Friday 21 October 2016

Finian strikes a light for the poor auld fellas seeking a fag and debauchery

Declan Lynch

Published 22/05/2016 | 02:30


When a man who is in public life goes out and makes a statement that he knows for sure will get him slaughtered, I think we should have some respect for that man. Indeed, we should find it a great pity that there aren't more like him.

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After all, we are always complaining that we hear nothing out of politicians except what some 150-grand -a-year adviser has told them to say - just a bit of noise to get them through the moment.

We mourn the fact that it's "all focus groups" and Terry Prone and everyone is "on message", that there are no characters left in the game.

And then Finian McGrath stands up and tries to express his sincerely held views about a subject of some controversy, going against the conventional wisdom, inviting all the contumely which arrives in these circumstances - and do we salute him?

We do not.

We do whatever is the opposite of saluting him.

We take his unorthodox views on the smoking ban and we start a kind of a national competition to see who can be most scornful of the new super junior minister for Health.

We are particularly scathing of what he said in the light of that big new job of his, as if the assumption of high office should finally extinguish the spark of humanity within him.

As if we have benefited greatly from the tradition of ministers keeping their mouths shut about everything and generally playing dead.

Though, of course, when I say "we", I am not including myself here. "We", in this case, means other people.

As for myself, not only do I salute the moral courage of Finian McGrath all day long, I actually think that the point of view he was trying to express may not be as utterly insane as it sounds when you hear it first.

He speaks of his own terrible struggle with the fags, how he tries to give them up every single day, how he strives with all his might to free himself from the curse of his addiction.

Nothing wrong with any of that, is there? About time too that someone mentioned the need for compassion for the suffering smokers, along with all the disdain that is directed towards them.

Indeed, if there is another super junior minister out there with such a depth of feeling for the outsider, for those who are despised, I have yet to encounter him or her.

It may be argued that Finian is feeling this compassion mainly for himself and therefore that it doesn't count. But again, this is mean-spirited and it may not even be true.

Anyway, it is not just the essentially good-hearted nature of his argument for which we should admire McGrath, it is also the fact that when he proposes a relaxation of the smoking ban to allow for designated indoor smoking areas, he may actually have a point.

It is a point that I may even have made myself, when I was a lone voice campaigning on behalf of our old friends, the poor auld fellas, before the cause was taken over by well-meaning but less influential folk, such as President McAleese and the GAA.

Whatever else it has done in terms of keeping thousands of people alive who would otherwise be dead, the smoking ban has most certainly done much to destroy whatever remains of the lives of the poor auld fellas.

Not only has it discouraged them from engaging in the one form of social intercourse which suited them, it has even ruined the lives of the few poor auld fellas who don't smoke by destroying their natural habitat.

Those fine old bars with nothing in them, apart from men drinking porter and whiskey, are now mostly gone. Even the best of them now feel obliged to maintain some sort of 'family-friendly' aspect, providing unnecessary and inappropriate services such as 'food'.

So the poor auld fellas have no refuge any more from a hostile world, nowhere to go to kill the day. Which seems to be a matter of no consequence to the vast majority of us, who are prepared to stand over a policy of virtual ethnic cleansing, so that we can feel good about ourselves and our clean-air initiatives.

Again by "we", I am not including myself and clearly I am not including Finian McGrath either.

And I would say this for him too - that apart from showing some concern for the only quasi-ethnic grouping in our society whose ancient way of life can be dismissed as a thing of no importance whatsoever, and getting no thanks for it, there may even be a kind of a philosophical justification for what Finian is advocating.

Or what he was advocating before he was shot down.

Health is a great thing altogether, but it is not the only thing.

Mankind has always yearned for 'places of low resort', of drinking and smoking and debauchery.

And we used to have a lot of them in Ireland -we called them pubs.

They're all gone now, and regardless of the public health dividend, that is not entirely a good thing - there are nuances to this, which are visible to a sensitive man such as Finian McGrath, but not to those who judged him last week as a clown.

Sadly we will never hear from him again.

The Ponzi Man, the new novel by Declan Lynch, published by Hachette Ireland, is out now.

Sunday Independent

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