independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

We snigger at politicians but the last laugh is on us

There are times in this country when our politicians are indescribably ridiculous; so buffoonish and petty and moronic that we risk despair if we look at them too closely. The recent nonsense concerning our politicians' dodgy driving habits and our gossipy gardaí demonstrates how ill served we citizens can be by those to whom we have lent power. If we look too closely at the scandal surrounding penalty points, there's a good chance many if us would just give up on our democracy.

So instead of describing the depths to which our politicians have sunk. Instead of a close examination of how our politicians have made our institutions seem pathetic and grubby, I will write about some of my favourite phrases like 'schadenfreude' and 'hoist by his own petard.'

Now don't ask me how to pronounce schadenfreude. I guess at it every time I use it. A good hint though, is to remember it's a word borrowed from the German language, like hamburger and frankfurter. So I like to give it a German twang.

Thankfully it's much easier to define. Have you ever been in a pub and heard the loud crash of a trayful of glasses smashing to the ground? Well when we applaud, that's schadenfreude. It's taking pleasure in someone else's misfortune.

Like when a certain politician from Roscommon, with more facial hair than me, accused the Gardaí of corruptly removing penalty points from certain drivers, only to be discovered to have had the same service rendered him. The snort of contemptuous laughter we directed at Deputy Flanagan is schadenfreude.

Another example is when a tax dodging politician accuses the Gardaí of being corrupt regarding penalty points, and is then discovered to have been a beneficiary of some discretion by traffic Gardaí. Our weary shrug of bemusement at Deputy Wallace, is schadenfreude.

What about 'hoist by his own petard?' A petard was an early explosive device, used to blow up gates and walls. The reliability of these bombs and the environment in which they were deployed often resulted in the 'petardeers' being, dramatically, launched through the air by their own bombs. Causing Shakespeare to write the phrase, 'hoist with his own petard.' We tend to say 'by his own petard' these days.

A good example of this would be when a Minister for Justice uses confidential information to discomfort a political opponent and to cause some fun - 'schadenfreude'. Of course confidential information then stopped being confidential and Minister Shatter was very quickly discovered to have questions to answer regarding his own behaviour as a driver.

In trying to embarrass Deputy Wallace, by telling us about the time Wallace was not given penalty points for using his phone while driving, Minister Shatter made it acceptable for someone else to tell us that Shatter himself once failed to provide a sample for a breathalyser test. We still don't know why he wasn't taken to a Garda Station so he could give a urine or blood sample. Hoist by his own petard.

Unfortunately the last laugh is on us. As contemptible as everyone involved in this pathetic display is, the real concern is that we still don't know when Gardaí should or shouldn't use their power of discretion regarding penalty points. Worse, the Gardaí can take a life from us and they have given their lives for us, so seeing them involved in this dirty game of politicians, is far from a laughing matter.

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