Monday 16 December 2019

Radio: Election 2016: even if you don't care, you have to care

Pastor James McConnell
Pastor James McConnell
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

I'll almost certainly recant by the time it rolls around - and we don't even have a date yet, though Ivan Yates predicts February 26 - but I'm getting kind of buzzed about the forthcoming general election.

There's real drama and excitement to be found in these big political contests: it's like a major sporting event, with the added edge that this is something which will directly affect all our lives, in all sorts of ways.

Your team winning a match only contains within the importance that you choose to give it; the make-up of our next government is hugely important no matter who you are or what you're interested in. Even if you don't care about it, you have to care about it.

Actually, elections are one of the few areas in political life which still engage this tired old cynic. But one man who gives the impression of unflagging enthusiasm for politics is the aforementioned Ivan Yates (Newstalk Breakfast, Mon-Fri 6.30am).

And why wouldn't he? Ivan Version 2.0 is a media man so current affairs are his daily bread. And Version 1.0, of course, was a government minister. Politics is in the blood for this guy.

As a sort of election "phony war" kicked off in earnest with the turn of the year, he brought in political analyst Odhran Flynn for a good natter about permutations, possibilities, parties and policies. It was all quite fascinating, though I was shocked to discover that I recognised an embarrassingly small number of names mentioned.

This, I suppose, is how far my interest in politics has dropped. As a kid I used to follow current affairs with the passion and keenness of, well, an Ivan Yates.

Nowadays, at a push, I could name some senior Cabinet members, all the party leaders and a handful of outliers who've been in the headlines for making an eejit of themselves.

One intriguing sub-plot discussed was gender quotas. Some parties will be hard-pushed to meet the minimum requirement of female candidates, some are already at war internally over male incumbents being ousted.

It was pointed out that only two party leaders are women; one of those - Renua founder and leader Lucinda Creighton - was a hot topic earlier in the week, as she unveiled their policies.

In response, social media, and old-fashioned media like this newspaper, were negative on the whole. For instance, Shane Coleman (standing in for the host on The Pat Kenny Show, Newstalk, Mon-Fri 10am) gave Lucinda a good grilling on Renua's policies, albeit with his customary fair-mindedness.

Was she convincing? I don't know. To be honest, I couldn't see myself ever voting for Renua, or Lucinda (lifelong hardline Maoist, don't you know). But what the hell, it's a fresh voice and a new element in Irish politics, if nothing else.

Besides, I'm not one of those obnoxious blow-holes who know nothing about, say, economics, but don't let that stop them pontificating on it. So is Renua's flat tax a good or bad thing? Haven't a clue about tax, therefore have no opinion on it.

Having said that, I did find her thoughts on working for the dole, and a "three strikes and you're out" rule for violent offenders, quite interesting. Naturally, the former had Creighton basically being labelled a fascist slave-driver by keyboard warriors.

From my personal experience of being unemployed, I wouldn't have minded the structure, order and sense of purpose I would have certainly got from earning my State handout. But I appreciate not everyone feels like that. It's a complex matter.

Coleman called the three strikes suggestion "populist". I've never quite understood why that word is now a pejorative one.

Populist - meaning "appealing to the people" - isn't that the whole point of a democracy? It's not for know-alls like me to instruct folks on how to live or what to think. It's their right and obligation to do it for themselves, no?

I'm also unsure that a three strikes law isn't the right thing, when it comes to sex offences or violent assault. Like, how many chances does a clearly dangerous person get from society?

How many times are they allowed to rape or kill, with nary a sign of rehabilitation or even feeling sorry for doing it, before society says, "Okay, that's enough - you don't get to mix with the rest of us anymore"?

Is that a reasonable way to feel? Or have I just been swayed by the "populist" argument, being the woolly-brained sheep that I am?

I was going to use that last term as a neatly sarky intro to mentioning Pastor James McConnell who, as we heard on The Last Word (Today FM, Mon-Fri 4.30pm), was cleared of the charge of "grossly offensive" speech - but appears, at the same time, to be as mad as the proverbial box of frogs.

I have even less time for Islam than all the other daft religions, but anyone who uses a phrase like "a doctrine spawned in hell", in 2016, with a straight face, is beyond help. Pastor Jimbo has the right to say it, of course - but he's still mad. They're welcome to each other.

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