Seanad, Clowns in the Dail: It’s Debate, Irish-style!
Our beloved Taoiseach Enda Kenny has quite obviously been hanging around with, and taking orders from, our German masters for far too long. This week it became patently clear that he has began to think just like them; and at the very least he trying in his own odd way to throw the same kind of shapes as them. Judging by his hard-nosed take on the abolition of the Seanad this week he’s obviously been studying the theory of ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say.’ That’s a problem that arises when you let one of the small people into the Big Boys’ Playpen. They start trying to act like them. They even begin to imagine that they have acquired a certain gravitas (and a spine), as if by some weird process of osmosis. I can account for it in no other way. Something has to be done about Herr Enda and his dreams of totalitarianism before he gets carried away altogether.
This week was a gorgeous one in Galway. The sun was shining, the sea was sparkling and what a pleasure it was to wake up in the morning and just throw all the windows and doors open. To leap out of bed and greet the day instead of just pulling the duvet over the head whilst waiting for the next austerity bill to drop through the letterbox. When you feel like that, all problems seem to be dispersed and life looks…well, pretty good. And when you are feeling like that you don’t want to be hearing something upsetting, like what one of the spongers in the Dail has been up to now. So I avoided any mention of what was going on and concentrated instead on getting in touch with my inner lecher, by ogling the many hotties that come out in this fine weather—ogling being about the extent of what I can manage these days.
Still, it was hard to avoid hearing that we would finally be getting a vote on what to do with the Seanad—or Upper Chamber, if you prefer—in the next few months. And that is why a phone call from Lori, a woman with very set views herself, brought me back down to earth on Thursday. I got in with a pre-emptive strike:
“Look, don’t start on me. I had already made my mind up on this ages ago. As much as I see wrong with the Seanad I’m not voting to abolish it. I’m not going to give that weasel Kenny and his gang of gougers any more power than they already have. That little tin-pot dictator can bugger off if he thinks that’s the way it’s going to go. I’m going to vote to reform it and try to encourage other people to do the same. I don’t know where we’ll start and I don’t know who you could trust to be put in charge of something like that; but we can begin with getting rid of this nonsense that only university-educated—“
“You didn’t listen to the news, did you?” I was rudely interrupted.
Now this might come as a surprise but I can be hard to stop when I get going in full flight on hungry swinish politicians. This definitely put a halt to my gallop, though. And that is how I came to learn that we the peasants won’t be getting any choice in what to do with the Seanad. It is ‘take it or leave it’. It is ‘you vote to keep it and things stay just as they are’; or ‘you vote to get rid of it and we are in complete control, with no one to hold us even slightly in check’.
Respect for Enda!
Well, Enda, what do you know? I’ll give you just a small bit of respect for that piece of slipperiness. It’s not Machiavellian, you wouldn’t have those kind of brains; but whoever you’ve been listening to (go on, tell us, was it your boss Angela?) has your welfare at heart. Here we are, the one time—the ONE time that you keep to an election promise—and this is the one you go for. You have reneged on every single other vow that you made when you were running for power; and the ONE time that you can now say with complete truth that you have done just what you said you would do is the one time that can harm you in no way whatsoever. The only ones with absolutely nothing to gain are the voters themselves. It’s quite extraordinary. Either way that this one falls, you win. No wonder that you didn’t wish to give us the choice that we wanted: to reform the damned place, something that has been needed for years. Nice one, Enda; nice one.
So, sunshine or not, it was back with a weary heart to finding out how our clutch of chancers were reacting to this; and of course this was something that would take the spring out of anyone’s step. Because the plain fact is that everybody here has their own agenda and of course there’s nothing unusual about that; but this time it is made worse by listening to what they are saying NOW and then having to check back to what they were saying THEN.
We might as well start with Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin. At the FF Ard Fheis Martin described Kenny’s thoughts on abolishing the Seanad as constituting a ‘major power-grab by the Government’. For once I can completely agree with him because that is what it is; but of course it’s never that simple with a politician. That was two MONTHS ago. Two YEARS ago, when he was campaigning to try to keep his ass in the Power Seat he was calling for the complete abolition of the Seanad! But wait! Isn’t that the same thing that Dame Edna is calling for now?
I said I’d start with Martin but in all truthfulness it’s just a catalogue of the same U-turns. It’s boring for me to dig through it and it must be boring for you to read it.
What never ceases to amaze me about politicians is that they seem to think that they release their words into some kind of vacuum. To a certain extant I can sympathise. When I sit here on a Monday I have no idea if anyone beyond the editor will ever read this (and sometimes I have my doubts about you, Grahame, heh). I actually breathe a sigh of relief when someone emails me to tell me how rude I am. But if anyone wants to check to see if I ever contradict myself, well this stuff when printed, is out there somewhere for good. Politicians sometimes don’t seem to grasp this. I used to think that it was because they couldn’t care less; but then I recall Kenny being caught in a blatant ‘untruth’ a couple of years back. He argued black-and-white that he had not told a journalist what he had told him; and he then seemed genuinely surprised that the journalist had caught him on one of those new-fangled inventions called a tape-recorder.
Jesus wept! Almost everything can be found on youtube these days and our lot still get caught out by tape-recorders? No wonder he refuses to be interviewed by the great Vincent Browne. Vincent would eat him alive before he had even ASKED any questions!
