Tuesday 20 August 2019

Humanity's survival may be even bigger than FF and FG

Election 2019 (RTE1)

Saoirse McHugh at the Castlebar Count Centre. Photo: Michael McLaughlin
Saoirse McHugh at the Castlebar Count Centre. Photo: Michael McLaughlin
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

They couldn't even let her enjoy the results of the RTE Exit Poll.

As soon as it seemed possible that Saoirse McHugh might take a seat in the Euro Elections, the newshounds were all over her, pushing her to declare that she would leave the Greens if they went into coalition with Fianna Fail or Fine Gael.

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It was television that had enabled her to rise out of nowhere, with her challenge to Peter Casey during the Prime Time debate, now the media was introducing her to some of the raw realities of the game.

But in truth they were also revealing their own struggles with the raw realities which McHugh and the Greens were bringing to light - huge, fundamental realities with which many of us are unable to cope.

You could sense an underlying panic in their pursuit of McHugh for a quote they could relate to, their need to drag all this end-of-the-world stuff about climate change down to a more manageable level, to a level as banal as the ancient double act of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

Soon they could be making sage pronouncements about the need for idealists to be able to work in government, not just in opposition, with all the compromises that that entails, soon they were calling her "naive" - though again this did not really reflect the nature of McHugh's vision, it just illustrated their own limited view of the world.

In the political theatre at such times, they are on automatic. Likewise the BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg was criticised recently for apparently expressing empathy with Theresa May on the day she announced her resignation, tweeting that these scenes are always brutal.

But I didn't sense much empathy, I just sensed a political correspondent hacking out one of the things they always do in these situations.

Indeed as I am watching the political events of our time unfolding on TV, I frequently feel that the medium is unable to deal with the enormity of what is happening, with these fundamental questions.

In Britain in the time of Brexit, the BBC has often been unwilling or incapable of making editorial judgments which distinguish between people who know what they're talking about, and bad actors whose only purpose is badness itself - so they will have a debate in which equal time is given to a serious person, and to some charlatan whose only meaningful contribution is the battle cry, "just get on with it!"

It is still a basic tenet of the religion of TV, that in politics, you need one person saying one thing, followed by another person saying the opposite thing. And with Brexit we have seen this on a vast scale, as TV reporters tour the country with the apparent ambition of talking to every blowhard in Britain.

So when the Greens came last week to disrupt the Irish system, we saw a similar tendency to move away from the largeness of their message, or to frame it in more familiar terms.

Prime Time had a debate between the Green TD Catherine Martin and Michael Healy-Rae, a perfectly sound piece of Irish journalism in the usual run of things, in which the global perspective of the Greens was tested against the implacable Irishness of Healy-Rae.

I understand that this is how the world works, but the whole point of the Green uprising is that we may not have much of a world anyway if we're not careful.

For one week only, Michael Healy-Rae might have been given a rest, in acknowledgment of the fact that this is not really a matter for debate in the traditional sense - that the whole point of the issue of climate change is that it is bigger than anything else on the horizon. A point which the electorate seemed to understand.

It is bigger than the plight of rural Ireland or any other plight you care to mention. As Saoirse McHugh was hinting, astounding as it seems, it may even be bigger than Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

Sunday Independent

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