Sunday 25 February 2018

Radio: Analysis on political merry-go-round wasted

Eamon Gilmore’s leadership is being questioned just before elections
Eamon Gilmore’s leadership is being questioned just before elections
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Olivia O'Leary's Drivetime (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 4.30pm) column this week encapsulated the good and the bad of current affairs media.

Beginning with the former: an examination of Labour leader Eamon Gilmore and his ongoing woes, it was as perceptive, insightful and well-crafted as O'Leary's columns always are. Moreover, she has a great knack for finding an interesting or unusual angle to take on a potentially dull topic.

Here it was that, far from being the "elephant cantering around the room breaking things", Gilmore has actually hobbled himself by being away from Ireland too much, not taking care of party business and – unusual, this, for a politician – hiding the light of Labour's successes behind a bushel.

The country is getting better, O'Leary argued, but Fine Gael are getting most of the credit. Labour's thanks is poor poll ratings and likely electoral annihilation, and you can double that for Unhappy Gilmore.

That's the good. The bad is how this column exemplifies the weird obsession political correspondents have with, well, politics.

That seems a bit self-evident; let me explain. To the vast, vast majority of Irish people, the fate of Eamon Gilmore, the Labour Party or any other political body/ individual is wholly irrelevant. Unless one is a member of some party, or a friend of the TD in question, you simply don't care about their prospects.

When something happens – say, employment increases – we don't think, "Ooh, how will this affect Enda/Fianna Fáil/whoever?" We merely think, "Good news for the country." That's our sole concern.

Political journalists, however, see most things through a double viewfinder: what this means for the Irish population, and what it means for the relative handful of people involved in Irish politics.

On one hand, yes, that's partly their brief; on the other, far too much media time and thinking is devoted to it. Literally, you're talking about a few hundred people whose lives are directly affected by political upheaval; hundreds, out of four million. I almost feel, betimes, that a mind like Olivia O'Leary's is somehow being wasted on these humdrum "will such-and-such have to step down as party leader" questions. There are more fundamental things at play than the non-stop merry-go-round of party politics, things far greater in people's thoughts.


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