I loved the comments from Fine Gael’s Minister for Children, Francis Fitzgerald:
“I have always said that strong Dail reform is an essential part of any proposal to have a single chamber so I support this. It’s part of the Government programme, both parties signed up for it, that we would ask the people to make the decision.
“The job over the next few months is to convince the public that checks and balances are in the Dail and it is strong and accountable and there is real change happening.”
Did you ever hear such unreconstructed bull in your life? ‘Checks and balances are in the Dail’? When did this take place? ‘Real change is happening’? They have proved again only this week that they are STILL favouring the ‘jobs for the boys’ mentality and they don’t give a damn what we think of it.
I got a bit of a laugh from our one-time Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Michael McDowell, mind you. He was in fine form as he defended the Seanad. On Today with Pat Kenny he told interviewer Myles Dungan that it was able to scrutinise legislation more intensely and could in theory (!) ask the President to put a piece of such legislation to a referendum.
“People forget about that. That’s a particular provision in the Constitution that enables the wishes of the majority in the Dail not to have a matter properly debated, dealt with.” And if only he had left it at ‘the people’ as they so condescendingly call us when it suits them, we might have forgotten a thing or two about HIM. Instead he rose to the bait when Myles remarked that there have been and still are quite few muppets in the Seanad:
“I’ve never come across a muppet in the Seanad, never once.” Seriously, I’m not making this up—because you couldn’t.
As Fine Gael TD Paschal Donohoe was also in the studio he got dragged into this edifying debate as well:
“I’d challenge either of you and I’d ask Paschal to identify a muppet in the Seanad because there are quite a few clowns in the Dail.”
No muppets in the Seanad, eh? Poor old Michael can’t be looking too closely in his dotage. And he didn’t do himself any favours by talking of ‘clowns in the Dail’. That bit of wisdom only served to remind us of the many years that he spent covering the asses of such fine and upstanding individuals as Charles J. Haughey and Bertie Ahern.
On attempting to put to sleep the fears of many—I know that it keeps me awake at night– he added that since the Seanad would be doing all this important scrutinising of the European Union, which for some reason our brain boxes in the Dail get confused about, that “…Ming [the Merciless] Flanagan, Mick Wallace and various other people, like Michael Healy Rae, will not be interested in doing that type of work”.
Is he kidding? Just because they would be useless doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t take the hand off you if they thought that there was another few quid in it for them. I think he’s having a laugh.
This I do agree with him on:
“It’s a bit like saying: ‘I don’t think the fire escape in my house is very good. Let’s tear it out completely’. Or: ‘I am not sure of my alarm system; let’s tear it out as well’.
“If something isn’t working well, you make it work well.”
Amazing. Common sense from a politician. All the more amazing when you consider that McDowell now belongs to something with the amusing moniker of Democracy Matters; which, as far as I can make out, is made up of old people and has-beens who want to keep a bit of power.
No, I’d better read over that again. That doesn’t sound right at all, does it?
Shock as Green Party Member Found!
Biggest laugh for me came from the leader of the Green Party, Eamon Ryan. He says that they will be campaigning for a No vote. No, I can’t believe it either: there still exists a Green Party; and it has a leader. I think I’ve been out in the sun too long.
But Enda Kenny is not for turning! This is the new, the decisive, the indefatigable, the exclamation mark using Enda! On the RTE Propaganda Time he told a salivating and worshipful reporter that:
“The decision is clear, it’s unequivocal, and it is government policy! Everybody campaigned on that and they knew that in the beginning when they signed up their pledge!”
Bless his little heart. He’ll be repeating this message of strength when he’s interviewed by Pravda later in the week. He’s so excited about this that he’s forgotten that a lot of us still have a great big long list of all the things that he said were going to happen once he was in power.
Look: if Enda Kenny tells you something then you can take it as solid rock. He is a man who never changes his position. He takes a stance and by God he sticks to it. Here he was mouthing out of him on August 30, 2009, less than four years ago:
“Fine Gael’s concerns about NAMA arise from its potentially colossal cost for taxpayers, its doubtful impact on credit availability and the unfairness of asking taxpayers to take responsibility for the reckless behaviour of developers and banks.” [My italics.]
And yes Enda, he said wearily. You are on record.
A quick postscript: I’ve only just heard of the death of the Scottish writer Iain Banks, from cancer, at the ludicrously young age of 59. He was one of those astonishing writers who could often utterly disgust you whilst making you laugh at the same time. He could sometimes do the two within the same sentence. His book ‘The Wasp Factory’ will always remain for me one of the most twisted, horrifying and hilariously funny studies of a family of Scottish lunatics I’ve ever had the pleasure to not meet. I did meet Banks himself though, several years ago, when he was staying at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin. I was knocked out by his humour and generosity of spirit. His books have a large following in Ireland and he will be missed. He had announced, in true and unflinching Banks style, several months ago that he was due to fall off the twig; so I’ll leave you with this quote from his novel ‘Espedair Street’ which probably speaks for all of us who are about to snuff it:
“There’s this sloth in the jungle walking from one tree to another, and it’s mugged by a gang of snails, and when the police ask the sloth if it could identify any of its attackers, it says, ‘I don’t know; it all happened so quickly…’”
That’s life, Iain. It seems as if we have forever and then it all happens too quickly. RIP.