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Friday 22 August 2014

Eoghan Harris: Taoiseach's inaction tips us towards Hate/Love

Published 18/11/2012 | 05:00

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Empathy, entering the emotional life of others and experiencing it through their eyes, is essential to politicians and writers. Essential to Enda Kenny dealing with abortion and the downtrodden private sector; to Clare Daly dealing with Israel; to Stuart Carolan dealing with his fictional creations for RTE's riveting crime series, Love/Hate.

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This weekend, Enda Kenny needs to empathise with Irish women rather than with his nervous backbenchers. He needs to come up with clear solutions to the problem posed by the death of a beautiful young Indian woman who entrusted herself to the Irish medical service. But his remark about not being being "rushed" come across as code for more of the procrastination which has marked his handling of major political conflicts.

Procrastination is the thief of political character. And I believe Kenny's preference for putting things off is deeply damaging the dialectical love/hate relationship between politicians and public that has dominated our public life since the start of the State.

Like most Irish people, my feelings towards politicians are normally an ambivalent mixture of affection and antipathy. Not any more. In recent months, reflecting the views of most people I meet in the private sector, I have come to view all of the political parties with anger and contempt.

The tipping point was the mixture of political sloth, greedy grabbing and pusillanimous procrastination that marked the approach of the three main parties to the problem of the bloated pay, pensions and payoffs of both the bankers and the political class.

Notice I make no distinction between bankers' pensions and political pensions. That is because increasingly the public sees none. And if you doubt that, listen back to Liveline last Monday.

The private sector is no longer willing to listen to politicians berating the bankers to distract from its own dipping into the public's pocket. Coming up to the Budget, it wants the political class to feel some of the pain of private sector workers: poorly paid, pensionless, and with no job security.

Some hope. Because it is impossible for a politician who enjoys a munificent pension, and a salary that is the envy of other European politicians to enjoy any empathy with the 1.3 million workers in the private sector who pay to keep that same political class in considerable comfort.

The private sector is coldly angry about all this. So far Kenny's cheerleaders in the media have muffled that anger. But these PR types will not be able to protect Enda Kenny and the political class beyond the Budget. The chickens of the Croke Park coalition are coming home to roost.

* * * * *

Empathy is also essential to covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. RTE has sought balance by rightly sending two reporters, one to each side of the conflict. So far the results are somewhat mixed.

Ray Colgan weakened his grim dispatch from Gaza by using an Irish Palestinian activist like a reporter. But

Richard Crowley's report from the Israeli city of Ashkelon showed his empathy with the terror of the townspeople hunched down under a Hamas rocket attack every 20 minutes. All the more admirable since Crowley has made no secret of his personal sympathy for the Palestinian cause.

Clare Daly should also consider leaving her comfort zone. This brilliant and beautiful politician can speak sensitively on abortion without giving the impression she is pursuing an ideological agenda – unlike some Labour Party pontificators.

But as soon as she speaks about Israel, Daly seems to throw a switch. Her common-sense polemical style gives way to a dour delivery. And her warm and witty persona is replaced by ideological incantation.

As a socialist, Clare Daly must know that the state of Israel was set up to provide physical protection for Jews who had been murdered in pogroms for centuries, culminating in the mass murder of the Holocaust. If they are hard, they have good reason to be hard.

As a woman, Clare Daly must know that women are politically and sexually free to live their lives as they please in the Israeli state. The same is not true of the states that surround Israel. A Palestinian state under Hamas would bear down hard on women, and subject them to Sharia law.

Daly has a duty both to herself and to history, to engage empathetiically with both sides in this bitter conflict. And she would carry more clout if she came up with some fresh thinking rather than appear to be renting her opinions from the ULA, the IPSC or any other acronym.

* * * * *

The title of RTE's stunning crime series Love/Hate echoes Ecclesiastes: a time to love, a time to hate; a time for peace, a time for war. So it's not surprising that the principal characters take an Old Testament approach to settling scores, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.

As someone who watches anything connected with crime, I believe Love/Hate is better than anything on American or British channels. That includes The Wire and Breaking Bad, both of which have been hyped far too high by the kind of film critics who are terrified of being caught outside the consensus.

The Sopranos set a global gold standard in gangland drama. Love/Hate can claim the silver medal – and will go on to gold. And I believe there are three reasons why it runs ahead of its rivals.

First, it is written by Stuart Carolan, a writer with a fanatical yet feeling heart. Carolan is master of the dark universe he has created. And since he created the characters, he gives them tough love.

Carolan has been hailed as a 'showrunner' like Aaron Sorkin. But I do not believe he could share his dark visions with other writers, as showrunners like Sorkin do. That means he will find it hard to take a holiday for the next three years, which is how long I hope Love/Hate goes on.

Second, Love/Hate has the confident look of a show produced by a band of brothers and sisters collaborating on something they know is special. Three of them I know personally and believe to be among the best in their field. Suzanne McCauley, the producer; Stephen Daly, who does production design, and Brendan Deasy, who does the sound.

Finally, the Love/Hate team has the confidence that frontline troops get from being backed by a good general. The credit here belongs to General Jane Gogan, the RTE chief who commissioned it. Given there is no love lost between us, you can believe me when I say she showed some bottle in taking it on board first day.

But even the bravest commissioning editors and the most polished producers and designers cannot make a great television series. For that you need a writer so wired into the world around him, that his fictions will anticipate actual actions.

Stuart Carolan is such a writer. Last week some mad nationalists on the web were whingeing that the IRA storyline last week was a cheap attempt to cash in on the murder of Alan Ryan of the Real IRA. In fact, the screenplay was written many months before the killing. As always, art anticipates life.

Sunday Independent

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