Saturday 27 December 2014

Colette Browne: Senators can feather their nests while we live on pigeon

Published 27/12/2013 | 02:30

Senator David Norris and Senator Fidelma Healy Eames at the Dublin Castle count centre.
 Picture By David Conachy.  5/10/2013
Senator David Norris and S at the Dublin Castle count centre for the Seanad referendum.

As 2013 draws to a close, now is an opportune time to review some of the more surprising things we learned this year.

We're partial to pigeon

National hackles were raised earlier this month when the venerable 'New York Times' claimed a Dublin man was stalking the streets of Shankill shooting pigeons to survive.

In fact, things are so bad for John Donovan that he can't even roast the pigeons he manages to shoot in the oven. Instead, he "grills them outdoors to reduce his gas and grocery bills".

One wonders if Mr Donovan's neighbours, in the affluent south Co Dublin suburb, knew they had a veritable Bear Grylls in their midst?

While Mr Donovan may be partial to pigeon, the 'New York Times' has been roundly pilloried for presenting such an extreme case as emblematic of life in Ireland. Irish people who took to the newspaper's website to comment on the piece proved that while we may have lost our money, we haven't lost our sense of humour.

"I live in Ireland, I was going to comment but I just saw a seagull and have to shoot it for the tea," deadpanned one.

Another confessed that he had recently eaten pigeon too but it was "in one of Dublin's several Michelin starred restaurants".

Others pointed out that with a packet of shotgun cartridges costing €7.50, Mr Donovan must be a pretty good shot in order to make his pigeon fancying worthwhile.

In any event, with one in 10 people suffering from food poverty in this country, the 'New York Times' could have used less sensationalism, and more sensitivity, to highlight a genuine problem.

We care about the Seanad

It costs €20m a year to run, everyone agrees that it's worse than useless and no one is sure what the point of it is. Nevertheless, when given an opportunity to get rid of it, we opted to save the Seanad.

Enda was dumbfounded, Sinn Fein was caught with its pants down and even our august Seanadoiri were staggered when the electorate gave them a reprieve in a shock referendum result in October.

The Taoiseach was sure he was onto a winner when he offered voters a chance to give 60 politicians their P45s. The result seemed like a foregone conclusion with every party except Fianna Fail baying for its closure and opinion polls uniformly predicting its imminent demise.

The Upper House was ineffective, powerless, undemocratic, dysfunctional, elitist and incapable of reform, declared the 'yes' side.

Unfortunately for them, their campaign started to fall apart when people began to point out that the exact same charges could be levelled at the Lower House.

However, things didn't begin to really unravel until a bunch of concerned citizens warned that people weren't voting to save the Seanad, they were voting to save democracy itself.

Democracy Matters, comprised mainly of academics and commentators, cast itself as a plucky David fighting the Goliath of a greedy Government in the midst of a brazen power grab.

Reform, not redundancy, was their clarion call.

With the Seanad gone, who would act as a check on the omnipotent power of parliament?

Faced with the appalling vista of despotic TDs driving a coach through the constitution, the people chose the least worst option.

Strangely, now that the dust has settled, and the Seanad has been saved, the reforming zeal that permeated the bitter campaign battle has mysteriously disappeared.

Over my dead body, is not as fatal as it sounds

Asked at the start of the year if he would ever consider joining Fianna Fail, erstwhile Labour TD Colm Keaveney was indignant.

"The only way I'll ever make that journey would be on Charon's ferry!" he quipped in January, referring to the ferryman of Hades who carries the souls of the dead across the river Styx.

Odd then that Mr Keaveney, who appears to be very much alive, has made that fateful journey. Perhaps he meant that he would only make the journey in his afterlife, his after Labour life.

Winning the U-turn of the year award, Mr Keaveney, who once railed against the "rampant corruption" and "shamelessness" of Fianna Fail, now has a more nuanced view.

Fianna Fail may have "run this country into the ground", but the party has "learned from the mistakes of the past". True, the mistakes were pretty costly, but what's €64bn between friends?

What's more, having accused FF defector Mattie McGrath of unashamedly "tickling Bertie's belly for 15 years", the Galway TD has now assumed the role of tickler-in-chief, gushing that he had been impressed by Micheal Martin's "gravitas and humility".

Martin was equally effusive about his new recruit, praising his "commitment to policies and ideas" -- presumably, he meant ideas other than his past pronouncements on Fianna Fail.

If we'd burned the bondholders, we'd have saved billions

In a late entry for this year's Statement of the Bleeding Obvious Award, the IMF's Ajai Chopra popped up late last week to solemnly inform us that burning the bondholders would have saved a tidy bit of cash.

Not only that, Mr Chopra said that it was "unfair" that Irish taxpayers had to bear the full burden of the bailout, while senior unguaranteed bondholders laughed all the way to the bank.

While Mr Chopra's sympathies for the plight of the Irish people are no doubt heartfelt, it's a shame he didn't have his light-bulb moment three years ago when the deal was being hammered out.

Unless we can cash his statements of regret with the ECB, and use them to pay off the promissory notes, maybe he can keep his musings to himself. It's too little, too late.

Irish Independent

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