Sunday 23 October 2016

Better a good government than a grand coalition

Published 01/05/2016 | 02:30

Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Cartoonist: Jim Cogan

Finally we will have a government. We'd have had it faster if the Pied Piper Pundits and RTE had not fed Fine Gael on fantasy.

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RTE prefers pundits repeating themselves rather than cope with my contrarian analysis - which proved the correct one.

RTE's virtual monopoly lets it lazily recycle tired cliches. Listeners to Newstalk get fresher fare.

Last Wednesday, Shane Coleman took me through my alternative analysis where I castigated the regressive role of the Pied Pipers, the Independents and Fine Gael Trots.

Let me give you a rundown on what was really going on, a story you were not allowed to hear on RTE, which brazenly continues to keep me off air - to the satisfaction of Sinn Fein.

Basically, I believe RTE promoted a majority faction in the media, whom I call Pied Pipers, which made a settlement more difficult by becoming players long before the election.

The Pied Pipers wanted two things: a grand coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, and the early replacement of Enda Kenny with Leo Varadkar.

In the past few weeks, as it became increasingly clear Fianna Fail would not facilitate either of these projects, both RTE and the Pied Pipers turned sullen.

Thwarted in its two projects, the Pied Pipers are now carrying on a consolation campaign to cast a cloud over the new minority government.

My position was completely at odds with the Pied Pipers on each and every one of these issues.

First, I did not think a grand coalition was good for Irish democracy: it would create a political behemoth, polarise Irish politics, and soon put a posturing Sinn Fein in the saddle.

Second, I don't believe Leo Varadkar has what it takes for the tough job of Taoiseach.

Finally, I believe this could be a good government not least because it will be a listening government.

Mine's a legitimate viewpoint. But RTE will not let you hear it by cutting me off from current affairs programmes.

The biggest winners from this silencing is Sinn Fein because I would give that party plenty of grief if allowed on air.

Luckily, readers of this column can access an alternative analysis of why the talks took so long, for which I offer two reasons.

First, Irish Water became a fetish with Fine Gael because it was the pet project of Phil Hogan, who rammed it through the Dail in four hours and threatened objectors with cutting supply to a trickle.

Second, Fine Gael's Irish Water fetish became entangled in the leadership ambitions of Leo Varadkar, which finally surfaced in his selfish, dog-in-the-manger outburst last Thursday.

For a Fine Gael negotiator to jeopardise the future of the talks, he himself was taking part in is what I call Trotskyite behaviour.

Instead of calling Varadkar out on his gormless grandstanding, RTE News kept reminding us of Varadkar's reputation for straight talking.

Really? Since when does standing around looking semi-detached, telling us how awful the health service is, as if he had nothing to do with it, count as straight talking?

Even the normally sceptical Martina Fitzgerald followed this pious RTE line. Accordingly, Varadkar sailed into studio with a great welcome for himself - and ran into the rock of Bryan Dobson, the only RTE reporter to keep his head.

Dobbo bluntly asked Varadkar why, if he felt so strongly about the principle involved, he was still willing to serve in a future Fine Gael cabinet? He got fudge instead of Varadkar's vaunted straight-talking.

Here's a final home truth for the Pied Piper Pundits. The only Fine Gael minister who behaved like a serious politician from start to finish was Simon Coveney.


Archbishop Diarmuid Martin's homily at Arbour Hill was particularly interesting about the legacy of Patrick Pearse.

The psychology of Pearse never fails to fascinate. To me, he seems a good man driven slightly mad by his blood-sacrifice ideology of Irish nationalism.

But this is balanced by his redemptive remorse about civilian casualties.

Ruth Dudley Edwards's fair and finely tuned profile of him in her best-selling book, The Seven, is now the definitive guide to his life and work: soft on the man, hard on his political project.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin was less successful in his assessment of Pearse in his Easter Sunday homily at Arbour Hill.

The Archbishop drew heavily on the moving testimony of Fr Columbus Murphy, one of the first outsiders to see Pearse shortly after his arrest, and quoted from the Capuchin's notes as follows: "Pearse was seated with his head bowed down, sunk deep into his arms resting on a little table… Disturbed by the noise of my entry he slowly raised his head… Then recognising the [religious] habit in which I was garbed he got up, stretching out his hand and said 'Oh Father, the loss of life, the destruction, but please God it will not be in vain'."

Fr Columbus's testimony shows that Pearse was depressed, distraught, and, as a devout Roman Catholic, filled with remorse for the loss of life and asking for reassurance and absolution.

Archbishop Martin came to a different conclusion, and, alas, one that did not challenge the traditional nationalist narrative.

"What struck me was not just the human anguish of Pearse but that plea: 'Please God it will not be in vain'. That was not just an expression of deep personal anguish. It was a question and a challenge addressed to us, to each succeeding generation of Irish men and Irish women: 'Do not allow what we did and what we suffered ever to be in vain.'"

To my mind, Dr Martin's conclusion contradicts and perhaps even distorts the real meaning of Fr Columbus's report.

He also passed up the opportunity to turn Pearse's noble anguish into a parable against the propagandists of physical force nationalism.

Also it was a pity the Archbishop did not carry on the courageous tradition of clerical contrarians like the late Fr Francis Shaw SJ and Fr Seamus Murphy SJ.

These two Jesuits have powerfully challenged Pearse's right to dress up his physical force nationalism in the rituals and liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church.

Why did Dr Martin not use his pulpit to preach a sermon on remorse and redemption rather than recycle banal sentiments we have heard so many times?

In fairness to the Archbishop, he may have felt he was subtly pointing to the moral by bringing two Pearses to his pulpit.

The real Pearse as described by Fr Columbus and the fantasy Pearse who haunts our Catholic political culture.

But I still think he should have taken a tougher stand against the ideological Pearse. But thereby hangs a bigger tale.

The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has taken so much flak in the past 20 years that its leaders are loath to lecture the laity.

As a parish priest in Kerry recently remarked, senior clergy are no longer "senior hurlers".

But surely the portrait of Pearse, prostrate with grief for the innocent dead of Dublin, is a better future model than the fanatic-faced dreamer who finally woke to a nightmare?

Sunday Independent

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