Monday 20 October 2014

Egan ranks above political lightweights

The Olympic silver medallist is actually over qualified for his new political role, says Declan Lynch

Published 16/02/2014 | 02:30

Illustration: Jim Cogan
Kenny Egan
Kenny Egan

MUCH of the commentary on the decision of Kenneth Egan to stand for Fine Gael in the local elections has been tinged with a note of concern for the young man, a feeling that his arrival into politics may somehow expose his limitations.

It is a remarkable illustration of the wrong-headedness that we find in that realm, that the person with all the achievements, the talents, and the good looks is the one who is thought to be unsuitable.

So let us get this right – the person who is dropping down a few divisions here is Kenneth Egan.

It seems to have escaped the attention of those who would patronise him that it is actually very hard to win an Olympic silver medal, which would have been a gold if the Games hadn't been held in China. That it is much harder to do that than to do whatever any of the other aspirants in the forthcoming elections did to get themselves into the game. That it is a feat which makes the collective accomplishments of the entire Cabinet and the Fine Gael parliamentary party seem inadequate.

But that is merely the most obvious sense in which Kenny Egan is, as they say in the racing game, dropping in class here.

In a business peopled by the most fabulously ugly individuals, he seems to belong to a higher species. Though the politicos would automatically undervalue anything he says simply because it is said in a Clondalkin accent, they cannot entirely deny the evidence of their own eyes here.

If you saw the handsome face of Kenneth Egan in the crowd that traditionally gathers at a partly political conference, you might well pause the action on your Sky Plus and gaze in wonder, as if some Cary Grant-type figure had inexplicably landed in a gathering of grotesque medieval peasants.

And it is they and their kind who worry for him?

Their fears about his durability may also be misplaced. Oddly enough, the language of politics is often drawn from the world of boxing, with the protagonists talking about a "knock-down drag-out fight" for a constituency nomination. Often you will hear political "heavyweights" talking up their own toughness, assisted by commentators who insist on calling them "big beasts" in deeply admiring tones.

Personally I would like to see how heavy they would look, if, like Kenneth Egan, they ever found themselves looking at some illustrious Cuban in the opposite corner who had trained obsessively all his life for these moments. How big would the big beasts seem after a few rounds with some notorious dangerman from the foothills of the Caucasus?

How would we regard them then, with their macho posturing?

And if anyone doubted Egan's strength of character in meeting these challenges, they could look to his most recent victory over the most implacable opponent of all, the drink.

Though he is taking it one day at a time, he has already learned enough about the nature of alcohol to be a powerful influence on the people of his constituency, or indeed of any constituency.

He is also entering an arena in which alcoholism has traditionally been treated with a mixture of total denial and terrible bullshit, so he has much to contribute there too. Indeed for a politician to be free of either denial or bullshit in this field is such a rarity, it is hard to see how the system can cope with it.

But it is just another of the many areas in which Kenneth Egan will be over-qualified, in which he will find that he is starting from a very low base.

His assertion that he knows very little about politics will already have sounded a disturbing note to some of the junkies who tend to inhabit that sphere. It is honest, which is unusual in itself. And it is modest too, as Egan refrains from pointing out that one of the reasons he knows very little about politics is that he has been far too busy getting to know about things that matter.

He has not inhabited the weird demi-monde of the party hack, who is prey to so many dismal obsessions. He has not been waiting to inherit the family seat. He has not been disgracing himself as a student politician.

Instead, he has been bringing honour and glory to Ireland, and then striving to meet the challenge which have followed from that. In so doing, he became a member of a genuine elite, and he did it by fair means, not because some fellow owed him one from way back.

It is said that they are just using him, and certainly they would be capable of that. But again, they are not accustomed to dealing with men whose accomplishments have been realised on merit.

They think they know more than he does. Which in itself tells us how little they know.

A comparison might be made with George Lee as a "celebrity" candidate, though Egan would certainly possess a deeper understanding of the complexities of life, having embarked on a spiritual journey in his struggle with addiction – George merely journeyed from Montrose to Leinster House, where it seemed that the only truly meaningful thing that he gained was a free parking space.

It was a very short trip in every way, next to the travels of Kenneth Egan.

Sunday Independent

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