This article originally appeared in the New York ‘Irish Examiner USA’  for 30th April 2013


We’re all just Sitting in a Pan of Cold Water



You know, I give out yards about our Taoiseach Enda Kenny all the time.  Let’s be honest, I break out in a really painful rash when I simply look at a photograph of his smirking, self-satisfied face.  I have to admit it, though:  there are times when I think that I just might miss him when he is booted out at the next election.  After all, he is always good for a laugh.  He may not mean to cheer you up but he does it all the same.

Take last Tuesday.  I was in a right old Blue Fugue.  I was thinking that I should really call myself the Man who Lived his Life Backwards.  Having seen my pension wiped out by our last gang of chancers and having made quite a few bad money decisions all on my lonesome and with no one else to blame, I’m more on my ass than I was twenty years ago.  So:  reflections on a bad day.  There I was, broke as usual and with not even a can of Dutch Gold in the fridge to cheer me up.  What can you do when you’re that far down but find out what is going on in the Dail that day?

Ah, happy decision!  There was Dame Edna Kenny, emoting like the bejeezus.  Feeling other people’s pain like a mad thing, he was. Opposition leader Michael Martin was having a right go at him, trying to make out that Enda was insensitive to the troubles of the farming community and he was asking all sorts of awkward questions.

Now the shortage of fodder after our lousy out-of-season freezing cold weather spell is not a laughing matter and I’ll get to that; but for now, there is no sight like Enda getting on his high horse and pretending that he gives a damn about anything that is not happening in the Irish capitals of Berlin or Brussels.  He starts to get red in the face and wave sheets of paper around as if he could dismiss Martin and all he stands for (not a lot as we saw at the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis last week).  And what a way with words he has.  Proud Mayo man and all that, he has a strong affinity with the land. And so he stormed at his tormentor that he knew very well that “the relationship between farmers and their animals is very close”.

That’s all it took to make me smile again.  He’s a great man for the “special, close relationships” is Enda.  We have a “special relationship” with America, for example.  And our relationship with Britain? Ah, that’s fierce “special” altogether, so it is.  And I still recall the obnoxious, craven looks on the faces of Tiny Gilmore and the Dame last year as they sucked up to the Chinese delegation during their three-day visit here.  They were over to check out how deeply we were in the toilet before they made up their minds whether or not to buy us.  At least they had the decency to look puzzled as Enda spoke of our “special relationship” with China whilst the rest of us scratched our heads and tried to remember what we knew about the place apart from its god-awful history of human rights abuses.

Still, good old Enda; you can’t beat him when it comes to uttering a shallow, empty, condescending remark that he somehow manages to deliver wrongly just the same.  But I now know that “the relationship between farmers and their animals is very close.”

On the same day that France legalises same-sex marriage our fella opens up the debate on bestiality, the love that REALLY dare not moo its name.  That’s our Enda.

Bernie Comes to Ireland

Michael Martin was addressing a serious issue, the fodder shortage being one that Dubliners seem to find irrelevant, just as they do anything else that happens in rural Ireland.  I wonder where they think that the eggs, milk, bacon and so on actually comes from. Enda was as dismissive of this as he is of anything that doesn’t relate to his friends the Bankers.  Any bankers.  They don’t have to be with one particular bank:  just as long as you have the faintest association with banking then Enda and Company will make plenty of time for you.  Farmers?  The hell with them.  The fodder shortage?  Relatively small problem, no need to send in a task force, it’s not as if the Banks are in trouble again.  Now that would be serious!  The suicide rates in rural communities?  Ah, well, it’s a problem but what can you do?

The reason that the Government—any Government—has always found it pretty easy to divide and conquer here is because we’ve already done most of the donkey work ourselves. (Donkeys—sorry, Enda has me at it now!)

I was reviewing a film a few days ago that has arrived here a little late.  It’s called ‘Bernie’ and is based on the true life incident in which a funeral director from Carthage, East Texas shot dead a widow that he had been working for.  This guy Bernie is so popular and old lady Nugent so hated that his trial has to be moved to stop a jury of his peers not only letting him go but very likely pinning a medal onto him as well.  I loved it; and it dawned on me that to some extent there was a commentary on Ireland there, unlikely as that may sound.

