Hail and Farewell to the same old story

Published 13/11/2011 | 05:00

Ave, atque, vale. Hail and Farewell. At first sight that sums up a week in which one President stepped up and another stepped down.

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Only at first sight. Because we are now hailing the same government policies to which we said farewell a few months ago. But so far, the political correspondents -- with the sole exception of Stephen Collins -- are so busy making banal RTE programmes about the recent past that they can't focus on two fundamental issues in the present.

First, as Collins pointed out in the Irish Times last Friday, "the over-riding priority of the Government policy is to protect the pay and pensions of the public service" Or as I would put it: to look after the fat cats of the Kevin Cardiff class. Just like Fianna Fail did.

Second, the majority coping class now has no political voice. That's because Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and the Socialist TDs all support the Government in pretending you can create jobs without cutting public sector pay and pensions.

Sean Sherlock was concerned by the Cardiff deal. But the rest of the Labour Party closed ranks around the Rabbitte policy of minding the public sector at all costs. Big mistake.

The public is profoundly angry about politicians and senior civil servant pensions. It has no political outlet to show this. But it has added the Cardiff affair to its internal list of lethal mistakes made by this Government.

Kenny and Rabbitte don't care. They will be stepping down at the next election. But they will pass a poisoned chalice to their respective parties who will have to face the wrath of the coping class at the next general election.

Where will that wrath find political expression? The Sean Gallagher vote provides a clue. Because the coping class, the private sector class, has no party to protect it, there is now a vast vacant space in Irish politics.

The Gallagher vote was a crude attempt to fill that huge hole. An attempt by the coping class to find a champion. As that class currently has no voice in Dail Eireann it will not long delay creating a party to defend it.

* * * * *

This insight will soon become a conventional wisdom.

Last Monday's Crisis: Inside the Cowen Government allowed all participants to practice that most reprehensible -- and risible -- forms of analysis: hindsight.

PJ Mara provided the risible part. A myth of the media class, Mara never won an election against the odds. He merely hitched a lift on Bertie Ahern's three election victories.

But Crisis gave us Mara gassing away as if he genuinely believed he could have saved Fianna Fail had he been called in before the Cowen collapse. "I was too late. End of story."

As Brenda Power in the Mail mordantly observed: "Things have come to a pretty pass for the Soldiers of Destiny when their go-to guy . . . is Charlie Haughey's right-hand man."

Possibly in deference to RTE's public sector protection policy, none of the participants were forced to face a core truth.

Had Cowen cut the pay of politicians and public sector fat cats by 30 per cent at the start of the crisis -- as I repeatedly called for in the Seanad -- Fianna Fail would have gone down, but not so far down.

* * * * *

We got the same gassing on RTE's The Naked Presidential Election. Effectively an editorial co-production between RTE and the Irish Independent, it boiled down to a puff job for three political correspondents: David McCullagh, Fionnan Sheahan and Lise Hand, none of whom had anything original to offer.

RTE's two newspaper pets, Fionnan Sheahan and Lise Hand, were allowed to preen and pose. Neither of them raised the failure of RTE News and Current Affairs to put McGuinness under permanent pressure from the first day by focusing on the garda victims of IRA violence.

The posers also failed to praise those newspapers and correspondents who created the public permission to talk about IRA murders, so that the relatives of IRA victims could be heard -- the Sunday Independent, the Evening Herald, the Star, Kim Bielenberg in the Irish Independent and Stephen Collins and Peter Murtagh in the Irish Times.

Neither did the programme dwell on the drubbing given to Sinn Fein. This was the subject of a letter from a Glenties correspondent whose name I shall hold back. He points out that 13 constituencies where Sinn Fein have a sitting TD, their total vote dropped by 21.6 per cent when compared with the general election.

The only constituency where Sinn Fein increased its vote was Cork North Central, where they improved by a paltry 278 votes. The results in the remaining 12 constituencies ranged from minus one in Dublin South Central to minus 5524 in Donegal South West.

"Glenties" concludes: "Many of the electorate are aware of their bloody past and refuse to buy into the forgetfulness that has replaced stern memory in post Good Friday Agreement Northern Ireland."

* * * * *

But RTE showed the vagaries of its inquisitorial process on the Pat Kenny show.

Last week Larry Rich, a Detroit Jew, gave a moving talk at TCD. Rich was motivated by the Munich massacre to go to Israel and fight in the Israeli Army. He recalled how his whole mentality was changed by waking after a serious heart attack to find both an Arab and Jewish cardiologist, saving his life.

As a result Rich is now passionately committed to bridge-building. This was what the Pat Kenny team told him they wanted him to speak about last Friday. Rich began by wishing President Michael D Higgins well. Richard Crowley reminded him that a former Israeli president had been jailed for rape.

What was the point of this ? He could have mentioned that Israel had put its former president on trial for rape because it is under the rule of law. And that in neighbouring Syria the president is butchering his own citizens. He could have, but he didn't.

* * * * *

While I was happy for President Michael D Higgins, for his family, and for invited guests like Lelia Doolan and Tom Murphy, his inauguration left me a little cold for two reasons. First, as the camera panned the hall of Dublin Castle, saw far too many fat-cat faces battening on public sector pensions. Second, coming up to Remembrance Sunday, and with Peter Robinson present, he should have specifically reached out to the Northern Protestant tradition.

This could have been done with a brief but concrete reference to the common sacrifice of Irish soldiers, Catholic, Protestant and dissenter, who took up arms against tyranny in two World Wars. That, and the memory of those who died in the Provisional IRA bombing at Enniskillen on Remembrance Sunday, 1987, is why today I shall wear the poppy with pride.

Sunday Independent

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