He'll be missed, even if he failed to deliver the bacon
Published 20/02/2010 | 05:00
IT'S very amusing to observe the degree to which politicians from specific localities in Ireland mirror their constituents' self-image. Whether consciously or not, there's a distinct tendency of the politicians to eventually personify the traits most esteemed by the people they represent.
Look at the Cork politicians and note their slightly patrician air, the urbanity of Jack Lynch, Peter Barry and Michael Martin. Is that not the way Cork considers itself?
Look at just two of those who revelled in their Dub credentials: Charlie Haughey and Bertie Ahern. Remember how people would remark, in awestruck tones, how difficult it was to get to know what they were really thinking? Dead wide and deadpan; the same as Donnycarney or Drumcondra.
And so to Limerick. Well, without generalising too much, I think it's fair to say that they don't mind a scrap in Limerick. The city's motto reads 'Urbs Antiqua Fuit Studiisque Asperrima Belli' which translates to 'An ancient city well versed in the art of war'. Is the combative self-image overdone? Have a look at Limerick's politicians and judge for yourself.
Des O'Malley, Jim Kemmy, Michael Noonan. Come down a boxing weight and you still find Mick Lipper and Stevie Coughlan. These lads would start a fight in an empty room. They liked a political punch-up and not of the dainty, after-you-Cecil variety.
That's the local tradition that Willie O'Dea comes from and it's the reason why Limerick will always claim him.
They love to see him trudging down O'Connell Avenue or Edward Street through the drizzle. Head down, beetling onwards, a man with a mission. And that mission would be revealed that same night, when his constituents could see him on 'Prime Time' or the late and unlamented 'Questions and Answers' chopping some opponent or critic into matchsticks. Limerick loved the way that -- like all proper heroes -- Willie generally didn't start the slanging on these shows, but he always finished it.
For 28 years he's been representing Limerick and you can ramble into Paddy Power's right now and bet your life that he'll top the poll again next time out.
Because even though he is deemed to have stepped over the line and -- even more perplexingly and uncharacteristically -- wasn't smart enough to extricate himself, Willie is still the one they turn to when there's a problem.
In the atmosphere of budgetary constraint, where all but the most senior members of cabinet will feel pressurised to economically tend their own patch, who is now going to talk up for Limerick?
Even Willie's most fanatic supporters couldn't argue that he had brought home much bacon to a city that once boasted five pig slaughtering plants. He didn't secure an economic rasher. But still, whatever chance we had, I think we've even less now.
Cathal McCarthy is a Limerick-based writer