Friday 21 October 2016

The Yates Anthology: Be careful what you wish for, Mr Bruton

Published 11/06/2016 | 02:30

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is expected to visit Ireland later this month (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is expected to visit Ireland later this month (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

I've known Richard Bruton since we were both elected for the first time to the Dáil in 1981. As long as I can remember, over the past 30 years, he's wanted to be Minister for Education. He felt changes in that department could have a lasting societal and economic impact.

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I see Bruton as something of a rarity in Irish politics, in that he craves creativity and embracing new ideas, bluntly.

He combines this with being a policy nerd. So for exam week he was out dutifully doing the annual rounds of media, sending 'good luck' wishes to Leaving/Junior Cert students.

But under the outward enthusiasm, the realities of 'New Politics' are breaking through. You could hear the frustration at the indecision in his replies as to how third level education might be funded under his stewardship at Marlborough Street. Peter Cassells (chair of the Government's higher education working group), has just completed a report on higher education funding.

This milestone document concludes "the current situation is unsustainable", that change is essential.

In practical terms, this demands an extra €1bn of annual investment just to guarantee Ireland can meet international standards at our universities and colleges.

When Mr Bruton was asked about his initiatives as the new man on the scene, he replied that the new political dispensation meant decision-making is pretty much outsourced to the Oireachtas education committee.

Currently, annual registration fees are €2,500; even an increase to €4,000 will not fully fill the funding void.

And there's simply no prospect of the opposition parties agreeing to any hike or the introduction of a student loan scheme.

Taxpayers across the board, whether they ever had the privilege of getting a degree or not, are expected to absorb the full costs.

Committees are fine when it comes to populist measures like reducing pupil-teacher ratios, providing more school buildings and such matters.

But there are tough, unpopular choices which will compromise positions going into the next election.

And the tragedy is they will be side-stepped. To see Richard Bruton reduced to the position of an impotent ministerial messenger, devoid of authority to act, says all that needs to be said in my mind about the currency of 'New Politics'. It boils down to little more than divvying up jobs and riding down the clock.

Where's céad míle fáilte for Trump?

Quelle surprise! A gaggle of trendy left-wingers, preachy moralisers and, throw in a cowardly Cabinet for good measure, have all decided to ignore the visit to Doonbeg later this month of 'The Donald'.

Instead, Enda Kenny will fete US Vice-President Joe Biden, who's a beaten docket in American politics.

Recent Dáil exchanges, where the Taoiseach called Mr Trump "racist and dangerous", amounted to little more than a foolish, clunky attempt to compete with the pious self-righteousness of Richard Boyd Barrett. The mind boggles as to which self-appointed communist or socialist regimes AAA/PBP would feel more comfortable hosting here. Michael Noonan's red carpet treatment at Shannon, with the assorted comely dancing maidens on the tarmac, bordered on the mortifying. The intention was probably to show appreciation for the millions in investment the billionaire spent in County Clare, rather than an endorsement of his politics.

Even so, snubbing Mr Trump at this time as he closes in on Capitol Hill amounts to shooting ourselves in the foot.

His explosive views, and ability to manufacture controversy on demand, are merely means to an end. No one will be building a wall on the Mexican border. All Muslims will not be banned from the US. This is mere campaign rhetoric to elevate himself in the eyes of alienated voters.

He's already defeated 16 Republican rivals. Hilary Clinton is distrusted as a self-serving careerist, lacking vision beyond soundbites sculpted by focus groups.

Mr Trump may lose, but ministers abusing him only serve to insult American voters and investors. He should be politely received, and cordially acknowledged by civic authorities, with neither endorsement nor rebuke.

Let's jump to our (wrong) man in Rio...

The shock decision by Robert Splaine and Horse Sport Ireland to select Greg Broderick and MHS Going Global to represent Ireland at the Rio Olympic Games, in my view is plain wrong.

We wouldn't have an individual competitor, but for the world top 10 ranking of Bertram Allen over recent years, with his mare Molly Malone V. He earned the qualification place. It's remarkable that a combination currently rated only at 252 in the same rankings should be chosen over Allen.

Just imagine if an Olympic swimmer or runner had attained the standard qualifying time required, only for the slot to be allocated to a rival. Our current crop of international equestrian stars also includes Cian O'Connor and Denis Lynch. Recent form shouldn't be the sole determining factor for selection.

Bertram's youthful age of 20 is irrelevant. HSI rules should be changed so that whoever attains qualification, gets it.

Top hats and tails for Irish raiding party

The best five days of flat racing in the world begins on Tuesday, with an optimistic Irish raiding party. Top hats and tails are only obligatory in Royal enclosures, while regular punters can dress normally in the grandstand and paddock.

Aidan O'Brien's A team includes: Caravaggio (Coventry); The Gurkha (James's Palace); Order of St George (Gold cup); Ballydoyle (Coronation); Highland Reel (Hardwicke). Ryan Moore is shoo-in for top jockey.

Some longer priced fancies include: Mick Halford's Portage (14/1) in the Royal Hunt Cup; Undrafted (18/1) in the Diamond Jubilee sprint, won this race last year; Time Test (7/2) in the Prince of Wales. The best bet of the week could be two-year-old Cunco in Chesham on Saturday; John Gosden's colt is the first foal of legendary Frankel; winning well on his debut at Newbury, he's improved bundles since.

Irish Independent

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