Sunday 22 October 2017

Review: Politics: Was It For This? Why Ireland Lost the Plot by John Waters

Transworld Ireland, €14.99
Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350

At times it is difficult to understand what John Waters is trying to say to us. His curious admixture of down-home aphorisms and chunks from social science primers do not help his case. Hark at this sentence early in the first chapter of his latest book which sets out to explain how we all went nuts in the recent phoney economic boom.

"The Celtic Tiger was neither the nineties nor the noughties, but took a bite out of both that left the remainders of each like doleful twins cast adrift in time, creating a sense of a different possibility for a continuous reality in which the abberation of prosperity never came to pass."

We gather he means the boom ran from the middle of one decade to the middle of the other. For the rest, this sentence has been sent to a language laboratory and analysis results were still pending as we went to press.

And yet when Waters hits his writing stride he pumps out some very good stuff indeed.

His honesty shines through in this work, which he began writing in early summer of 2011 as Queen Elizabeth II comes to call on us; Garret FitzGerald dies; and Barack Obama pops in to say 'Is Feidir Linn'. Waters casts a cold eye on all three events. The royal visit was not a sign of the Irish nation 'maturing'; Garret was a huge political figure but did not 'modernise' Irish society; Obama's visit was really a piece of celebrity hokum.

Waters is extremely frank about how we borrowed and spent in a decade of craziness and does not spare himself, outlining a very unsuccessful foray into the Spanish property market. He is at his best when writing about Fianna Fáil, fully understanding how visceral and emotional politics are.

He is very good at diagnosing our ailments in hindsight -- but short on remedies. He suggests we have to extricate ourselves from the euro and the EU and define a new set of independent relationships with the world. But it will be very hard to do that since this generation's leaders lack the calibre of our founding fathers.

Given the scope of the book, the absence of an index is unpardonable. Instead, we get the poor substitute of a bibliography which includes four of Waters' previous books.

Despite these drawbacks, it is likely students of political culture will have much to engage them. Whether it is worth the €14.99 cover price very probably depends upon how this recession has been for you so far. JOHN DOWNING

Political journalist John Downing was a government press adviser from 2007 to 2011.

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