Tuesday 26 September 2017

Why ministers need to bring their wives

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Did it occur to anyone, as they monstered John McGuinness, that it might indeed be expensive for a minister to bring his wife abroad on a working trip, but that not bringing her might prove to be far more expensive?

Say what you like about wives, but there are times when they can be a moderating influence on a man. Even a force for good. Especially when he finds himself in one of the great cities of the world, with maybe a little down time. And his name is Paddy.

Or indeed, Charles J Haughey.

Mr McGuinness was challenging an anti-wife consensus in this area, which may have seemed appropriate in the time of men such as Haughey and Donogh O'Malley, men who felt – perhaps with good reason – that they did some of their best work in places such as Paris and Rome when they were allowed to give full expression to their extraordinary array of personal gifts and talents, unconstrained by their uxorious duties. All for Ireland, of course. Yes, it is good to think of those men out there, performing at the highest level in Amsterdam or Istanbul, sophisticated enough to know that the, shall we say, extramural dimension was in its own way as important – if not even more important – than the formalities.

And reflecting the spirit of the times, it was felt that in these matters of international relations, the skill-set of one's spouse was best deployed on the home front.

It is a different world now, and John McGuinness seems almost alone in realising it.

His questioning of the no-wives rule should have been welcomed, both for the way that it exposed the latent sexism of the establishment position, and for its challenge to the lazy idea that you'll always save money by not bringing "the wife".

Indeed, at the more extreme end of things, after Dominique Strauss-Kahn, you would think that a statesman on foreign soil making his own arrangements, as it were, would be regarded as the ultimate example of a false economy.

But no, not even the catastrophe of DSK could persuade his tormentors that McGuinness might have a point here.

I followed this story as it was told on RTE News and TV3, and at no time did anyone address these fascinating undercurrents. For that, you have to come here.

But I found it entertaining, up to a point.

I didn't realise, for example, that the Wicklow TD Simon Harris, who spoke on this matter to RTE News, looks about 40 years younger than he sounds – quite a novelty there. Though on the whole, I feel that there should be fewer young people in politics.

I also noted Micheal Martin's line that he had strong ethical views on the subject of wives travelling, though again I thought of men such as Haughey and O'Malley who, for entirely different reasons, had equally strong views in this area.

For Vincent Browne it was Barbecue Night.

McGuinness himself and journalist Fiach Kelly were thrown on to the proverbial barbie by the host, and flame-grilled in the traditional style.

It was so seasonal, you expected Browne to don a stripey apron and to start waving a large pair of tongs at his guests, as he supped a succession of cool beers on the TV3 lawn.

But like most other cook-outs on a summer evening, the talk did not venture greatly into the works of Proust and Nietzsche. Again, you can only get that here.

McGuinness, in his quest for truth, had quoted Proust and Nietzsche, and of course for this he was mocked.

Personally I would prefer the odd line of Proust to "a week is a long time in politics", or "we are where we are", though apparently you can still spew out that bilge without the slightest fear of embarrassment.

You are slaughtered if you quote Nietzsche, but if you declare with a mischievous little grin, "he would say that, wouldn't he?", nobody will say, "get off the stage you two-bit plonker, that's been a cliche since 1967."

On the contrary, you will usually get a little chuckle from the Week in Politics crowd. But roll out a bit of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, and they'll jeer at you for the rest of your life.

It seems that the trojan efforts of Haughey and O'Malley have been in vain.

Irish Independent

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