Thursday 23 October 2014

John Drennan: Keaveney brings flair to staid 4-4-2

Fianna Fail have adopted quite the colourful child, but he's a gamble worth taking

Published 08/12/2013 | 02:30

ANTI-MODERNIST: Colm Keaveney

As Colm Keaveney and Fianna Fail pledged their troth on the Dail plinth, you could hardly blame us for starting to hum the old Chuck Berry song about how "it was a teenage wedding and the old folks wished them well".

There were certainly lots of "good luck" style sentiments coming from Fianna Fail to Keaveney and more intriguingly still from the Labour TDs to their FF counterparts.

But, unlike the wiser school of nuptial attendees who keep their mouths shut over the chances of teenage weddings ending well, colder analysts were less optimistic.

They instead compared the trajectory of Keaveney's political career to that of someone who, having leaped from the sinking Labour ship, was now swimming with the Fianna Fail rats.

Mr Keaveney was somewhat more optimistic as he tweeted about how, even in Irish politics, the law of 'Audentis Fortuna iuvat' (fortune favours the brave) can prevail. The broad smiles within Labour as they happily congratulated Fianna Fail appeared to suggest the latter had, to borrow a phrase from Yes Minister, taken a "very brave decision".

They have also adopted quite the colourful child, for few indeed would be the politicians who have made a more immediate impact than this exotic arrival from the west of Ireland. From the start, as Keaveney stepped around the plinth rather like a latter-day Pink Panther, we knew this was a different sort of political creature. A Labour hierarchy who increasingly responded to the Pink Panther of Galway East like an infuriated Herbert Lom also swiftly came to a similar conclusion.

Outside of his capacity to infuriate the Labour leader's court, Mr Keaveney also stood out in other ways, for in a generally drab political scene Mr Keaveney is the closest thing politics has to an Irish Oprah.

Like Oprah, he has the unique capacity to empathise and emote with the citizens in a manner which somehow also manages to weave the dramatic tapestry of his own life into the mix.

Indeed, as with the equally empathetic Princess Diana, on occasions Mr Keaveney feels the people's pain so intensely, sometimes it appears to become his own wound.

Perhaps his greatest strength and weakness is the clear belief of FF's new recruit that some great destiny awaits, should he just find the directions on his political sat-nav.

Though his colleagues in Labour never liked this too much, there is something to be said for the spectacle, in a Dail of modest time-servers, of a man coming in with the intent of causing a bit of a stir with the ornate phraseology, the casually tossed out Latin phrases and that restless search in the caverns of his heart for the spirit of the nation.

In a strange way, such traits added to his attraction, for Keaveney is the definitive anti-modernist politician who is not at home in the safe, cafe society world of focus groups, herd-speak and group-think.

Before we get too glowing, it should, however, also be noted Mr Keaveney is not without flaws. His oscillations prior to voting against Budget 2012, half an hour after Labour thought they had landed their fish, saw him nicknamed Vicky Pollard in honour of the Little Britain character, whose catch-phrase is "I said yes but no but yes, but no".

And if FF have doubts, when it comes to the complex FF Keaveney graft, he too must wonder if his elliptical continental style can be absorbed into the more prosaic 4-4-2 'the boss is always right' culture of Fianna Fail.

But given the similarities within the Fianna Fail and the Labour mindset, epitomised by Pat Rabbitte's disconsolate observation that the Irish electorate tend to "think Labour but vote Fianna Fail", the dissonances may not be as great as they think.

Ultimately, in a pallid Dail of brand-loyal TDs who have the characteristics of one of those stolid shire horses that are bred to man the plough, Keaveney was a gamble worth taking by Micheal Martin.

Like a thoroughbred, he may be mercurial, temperamental and difficult to control, but these qualities add to the attraction of mastering him.

The problem for Dear Leader Michael, though, should it all go wrong, was best summarised by one observer: "He'll either have left FF or become its leader in a year".

Sunday Independent

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