Sunday 23 October 2016

My week of reflection on gulls and gullibility

Published 25/09/2016 | 02:30

Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Cartoonist: Jim Cogan

Last week, I resolved to take a break from monitoring Gerry Adams and other green gnomes who will not go away and leave us in peace.

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To help me go cold turkey, I temporarily took down the framed 1916 certificate of my grandfather which hangs over my desk.

In its place I put a print of an aerial photo by Dennis Horgan, titled Tractor and Birds, which I had coveted since I saw the original at his exhibition in Skibbereen Town Hall.

The tractor is at the top left and behind it a great curved sickle of yellow, ploughed field where gulls and pigeons feast on the worms left in its wake.

By some serendipity, I have been fostering a fat, young gull at Lough Hyne who goes around nagging another long-suffering gull whom I strongly suspect is his unmarried mother.

Naturally, I would not feed a gull in case of censure by Seanad Eireann, but I can't collect every crumb that falls from my sandwich towards that needy beak.

All that, plus the National Ploughing Championships, prompted me to reflect on the relations between town and country.

Reluctantly, I am forced to reject a recent call from Eamon O Cuiv to return to regional decentralisation, a modernised version of his grandfather's rural vision.

Developing every town, village and hamlet will not stop Dublin's sprawl, but merely add to the smaller sprawls that disfigure so many small towns.

Paradoxically, to preserve our fragile emerald isle we should create six compact cities - Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, Waterford, Kilkenny - with good quality, high-rise apartments close to the centre of town.

All should have fast access to our fields, woods and rivers, and thus preserve the spirit of Eamon de Valera's aspirations.


Last Monday, Claire Byrne grilled Simon Harris for an hour. A future leader of Fine Gael, the summer showed his work ethic.

While other ministers tanned themselves, he visited over 20 hospitals around the country, not just meeting staff but patients too - getting a good feel for his portfolio.

But the interview began with a small blunder when he walked straight into the trap Byrne set in her first question. Byrne: "Do you have health insurance?" Harris: (smartly ) "I do."

Then he realised his blunder and sat blinking at the blood as Byrne came back to twist the arrow in his plumage: Byrne: "Is that not telling everybody here that you don't believe in the public health service in this country if you feel the need, like 2.2 million Irish people, to have health insurance?"

But his more serious blunder was waffling when Byrne repeatedly asked him about the vested interests in the services, ranging from consultants to porters, which Professor Michael O'Keeffe had courageously criticised on RTE.

Finally, however, Harris found his customary clarity when Byrne pressed: "Do you suspect we have too many non-frontline staff?" Harris: "Yes, I do. I do."

Byrne rightly added: "Nobody has got the guts to deal with that." We saw why when Professor Tim Lynch, of the Dublin Neurological Institute, in the audience took exception to Byrne's introductory words to the show: "Can you take on the health service and win?"

In full finger-wagging mode, Prof Lynch lectured Harris, warning him not to challenge the status quo. "He needs to work with us."

Translated, that means that Harris, like his two predecessors, should pander and defer to doctors, nurses, porters and their unions.

Finally, Prof Lynch went too far, presenting the health service as an arcane mystery. "The ministers and the TDs don't have the capability to understand it."

Harris woke up and gave him a reality check. "We are the democratically elected representatives of the patients and we have a role to play as well."

Rather more than just a role. If politicians won't tackle the vested interests in the health service, the people will tackle the politicians.


My checklist for misogynists includes giving out about shows like Sex and the City and Girls.

So in case I didn't like Can't Cope, Won't Cope, I asked my wife Gwen to watch it separately and tell me what she thought.

This set a high bar for the show as Gwen is a Two and a Half Men kind of fan and gets nothing from Lena Dunham's Girls.

To my surprise, she liked Can't Cope, Won't Cope. "It was great to have two feisty women from Cork rather than some bleached-out, characterless south county Dublin shoppers."

Gwen goes on: "The two Cork girls are cool, charming, competent, have Cork cunning and cop-on, and are disarmingly able."

Like me, she particularly enjoyed the scene where Kate is panicking over a possible loss of an investor who has just died. Aisling calls the widow and with a mixture of charm, cunning and emotional intelligence secures the reinvestment.

Gwen says that while some viewers might compare Can't Cope, Won't Cope to Lena Dunham's Girls, it's actually a stand-alone Irish comedy.

"Aisling and Danielle, being Irish - and even more so being from Cork - are women who don't do angst and neurosis a la Dunham's Girls."

Naturally, I agreed with all that - well I have no choice really - but in truth I enjoyed the raunchy show albeit in that slightly horrified way appropriate to my age and gender.

But, as with most Irish television dramas, I have a problem. Being almost completely character-driven, it could soon run out of steam without some serious plot.

Let's hope not, but I want to give the same advice I give to all screenwriting students: to be respectful of the necessity of plot and to seek the plot of necessity.


Talking of plot, I would love to know the story behind the two English women visitors to Sean Murray's men's clothing store in Skibbereen.

Sean selected the cool outfits worn by Gary and Paul O'Donovan on The Late Late Show. But the two mature English women who came into his store last week were in search of more intimate items.

They told Sean that having seen Gary and Paul on television, they had flown from London to Dublin, hired a car and driven to Skibbereen to visit his shop.

Why this long journey? To buy the same jocks and socks worn by Gary and Paul on The Late Late.

Sean said after buying the aforementioned, they stood outside the window, were joined by two laughing men, took selfies of themselves and departed happily. Talk about Wild Atlantic Women.


Oh all right, I've cracked. The Spotlight programme was too much for me. But I don't want to slag Adams. I want to slag Vincent Browne's, sorry, gullibility.

As Malachi O'Doherty told him, there is every reason to believe that the Provisional IRA killed Denis Donaldson.

Gerry Adams may have argued against it. Maybe that's why the South Armagh gang did not dismember the poor devil.

Academics currently whitewashing the Old IRA's killing of civilian "spies" should remember real spies are always at the top.

As the Irish proverb says: "Is i ding di fein a scoileann an dair." It's a wedge from itself that splits the oak.

Sunday Independent

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