News Lise Hand

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Glenties does it as speakers try not to wake attendees

Published 22/07/2014 | 02:30

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Frank Flannery reckoned it was the “destiny” of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to come together
Frank Flannery reckoned it was the “destiny” of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to come together

The village of Glenties is awash with colour this week; cheerful bunting overhangs the Main Street and windows are festooned with the green and gold of Donegal, proclaiming the historic double of both junior and senior football teams taking Ulster championship honours.

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And Glenties is a particularly proud corner of the county – four of the senior players are locals, and manager Jim McGuinness lives just out the road.

And there was another splash of colour on the streets, in the shape of several boys in blue. The village may have a grand garda station, but cutbacks to the force have meant that the number of the police who are based there has been halved – despite the fact they've a big area to cover, roughly the same size as Louth.

On the face of it, despite persistent unemployment and the continued exodus of the young, Glenties looks to be wearing a slightly more cheerful aspect these days; a new establishment has just opened its doors – Kennedy's Bar, smelling of fresh paint and offering good, fresh fare along with the pints. There is a butterfly farm, along with other community schemes, to try and generate a few jobs.

And, of course, there is the MacGill Summer School in the Highland hotel, a six-day talking-shop filled with politicians, a cornucopia of consultants, economists, academics and pointy-heads, which descends on Glenties every July, bringing much-needed revenue to the place.

And this is the reason that a clatter of cops have re-appeared in Glenties, to keep an eye on the various ministers who make the pilgrimage to this north-west corner of the land – this year's crop of conscripted officers includes Joan Burton, Leo Varadkar and Frances Fitzgerald.

While this year's theme ('Without Fundamental Reform of our Politics and Institutions Can We Meet the Challenges Ahead?') may be of burning interest to MacGill attendees who are predominantly retired teachers and public servants, it sure isn't preoccupying the vast majority of the citizenry.

Realpolitik is a bit too real these days, what with Gaza in flames and civilian planes being shot from the sky.

But while the world convulses, the weighty themes under discussion on the opening day of MacGill included how to rebuild trust with the electorate and an examination of whether the political landscape has changed utterly.

There were two conscripts from the officer classes pencilled in for Day One, Tanaiste Joan Burton and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, but the Person of Interest was Frank Flannery.

Most of the discussions are genteel affairs with speakers employing modulated tones unlikely to awaken the occasional pensioner catching a quick 40 winks at the back of the warm hall.

But there was a feeling that Frank Flannery was ready to rumble, now that his massive scrap with the Public Accounts Committee has ended with an Oireachtas ruling last week that PAC had no power to compel him to attend a meeting to discuss his time as chief executive of Rehab, the former Fine Gael strategist has been back in business.

And so he released his inner bitchy Joan Collins. Frank reckoned it was the "destiny" of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to come together". He also reckoned that Fine Gael's recent local election campaign was "one of the worst I ever saw".

Saving politics is a serious business, but mercifully a bit of humour broke out during the speech from Independent TD Stephen Donnelly, while he ruminated upon how little the political system has changed over the decades. "I'll bet you, if you dropped a TD from 1940 into the Dail today, or into a parliamentary party meeting, he'd probably look around and say, 'what are all these women doing there?'. But apart from that, he probably wouldn't see much has changed," he said.

But the lack of frivolity turned out to be a blessing. After the dreaded cowboy was invoked in questions from the floor during the opening session, moderator Vincent O'Doherty laid down the law. "I'm going to bar any further comment on Garth Brooks," he said.

It was almost worth cheering that. But we might've disturbed someone's snooze.

Lise Hand

Irish Independent

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