Saturday 18 November 2017

Radio goes loco over El Presidente

The late Fidel Castro. Photo: Reuters
The late Fidel Castro. Photo: Reuters
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Was President Michael D Higgins right or wrong in his eulogy to Fidel Castro? It certainly stirred up a hornet's nest on radio, and for once reaction was justified: it's a serious thing, the leader of our country making allegedly over-kind pronouncements on such a divisive figure.

The matter was covered across several stations and shows, generally in a for-and-against setting. Interestingly, the results were as predictable as you'd expect (that's meant neutrally, by the way, not necessarily negatively).

On RTÉ's Morning Ireland (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 7am), we had conservative senator Ronan Mullen criticising Higgins (and, by extension, Castro), left-wing TD John Halligan defending. The same station's Today with Sean O'Rourke (Mon-Fri 10am) saw Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams in defence, Ciaran Cannon of Fine Gael on offence.

On Today FM's The Last Word (Mon-Fri 4.30pm), writer Ruth Dudley Edwards - "small c" conservative, I suppose - was damning of the president, while trade unionist Brendan Ogle came to praise him.

Some contributors were more persuasive than others. The left-leaning ones had the harder sell, let's face it, and so were less convincing in defending the harder edges of Castro's regime, or - sigh - comparing repression in Cuba to life in Ireland. As Dudley Edwards put it, why then do so many people want to leave places like Cuba to live in the West?

Having said all that, I really don't know who's right or wrong on old Fidel. Online heroes are always accusing the mainstream media of being "biased" (and, of course, they're right - I personally am paid by a cabal of Nigel Farage, Vladimir Putin and Mossad), so I feel I should declare my own prejudices.

Do I think Castro was a hero or a villain? Well, unlike apparently everyone else in Ireland, I don't really know enough to take a firm stand either way. But it would appear to me, as yer average know-nothing schmuck, that Castro did a lot of good stuff for his people… and a lot of bad stuff.

What I do know are two things. One, ideologies are a stronger motivational factor in human life than almost anything else, even more than self-interest.

If you're a committed left-winger, you will defend Castro and socialism regardless of what evidence is presented in condemnation, and even when it goes against many of your own core beliefs. If you're on the right end of the spectrum, you will see only the bad in people like Castro and ignore the good, again in the face of empirical evidence.

But as Seán Moncrieff (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 2pm) said while teeing up a section on Castro, El Presidente was neither some lily-white angel nor the reincarnation of Attila the Hun (I'm paraphrasing a tiny bit) - he was somewhere in between.

And the second thing I've learned? Michael D Higgins should keep his mouth shut. It's not his place to take a side on political issues, barring the vaguest of references to the most uncontentious of issues.

The president is supposed to be neutral, but the current one doesn't seem to understand this simple fact, which would make you wonder why so many people laud him as an intellectual powerhouse. I suppose, as someone once said - a little unkindly - of Stephen Fry, Higgins appears an intellectual only to stupid people. (Or, come to that, a poet to the kind of people who don't read much.)

So in the end, it doesn't matter what I think of Castro, or what you think, or indeed what Michael D Higgins thinks. It's not his place to take sides, full stop. Consider that a presidential dictate if you wish.

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