Thursday 18 December 2014

Gene Kerrigan: By god, they're after canonising Enda

Published 07/10/2012 | 05:00

Nothing cheers up Official Ireland as much as a pat on the head from America, writes Gene Kerrigan

Eamon Gilmore saved Enda Kenny's bacon. The Taoiseach had a Time interview in the bag, he would be on the cover of the European version of the magazine, with the headline "The Celtic Comeback". By God, that would put the begrudgers in their place.

There's nothing cheers up Official Ireland as much as a pat on the head from the Smart People in America.

And then -- it looked like it might all be spoiled. Bloody James Reilly and his fecking and foostering with those bloody primary care centres. Bloody Roisin what's-her-name, flouncing off like a diva, just because of a bit of oul' stroke politics. And then it turned out some bloody Fine Gael supporter owned the site where one of those bloody primary what's-it centres was to land.

Ruairi Quinn was sent in to calm things down. Reilly's people gave him a story that would exonerate the minister. And Ruairi stood up in the Dail and floored them with that one. Reilly, he said, didn't choose the sites in his constituency, Mary Harney did, way back.

Then it turns out the story they gave him was nonsense and Ruairi is lepping up and down, telling Pat Kenny, "I'm mad as hell", because his credibility is damaged. And Enda's big moment on the cover of Time -- first Taoiseach since Sean Lemass, 49 years ago -- would be spoiled by all this bickering.

Up steps Eamon Gilmore.

Now, there's something you need to know about how the media works. You will have noticed, an issue or a scandal can be all over the place, day after day, then one day it's gone. The media has moved on to something else. Usually, what has happened is that the media officer class has declared that the story no longer "has legs". And if a story has "no legs", it can't keep running.

A handful of mostly political editors and correspondents, with their equivalents in business journalism, these days constitute the media officer class. They have a huge influence on how a development is perceived. Some are good journalists, some are so-so. All are in daily contact with ministers, TDs and party insiders. And behave accordingly.

They can decide, for instance, that a blanket bank guarantee, given by a panicked government, is a great move. It's often forgotten that the media officer class weighed in behind the bank guarantee. Any dissenting views didn't have "legs" -- and that became the approved version of reality. Until the bank guarantee brought the country to its knees.

Similarly, the media officer class could decide that Nama is "the only game in town", that "there is no alternative" to austerity -- and these stopped being controversial issues. They too became part of Official Ireland's approved version of reality. They are now part of the landscape. Alternatives are ruled to be "for the birds", "off the wall", the mindless carping of begrudgers.

Thus, in this extremely perilous crisis, options are kept to a very limited range.

Last week, the Reilly scandal was peaking. The Irish Independent had found out that one of the sites earmarked for a care centre was owned by a Fine Gael chap. And, at that point, Eamon Gilmore stepped in.

Gilmore spoke directly to the Secretary General of the Department of Health, Ambrose McLoughlin, and the CEO of the HSE, Tony O'Brien. I was doing something else when I heard the gist of a radio report -- having consulted these impeccable sources, Gilmore could state categorically that there was "no ministerial involvement".

Now, we can all agree there's no question that McLoughlin or O'Brien would conspire with anyone to cover up anything. So, end of scandal. All done, move on, nothing to see here.

Frankly, I was happy with that. This country is in a terrible state. Mass unemployment is here for at least the next decade. Enda's austerity policies have kicked a hole in the economy, and everything from the corner shop to Clerys department store is in danger of disappearing down that hole.

And, as happened last week, the Government keeps borrowing billions to hand them over to bank bondholders, gamblers who made bad bets on the property bubble.

Meanwhile, down at the courts, the Sean Quinn scandal gives us a glimpse of the rich at bay, fighting to hold onto their wealth. We know of the Quinn case only because a bank is publicly trying to wrestle some cash out of the Quinns' steely grip. Lots of similar struggles, using similar tactics, will be taking place out of our view.

So, when Gilmore says there was "no ministerial involvement", at least that's one thing we don't have to worry about.

It was next day before I read the newspaper report that quoted his statement: there was, "no ministerial involvement in the selection of individual sites".

We still don't know how those primary care centres were added to the list that Roisin Shortall drew up, and how two of them wound up in Reilly's constituency. And the media officer class has decided it no longer matters. It doesn't have legs.

The consensus seems to be: Reilly is a lightning rod. Every move he makes is now being watched, so he may well come a cropper on some other issue. But the row over the primary care centres is just stroke politics, and it has no legs. Move on.

When there's an approved version of reality, all kinds of odd things can happen. Last week, Ruairi told the Dail: "The terms of the deal with the only group in town that will lend us the money is that we cannot burn the bondholders." Stephen Donnelly TD, blurted: "That is untrue. That is absolutely untrue." And he's right. But, in this case, the truth doesn't have legs.

The Government borrows billions to pay off those bad bets on the property bubble -- and a senior minister genuinely thinks this is part of the troika deal, rather than a shameful strategy of subservience that has helped drain this country's coffers. Ministers have started to believe their own fairytales.

Anyway, this whole bondholder thing -- it has no legs. So, the payments, the Ballyhea marches -- no need to report them anymore. They're not part of the approved reality.

And, what matter? Sure, look, here's Enda on the cover of Time, so he is. Be God, the Smart People in America are only after canonising Enda.

Of course, some of us remember that it was just over two years ago that the Smart People in America published their list of great leaders of our time, in Newsweek magazine. Resulting in the classic Irish Times headline: "Cowen named in top 10 world leaders."

Now, though the economic figures are crushing, Time says Enda is "rebuilding his country's economy". And it suggests that, "the rest of Europe can learn from him". Just like Newsweek said, Biffo's "harsh medicine" had won "the admiration of the international community". Three months later, the IMF and ECB took over.

Good man, Enda, pass the green jersey. This is no time for reality.

Sunday Independent

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