Monday 4 May 2015

Backchat - Liam Fay: Richard the visionary

Published 03/08/2014 | 02:30

When asked if the public had been lied to, Mr Bruton said: “Absolutely not.”
When asked if the public had been lied to, Mr Bruton said: “Absolutely not.”
Princess Charlene. Pic: Julien Behal/PA Wire

Richard Bruton seems to be the Government's designated visionary. Last week, the Jobs Minister outlined his ambitious plan to promote Ireland as a country that provides "great places to live and work".

The strategy sounds like an excellent idea but will come as a major surprise to the legions of Irish citizens who are struggling to find any place to live or work.

On closer examination, however, it's clear that Irish citizens are not the target audience. Like virtually everything Bruton says or does, the latest sales pitch is all about encouraging further foreign direct investment (FDI).

His real goal is convincing the bosses of overseas corporations that Ireland abounds with great places to live and work. The distinction is crucial.

"Brass plaque" has become a bugbear phrase for government ministers. US President Barack Obama caused considerable irritation in Dublin when he referenced Ireland in a speech attacking American companies that are "gaming the system" by moving their headquarters abroad for tax purposes. IDA, the state investment agency, strenuously denies that it promotes this country as a location for "brass plaque" operations.

Ironically, however, there is a distinct glint of the brass plaque mindset about Bruton's proposed use of an idealised version of Ireland's quality of life as a marketing tool at a time when, for many, the realities of life here are getting more difficult. Façade trumps reality.

No doubt Bruton would argue that more FDI would improve economic prosperity for all, and he's not wrong.

In the meantime, however, his hypersensitivity to corporate sensibilities contrasts sharply with his Government's seemingly boundless indifference to the myriad ways (housing, wages, taxes) in which young people especially are being priced out of their own country

Vision may be too much to demand from politicians but 
the least we should expect is eyesight.

Senators rant about Holy Land but ignore unholy mess in own backyard

The jailing of Ivor Callely is, above all else, a tragedy for the people of Gaza. On Monday, the former junior minister and erstwhile Fianna Fail hotshot was sentenced to five months' imprisonment for fraudulently claiming mobile phone expenses while he was a senator.

Misappropriated phone credit is a miserably petty crime for a would-be statesman like Callely; a catchpenny scam perpetrated by an individual who yearned to be seen as a premium-rate operator.

As political downfalls go, however, there is no denying the steepness of his plunge, from a plush seat in the Upper House to a meagre cot in the big house.

Were it not for his troubles with mobile phone top-ups, Callely might still be an esteemed member of the Seanad and could therefore have participated in Thursday's "special sitting" - a solemn reconvening of the second chamber, interrupting the summer recess, at which senators made impassioned speeches outlining their opinions about the latest eruption of horror in the Middle East.

As expected, these speeches and the righteous indignation with which they were delivered have had a transformative impact on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, opening up the eyes, hearts and thinking of belligerents on both sides.

"Three cheers for the wisdom of the Seanadoiri," chanted jubilant crowds in Ramallah and Jerusalem as peace spread across the region within hours of the special sitting.

But amidst the rapturous harmony there was a single plaintive grumble: just imagine how much more could have been achieved if Callely's views on the Gaza situation had been aired during the senate debate.

Forgive the sarcasm, folks, but it's difficult to keep the guffaw from one's voice when contemplating the gala display of bombastic pomposity that is the Seanad in high dudgeon.

Desperate times usually call for desperate measures but some junctures in world affairs are so desperately grim that the standard response smacks of, well, desperation.

Spoofing about the Middle East is an annoyingly popular pastime among many in this country.

More often than not, the ferocity with which the argument is conducted is a poisonous proxy for all manner of other unresolved and sometimes unresolvable quarrels; political, cultural and historical.

The use of a very real and very bloody war as a point-scoring device is objectionable enough in private conversation but the shape-throwing becomes downright nauseating when carried out in the parliamentary arena.

Some senators would probably argue that they and their colleagues would have been ethically negligent if they had not broken off from their summer holidays to debate something as serious as the military escalation in Gaza.

In reality, however, the opposite is the case.

It is precisely because the unfolding developments are so serious that senators should have resisted the temptation to indulge in the usual knee-jerk grandstanding.

Whether they realise it or not, their opinions on this issue carry zero weight among the native populace, and considerably less with international audiences.

When politicians have nothing of value to say, they should always say nothing. Anyway, it's not as if last week's news headlines were bereft of interesting topics that do actually merit some senatorial attention.

By all accounts, sympathy for Callely was in short supply among senators as they returned from the seaside and the golf links to set the Holy Land to rights.

Callely was a busted flush long before he was driven away in a prison van, and he has few friends in Leinster House.

Arrogance is a basic prerequisite for any political career but Callely's arrogance was of an exceptionally noxious variety that irked other politicians almost as much as voters.

Few senators seemed willing to speak publicly about his embarrassing political demise, especially on a day when many had evidently convinced themselves that Ban Ki-moon was hanging on their every word.

In truth, however, a reconvening of the senate to discuss the implications of Callely's conviction would have been a much better idea than the futile malarkey we witnessed last Thursday.

After all, it is only a few months since we emerged from a heated referendum campaign in which the Seanad's most zealous champions solemnly assured us that the Upper House could and would become a chamber of astounding industry and enlightenment if we rejected the government's proposal to abolish it.

It would be fascinating to hear these cheerleaders bring us up to speed on how well they think they're doing so far.

Callely is undoubtedly an extreme case but he embodies many of the values and attitudes that continue to thrive among the political establishment.

Deluded entitlement was his trademark characteristic and deluded entitlement is still the only sound most of us hear when we listen to a senate debate.

Before sorting out the Holy Land, senators should attend to the unholy mess in their own House.

PS

The luck o' the Irish, eh? Following further painstaking research, commissioned by Tourism Ireland, genealogists have discovered yet another long lost Paddy who just happens to be a glamorous, wealthy and formidably well-connected celebrity. The Irish Diaspora is evidently the only extended family in history that comprises nothing but white sheep. #

Princess Charlene of Monaco (pictured inset) is the latest VIP foreigner to be identified as a chip off the auld sod. Genealogists only had to go back to 1520s Dublin to find a plausible Irish link with her ancestry.

Last week, the Zimbabwe-born princess was formally conferred with a framed Certificate of Irish Heritage. She now joins Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Tom Cruise as the proud owner of the most meaningless wall-hanging this side of a 'Garth Brooks live at Croker!' poster.

Unless we get a grip, the luck o' the Irish will soon turn us into the laughing stock o' the world.

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