Must do better: The end-of-term report for our prefects at school of hard knocks
Published 24/07/2014 | 02:30
Happy days are here at last for our Dail deputies. Eight weeks of not being expected to be around for meetings, media interviews or constituency chores. Another political year ends in parallel with the education/ academic summer break.
No heavy lifting until autumn 'away days' for parliamentary parties in September. A good time therefore to produce end-of-year report cards for our senior politicos. While more precise numerical examination grades are conferred through election results, progress reports benchmark pupils' past performance and future potential.
My old alma mater is traditionally the toughest of schools for hard knocks; bullying and beatings were always systemic; teacher's pets thrive on arbitrary discrimination; with many pupils being expelled before reaching full maturity.
Let's analyse some senior cycle candidates:
Enda Kenny: Our head boy applied himself earnestly since becoming a prefect, energetically surpassing modest expectations of intellectual cleverness. He thrived over the past dozen years as a prefect sustaining his position through a combination of promised shared inducements and tough discipline against miscreants. In the top job he tolerates no dissent. You may recall his Grey Crow incident of July 2011. Farmers, beleaguered by these birds attacking fruit and vegetable crops as well as killing chickens, will explain that best deterrent is to capture one, cruelly tie up the live bird, placing it on display, until it dies. Other crows witnessing this distasteful atrocity learn to stay away. Fine Gael TD Denis Naughten faced closure of the A&E facilities in his local Roscommon hospital, having promised their retention. He was offered a choice: either chairmanship of the Oireachtas Health Committee or banishment in the context of his vote on an opposition Dail motion. His disloyalty resulted in the visible Grey Crow treatment, warning off others.
Clear message annunciated to the entire school that dissent was not to be tolerated. Two years later, in July 2013, similar expulsions were meted out to Lucinda Creighton, Peter Matthews, Billy Timmons and Terence Flanagan over failure to vote for the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill. Straight red cards, Haughey-style, told the entire classroom about rigid strict regime – no free votes, no refuge.
Enda survived previous ropey patches by promising pupils preferment. Various indications of inducements were offered up during schoolyard fracas in 2010 when Richard Bruton sought to be head boy. These career expectations ran out of road with last week's reshuffle. Irate feelings of upset rejection are endemic amongst many boys and girls harbouring hopes of promotion. What George Lee once described as "mutterings" have turned to incandescent "splutterings" of bile. Hell hath no fury like women TDs who are collectively overlooked for a job. Neither geography nor gender can justify certain talented omissions. Nowadays, loss of Fine Gael whip could provide an electoral life raft as an Independent.
It's unconscionable to Official Ireland, corporate worlds or establishment media that a treasonous leadership heave might ensue against an incumbent Taoiseach of an interparty coalition government battling a recession. However, politicians allow one issue to supersede all others – their own re-election. Silently, senators still smart over Kenny's botched institutional termination. Apparently battle lines may revolve around results of the two forthcoming by-elections in Dublin south-west (replacing MEP Brian Hayes) and Roscommon/South Leitrim (Luke 'Ming' Flanagan's seat). Failure to win either or heavy defeats may reinforce current prospects of up to 30 FG TDs facing elimination in the next general election. Initial head counting is under way.
Changing leader, while in office, has a decent record of restoring electoral fortunes. Maggie Thatcher's enforced exit resulted in an otherwise improbable John Major/Tory victory. Both Sean Lemass and Albert Reynolds benefited by becoming party leader, while in power, hitting the ground running. Jack Lynch's failure in December 1979 to win either of two by-elections acted as catalyst for rumblings that led to his enforced retirement. If our head boy is to retain his primary role, he'll need to establish a new team of prefects to defend the realm – now that Phil Hogan and Frank Flannery have become 'old boys' of our institution. Having done the austerity thing, boys and girls at the back of the classroom may look to another pupil to project the 'vision thing' into a fearful future. This time no one underestimates the tenacity of Kenny to cling on.
Joan Burton: Our head girl, a break from male tradition, enjoys an initial honeymoon. Her precocious talent has taken many years to be fully recognised by her fellow classmates. She now has opportunity to shine and reach her full potential. Provided she is not bullied by the big boys, we expect her conscientious hard work to result in steady if slow progress at an Ordinary rather than Higher level exam/election.
Micheal Martin: This prefect always tries to be most popular boy in school – attempting to be all things to all people. His European examination results were extremely disappointing, with not a single MEP to call his own. He should realise that relying on minions' preparations such as Sean Dorgan (in FF headquarters) is causing him to lose marks steadily. Other bold boys such as John McGuinness, Michael McGrath and Eamon O Cuiv continue to harbour hopes of displacing him. But his Council results should be sufficient to entitle him to a pass grade in retaining his front rank standing. Mock exam results in the form of opinion polls could scupper his hopes. With lots more diligent opportunism he can achieve limited goals.
Gerry Adams: This prefect holds long past records of appalling behaviour at other schools, which should have previously resulted in multiple suspensions. However, we hear now that middle-class voters don't care whether he was a member of the IRA but only care about taxes. If his younger classmate Mary Lou McDonald keeps getting copybook stars for communications projects, Gerry may become an early leaver. Like all pupils, he's subject to continuous assessment when new term starts. Meanwhile, our traditional school motto remains 'Canis manducare canis', Dog eat Dog.