The film’s director, Richard Linklater, mixes in with the dramatisation, interviews with the townspeople of Carthage—some are actors, some are real.  I enjoyed this comment from one character:

“Carthage is in East Texas and that is totally different from the rest of Texas, which could be five different states, actually.  You got your West Texas out there with a bunch of flat ranchers.  Up north you got Dallas snobs with their Mercedes’.  And then you got your Houston, the Carthinogenic Coast I call it… Then down south in Antonio that’s where the Tex meets the Mex, like the food.  Then in central Texas you got the People’s Republic of Austin, with a bunch of hairy-legged women and liberal fruitcakes.  ‘Course I left out the Panhandle but then a lot of people do.

“But Carthage?  This is where the South begins.”

That may not be word perfect but I hope that you get the gist.  Change a few names around and you wouldn’t be far off listening to an Irish person slagging off some neighbouring counties.  In a country as small as this we can find so many differences!  It’s mad.

I live in Oranmore, County Galway.  I was listening to some school kids yakking a while back and they were giving out about one of their classmates.  Now it was in good fun but the kid in question was referred to as a sheep-shagger because he comes from Maree—which is a whole three miles away!

Dubliners think that about their country cousins; and the rural population can be pretty cutting about the capital.  Cork people, of course, think that they’re living in the REAL capital. (Sorry, Mike Bowen, but I think that you’d agree!)

I’m guilty of it myself:  I personally think that the good people of North Tipperary can’t possibly be playing with a full deck; they keep on voting a crook and a creep like Michael Lowry in time after time!  And the reason that they do it?  “A crook he may well be but we’re not taking orders from that shower above in Dublin”.

If I think that the Tipp crowd are half-mad then I’m damned sure that the whole of Kerry South should be isolated from the rest of the country for the good of the majority.  I mean, how on Earth do you explain an entire species that are happy to be represented by the appallingly embarrassing Healy-Rae clan?  In any normal society they would have been driven out by villagers waving burning torches…just on sheer principle.

If there is any section of the population that I’ve not insulted, please be assured it was just an oversight on my part.  I’ll try to get around to you in another column.

And there you go:  that’s why it is so easy for politicians to keep us at each other’s throats.  Of course, what we SHOULD be doing is getting together properly in order to fight the real enemy:  them.  Tough guys when they’re dealing with us but cowards and swine when they’re dealing with the bankers.

I’m talking about spineless toadies like Finance Minister Michael Noonan.  A great man for talking about us ‘taking one for the team’ is Michael.  He holds 15% of Bank of Ireland’s shares—supposedly on our behalf—and yet at their Annual General Meeting last Wednesday he completely wimped out of voting against Richie Boucher, the CEO fat cat who now has a salary of €840,000.  It also emerged that former Fianna Fail Minister Joe Walsh saw his remuneration go up by €20,000 to €90,000.  That’s not bad going in these times of austerity.  Funny thing is that Joe was specifically appointed a director at the bank in order to look after the interests of us—we, the suckers who had the banks bailed out on ‘our’ behalf.  I guess that looking after number one came easier to Joe than looking after the public.

But Noonan, our brave representative Noonan.  Look: I don’t mind a man who takes a side on something, who takes a stance.  Even if I don’t like that stance I will always argue for his or her right to take a contrary view to mine.  Noonan has neither the guts nor the spine to do that. Instead, he ABSTAINED.  Is there a more contemptible word in the English language?  You are taking no side except in the most underhanded way, because in this case he is just too cowardly to take a stand against a Banker—a CEO whose bank declared a pre-tax loss of TWO BILLION—and is awarding himself with a pay increase.  Noonan was there to speak for us.  When his kind lied on the doorstep about the great things that they would do, they were already reneging on a deal with the Irish people:  and that is a deal that has been broken time and again whilst they bow down in craven submission before the real rulers of this country.  Let’s call them what they are: traitors. Yeah, yeah, I know that many of them have told me to my face that I should not be using such emotive words. What do you want me to do, guys?  Be one of the bought-and-paid-for who say only nice things about you?

