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Tuesday 30 September 2014

Gene Kerrigan: Angry Eamon has a rage for all seasons

The Tanaiste's vitriol would be laughable if he wasn't making key decisions on our lives

Published 16/12/2012 | 05:00

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There are few things more entertaining in this world than Eamon Gilmore in the full flood of his indignation.

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The outraged expression on the Labour leader's face, the furious tone of his voice – verging on disbelief – as he explains to us the infinite wickedness of those with whom he disagrees.

And always the finger – Eamon's righteous index finger – pointing towards the heaven to which we should aspire or thrusting provocatively at our faces, challenging us to match his anger. Or poking at a document he is denouncing. Or he might be praising the document.

It's all the one, with Eamon – you get great value for money. If Eamon denounces something today, and it's something you support – don't worry. Enjoy the show. Next day, you may catch him singing the praises of the same thing, while denouncing those who dared cast on it the mildest of aspersions.

Truly, this man deserves a daily television show, on which he can fulminate in all directions. Before bedtime, we could watch him condemn or applaud one side or another of the issues that arose that day. To ensure balance, he would both condemn things and praise them, condemn people and praise them, all in the one show. The effect on the national blood pressure would, I believe, be hugely beneficial. Angry Eamon would help us exorcise the many demons that accumulate daily in a media-saturated culture.

How can any issue matter, his behaviour suggests, when you can come down with equal venom on either side?

Let Eamon's brief be limitless. Politics, sex, religion, sport or fashion. Or who should be evicted from whatever vote-em-off TV show is on at the moment. He could judge contending recipes for coddle. Or adjudicate on competing opinions on precisely how best to pull a pint of the black stuff.

Eamon, if confined to our TV screens, would be a national treasure. Mr Shouty Pushy, perpetually punching his way through the issues of the day, demonstrating that any view can be simultaneously adopted on anything, with equal sincerity. And the population relaxes in its armchairs, the tensions of the day almost visibly ebbing.

Unfortunately, Eamon is currently making real decisions about the lives of real people.

Of course, in a way, we already have that daily TV show. It's called YouTube. And on it, at any time of day, we can watch Eamon and others take various positions on various issues – their wriggling available for all to see. Put Varadkar red cent into the YouTube search box and watch Leo tell us that "the banks aren't getting another cent – Anglo Irish Bank is not getting another cent of our money".

Put Ruairi Quinn signs pledge into the search box and up pops not just Ruairi but Eamon, too. Watch Ruairi sign the pledge not to raise third level fees. Ruairi signs with a flourish. You can tell he's sincere. Just as sincere as when he raised the fees some months later.

Then, in the same 24-second clip, we go to the RTE Six-One studio, where Eamon has agreed that not raising fees is a "red line" issue. And, as a bonus, watch Eamon commit to protecting child benefit. "I think families have suffered enough, their pay packets plundered," he says, his eloquent hands held out like a protective umbrella over the nation's families.

Of course, Eamon and his cheerleaders will tell us that was then – all is changed now. He had to attack child benefit because he's bound by the agreement Fianna Fail made with the troika. For the crack of it, put Gilmore will not be bound into the YouTube search box. Watch Eamon in the Dail, in opposition, waving documents in the air as he quotes the comments of prominent international economists who say the troika deal is a "disaster", who say "this deal amounts to reparation imposed on an innocent public".

Then watch Eamon's righteous finger almost poke holes in the troika document as he announces that in government, "the Labour Party will not be bound by this".

Of course, there are some people – and I'm one of them – who are far too ready to write off the Labour Party as a bunch of tossers. My contempt is based, perhaps, on too many years of watching the kind of cynical twisting and turning that offers hope and snatches it away.

This past week, as Labour hung the Fine Gael Budget around the necks of the citizens, many within the party – sincere people who desperately want an alternative – will have despaired at the cynicism of their leaders. These days, even those leaders make little attempt to pretend it's anything else.

Going way beyond Labour, the pettiness of the debate was depressing. Don't cut that, cut this. We are more deserving than those others. Cut my neighbour's throat, not mine. Was there no one offering a vision, a bigger picture, of what is being done to us?

As it happens, during the debate, a Twitter account with the name Oireachtas Retort put up a link to a Dail speech from December 2009. To see it, insert Michael D Higgins's Budget speech into YouTube. It's a genuinely angry speech. Higgins pointed out that no official research has been done "regarding the extent and breakdown of wealth as opposed to income".

The wealth accumulated by those who crushed the country – wealth accumulated within the process that crushed the country – remains the subject of guesswork. Higgins pointed out that the rich don't mind paying a little extra on their income – it's in their interests to encourage sacrifice. They object to any wealth tax or process that will reveal the extent of their control of the country's resources. The objection always, Higgins said, "was not to the yield but to what it would reveal".

He spoke of tax breaks "for car parks, spas, health clinics and so on . . . In one year, €8.5bn was invested in property abroad." What was being done to ensure that "those who were quickest and deepest into the trough might pay a fair share"?

Higgins didn't urge the stopping of one cut at the cost of a cut to some other unfortunate. Implicit in his vision is how the citizens are collectively asset-stripped while the resources of the rich are protected.

When we disengage from the arguments about which of the vulnerable should be screwed, and to what extent, we see a larger truth. Great sacrifices are demanded so that the books can be balanced – meanwhile, great fortunes are protected, as the State underwrites the assets of bankers and bondholders.

It's in tune with the ideology of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. And Labour's tired old men have neither the vision nor the energy for anything else. Higgins is shut away in the Aras, where a savage speech defending the citizens would be frowned upon.

Still, we optimists try to find a silver lining. And over the Christmas season, many a party will be enlivened by finger-poking, brow-clenching, red-faced imitations of Mr Shouty Pushy coming down firmly on one side of an issue. And/or the other side.

Sunday Independent

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