Saturday 22 October 2016

Mr Davin Power's new erogenous zone

As the politicians try for arms-length coalition, the media has made a sexy discovery, writes Gene Kerrigan

Published 24/04/2016 | 02:30

‘Nothing either party believes is a problem for the other - except where rhetoric has temporarily tied them into opposing positions’ Illustration by Tom Halliday
‘Nothing either party believes is a problem for the other - except where rhetoric has temporarily tied them into opposing positions’ Illustration by Tom Halliday

Way, way back, when I was more easily excited about these things, a newspaper gravely reported the discovery of "a new erogenous zone". Boy, were we feverish.

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And I must confess, in recent days I've felt the same thrill while watching RTE's David Davin Power in action.

The alleged "new erogenous zone" emerged from some novelty fashion trend in female clothing. It got us excited for - oh, I dunno, about 10 minutes.

Then we realised it was just some hack trying to flog a few extra newspapers. Humanity had to settle for the same old erogenous zones that have aroused our interest for several millennia.

Now, just as our enjoyment of traditional forms of political intercourse begin to flag, along come David Davin Power and Martina Fitzgerald, and Pat Leahy and all the other political sexologists, thrilling us with their discovery of a new political erogenous zone - 'Government Formation'.

God be with the days when we had an election and the parties that had sneered at one another for five years announced that "the people have spoken" and "we must accept the logic of the numbers".

Then, after a bit of dancing around, they'd strap one little party onto the back of a bigger party and all that was left to do was guess who was going to get which department. And which of his relatives he'd hire as his driver.

These days, governments don't just come together, as dictated by the numbers. Instead, they go through a formal process of 'Government Formation'.

These days, David Davin Power comes on our screens and - I swear, one evening he was so excited the eyes were dancing in his head as he told us the number of the room in which Fine Gael and Fianna Fail negotiators were meeting.

Room 716, I think it was.

Right behind me, here, said David, gesturing towards Government Buildings.

And he indicated the area where - if it wasn't for the railings and the walls and the floors and various lengths of corridor, we might well be able to see the Government Formation Obstetricians at work.

At which point, David plunged back into the political delivery ward, up to his elbows in constitutional amniotic fluid.

Meanwhile, his fellow Pol Corr Martina Fitzgerald was breathlessly telling us of the changing "mood music", interpreting the smiles and the frowns of the party insiders, as they revealed exclusively to her that, "Ah, y'know, tis going alright, like".

I swear, the following happened. I made a note of it. Then I lost the note. However, my commitment to duty is not less than that of David and Martina. In search of every last obstetric detail, I plunged into the maelstrom of RTE Government Formation Podcasts and dug out the relevant specifics.

It's Pat Leahy, deputy political editor of the Irish Times, on the RTE News at One. On Thursday, April 21 (it's important to get down all the details: who, where, the time and the date, his proper title - these are matters of historical importance).

The negotiators, Pat said, had to "trash out the details of the framework that's already in place" to deal with Irish Water. And, says he, "that will be the dam break, if you like, that allows The Waters of Government Formation to flow."

Jesus, Heaney at his best couldn't have done it better.

Irish Water, the dam, the allusion to the breaking of the birth waters, the flow.

That there, all by itself, justified the licence fee.

When not enlightening us thus, Pat is, no doubt putting together one of his trademark insider books, detailing in even more exquisite detail the formation of whatever emerges from all this. So, that's my summer holiday reading sorted: The Secrets of Room 716: The Making of the Government, 2016.

As I type, RTE's Brian Dowling reports that Enda and Micheal have been talking on the phone. He can disclose that while they said nothing of substance, they agreed to talk again on the phone.

"Negotiators are on standby," he reveals.

Okay, enough, enough.

What are the politics of all this? What's actually happening?

In 2011, we kicked the bejayzus out of Fianna Fail. That was for betraying us to bankers and developers.

Fine Gael was orgasmic. They didn't have to do anything, except continue breathing, to become the biggest party after the 2011 election. It didn't occur to them that to fail to get an overall majority even in those circumstances said something about our feelings for them.

In 2016, we kicked the bejayzus out of Fine Gael. That was for betraying us to bankers, developers, the ECB and the vulture funds. There wasn't much bejayzus left in Labour, but we kicked it out of them, anyway.

Now, what's happening?

Irish Water, that's what's happening.

It was in no one's script that street protest would shatter the plans of the parties to charge huge sums for water. The charges had to be drastically reduced.

Even as government cheerleaders told us the protests were over, they were continuing relentlessly, until the plan to privatise the water supply became too politically risky - in the short term.

In order to undercut Sinn Fein and damage the government, Fianna Fail had to oppose Irish Water.

Now, Fine Gael believe they will lose credibility with their own base if they give in on Irish Water. Government Formation is about finding a form of words that will allow both parties to maintain credibility.

Shouldn't be too difficult.

The overall political task is to allow Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to join together in creating a governing structure, while maintaining enough separation for Fianna Fail to dominate the opposition benches.

Between them, they have 93 TDs. Nothing that either party believes in is a problem for the other - except where election rhetoric has temporarily tied them into opposing positions.

But they need to create an arms-length coalition. FF can't yet vote for an FG Taoiseach; FG can't yet allow its Taoiseach be elected by FF votes.

So at our expense, they promise goodies for votes to Independents, so FF and FG can coalesce without one voting for the other, merely by FF abstaining.

All of this could have been done in a week.

Instead, they have marched from one unproductive meeting to the next daft diversion.

Indulged by their media fans, the parties have in turn indulged their sense of themselves as embodying the nation - if it's good for the party, it's good for Ireland.

And these people are so inept that they may yet screw up even this minor political manoeuvre.

Meanwhile, the mental health budget is raided, homelessness grows, the potentially disastrous British referendum approaches

Finally, a lament: when Pat Leahy emerges from the delivery ward, the new government wrapped in swaddling clothes, David Davin Power passing out the cigars and Martina Fitzgerald describing the type of forceps used, we won't get to read the views of James Downey.

Jim, long-serving stalwart first of the Irish Times and then the Irish Independent, died last week. I liked reading him when I agreed with what he wrote and even more so when I disagreed with him.

Either way, he was always interesting, always calm, always measured.

He sometimes made me feel slightly guilty for responding angrily to the latest political treachery. His style implied that if you were around long enough you saw it all in perspective, which takes some of the sting out of it.

And the longer I'm around, the more I see the wisdom in that.

Rest in peace.

Sunday Independent

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