Sunday 28 December 2014

Labour Party simply not coping with the class politics of poo and pee

Published 11/05/2014 | 02:30

Something stinks in the Irish Republic. Two years from now it may be you. Because if Irish Water has its way, people of modest means will not be able to wash as often as the well-off.

By then, however, Sinn Fein may be making us smell in ways no amount of washing will make go away. So it is worrying to see a consensus of commentators holding their noses and calling for a general amnesty.

Certainly an amnesty would suit all those who want the past to go away: the British government, Sinn Fein's American supporters, and Sinn Fein itself, anxious to speed up its aim of dominance north and south. What it calls, speaking in capital letters, the Project.

But a general amnesty does not suit the democratic agenda of the Irish Republic, never mind the relatives of those murdered by the IRA. And it does not suit the substantial number of people in the Republic who believe some distinction must be drawn between killings carried out by security forces acting on behalf of a democratic state and murders carried out by a terrorist group.

Let me admit that until recently I was coming round to the notion of an agreed closure. But Sinn Fein's reaction to the arrest of Adams was a wake-up call. As were the remarks of Gerry Adams at the Sinn Fein Euro election launch in Cork, as reported in the Irish Independent's online edition last Friday.

Being away from the Dublin media pack may have prompted the president of Sinn Fein to let his guard down. Alas for Adams, he was in a sharp city like Cork, and Ralph Riegel was one of the reporters. And this is what Riegel heard Adams say, referring to his period in PSNI custody.

"For the four days that I was in there the case against me amounted to them attempting to prove that I was a member of the IRA and therefore must have known about this poor woman's execution."

Adams's use of the word 'execution' echoes the IRA's repeated position: that Jean McConville was convicted and sentenced under a legitimate code, namely that of the IRA, for counter-revolutionary activities for which the proper penalty was death.

I believe if we accept Adams's use of the word 'execution' or indeed any word except 'murder' we are taking the first step down a slippery slope lubricated by the blood of innocent victims. Any blanket amnesty would add to the moral amnesia that allows Sinn Fein to prey on a gullible new generation.

The Provos want to put the past behind them so as to get on with the Project. We should not help them wash their hands. We should rather remind them of Lady Macbeth's lines: "Here's the smell of the blood still; all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh."

* * *

No perfume is needed for personal cleanliness. Water and a little soap will do. Which brings me to another politically polluted project, that of Irish Water.

Conor Pope in The Irish Times did the tots. The free allowance is 30,000 litres. Flushing the toilet 10 times a day – which any family with adult children will be forced to do or live with foul smells – will use up that entire 30,000 allowance.

The class politics of poo and pee will soon be in place. If Phil Hogan already admits that a family of five adults could face a bill of €450 per year, we can be sure the real figure will rise to double that. And the poor will start to smell.

As soon as that reality hits home, the Irish people will release its rage in one final political flush. It will pull the chain on the Labour Party and watch without pity as it goes down the plughole. Because Irish Water was set up on Labour's watch – or more precisely as Labour looked away.

Irish Water was set up in conditions close to secrecy. Labour ministers like Brendan Howlin supported that secrecy, citing commercial sensitivity to protect it from FoI questions. Labour has also been silent about Irish Water's wage bill, based on the bloated wages in Bord Gais.

For Labour, Irish Water is a welcome addition to the world of bloated bureaucracy. Irish Water will provide a cosy home for surplus local authority staff, and a captive vote for the Labour Party. For which the public will pay.

But that is not the worst of it. Irish Water says it wants us to save water. But if we do so its revenues will drop. If that happens, it will have to raise it prices to protect the pay and pensions of its top-heavy staff. Catch 22.

* * *

So am I all doom and gloom? Not in my nature. And it would be churlish to be completely cynical in a week which saw the Guerin Report vindicate two brave gardai, a dismissive minister dismissed, and the promotion of two meritorious ministers, Charlie Flanagan and Frances Fitzgerald.

The reason I welcome Flanagan and Fitzgerald so warmly is because I have seen both of them in action.

When most of his party stayed silent on what was wrong with Martin McGuinness for President, Charlie Flanagan courageously carried the flag for Fine Gael. Courage, as both Aristotle and the Guerin report reminds us, is the condition for all other virtues.

Frances Fitzgerald was leader of Fine Gael in the Seanad during the three years I spent there. Having watched her perform under pressure, I am well-placed to comment on Stephen Collins's report that "some Fine Gael TDs privately expressed doubts as to whether Fitzgerald has the experience and the toughness for the task".

Collins has solid contacts in Fine Gael. So we can be sure that some of Fitzgerald's more macho colleagues do believe she is too soft for a tough job like Justice.

We can also be sure they are in for a shock.

Any politician who can combine marriage and family with a successful political career has to be a person of steely substance. But that's not the only reason Fitzgerald is a perfect fit for her job in Justice. Policing calls for physical coercion, and physical courage is rightly regarded as a plus.

But it can also create a closed macho culture which needs to be tempered at the top. Hence it helps to have a woman Minister for Justice.

It would also help to have a woman Garda Commissioner. The Taoiseach should promote Acting Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan to full commissioner without further ado.

* * *

Earl Gill, the legendary jazz trumpeter, who died last week, was a good man as well as great musician. Back in 1975, I worked with him on The Greening of America a Brechtian political cabaret which I wrote to celebrate the American Bicentennial of 1976, and for which John Kelleher won a Jacobs Award.

Earl supplied the music for the entire hour-long show, live in studio, no stopping, ranging from barnstorming Wild West numbers to jazz age trumpet solos, from musical jokes about the Wolfe Tones to heartbreaking chords to mark the American Civil war. Condolences to his wife Mavis and his family.

Sunday Independent

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