That is something you can get anywhere.

Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald got it exactly right when she challenged Enda Kenny for jumping to Noonan’s defence.  Previously Kenny had said that public service jobs would not be protected as the vote had gone against Croke Park II.  Kenny, always making the tough decisions, eh? McDonald said:  “To add insult to injury, as the Taoiseach throws shapes at public sector workers, he protects the pay of Richie Boucher”.

She added:  “If ever somebody was correctly named, it is the bould Richie.  He is on a salary—sorry, remuneration package—of €834,000.  This is €70,000 per month or over €16,000 per week.  Richie takes home in a fortnight that which an average nurse takes home in a year.

“How does the Taoiseach look public servants in the eye, despite telling us that many of them are struggling just to get by?  How does he look them in the eye when his approach is so heavy-handed with them?  He demands that nurses, gardai and emergency personnel take cuts to their wages and accept a decrease in the standard of their working lives, while at the same time being so gentle and generous with Richie Boucher.”

You know the answer to that, Mary Lou.  Kenny will, as you so aptly put it, “throw shapes” with anyone that he thinks he can get away with it; but he will never take on the Bankers.  He is being lauded abroad for keeping his people in ‘austerity’— a hateful, risible word at best—and that image is all that concerns him.  He must be so grateful to his partner in crime Eamon Gilmore because he and his loathsome party of turncoats have been getting much of the flak of late; but no one is forgetting you, Kenny.  No one.

Big Brother Comes to Galway

Here is something that was pointed out to me last week.  I thought at first this must be a mistake, but no:  it’s for real, hard as it is for me—bless my innocence—to credit.  One of the taxi firms in Galway (indeed one of the biggest) has told—not asked, told—their employees on the Base that they must be fingerprinted…or their wages will not be paid to them.  Once the fingerprints have been taken they go into a central base; after that in order to clock out they press their fingerprint into a machine that then lets them back into the world.  Many of these workers have been with the company for years and since they don’t handle money I’m not sure why this has to be done.  On top of that they, in common with everyone except bankers, have been hit with pay cut after pay cut.

I had been under the impression that only criminals were fingerprinted, not the average worker.  It seemed to me to be an obvious violation of their basic rights—indeed, strictly speaking, I would have thought that it was a violation of their actual bodies.

I emailed a friend who serves in the Irish army to see if he had heard of this.  Since these guys would regularly be signing out weaponry I thought that perhaps he would have come across this sinister new turn; but no, he was as bemused as I was.  Especially as it was a taxi firm, not Fort Knox. Then, as chance would have it I ran into an old friend who served some jail time years back.  Yes, he said; the guards in high-security prisons would be expected to do that.  Which seems like fair enough, given the nature of the job.  Now perhaps it is happening (and likely is) in other places but as of writing I don’t know any.  Most of the workers have at this point been fingerprinted—listen, I know how hard jobs are to come by—but there were some hold-outs who were waiting for an answer from their Union.

Now I stopped having much time for Unions years ago; these days I see those at the top as just another variation on the greedy good-for-nothing politicians.  Still, I was surprised to hear that according to their Union there is absolutely nothing that the workers can do.  They have to be fingerprinted—just like your common or garden-variety child-molester, rapist or murderer—if they want to be paid.

This is the way in which our basic rights are—quietly and a little bit at a time—taken from us.  And it happens so slowly that no one notices that certain rights are gone until they are…well, gone.  In fact, I was reminded of the great Gore Vidal telling the story of the frog in the pan of cold water.  If you throw a frog into a pan of boiling water then obviously it will jump around in agony for a bit and then die a horrible death.  But if you put it into a pan of cold water it will just sit there all docile whilst you gradually heat the water until it’s dead.  It won’t move or do a damned thing.

This is our Brave New World, folks.  Enjoy it; because we let it happen.

In Galway Big Brother is no longer just watching; the bastard is now actively participating.

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