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Nothing to say and all the time in the world to say it

Eamon O Cuiv

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Edna O'Brien :

Life Stories


WHEN Mike Murphy complained recently that his Ireland's Favourite Painting was on too late, and that various politicians were on too early, and too often, he was right.

As regular readers will know, it is something that this column has also been right about for some time, which does not detract in any way from the wisdom of Murphy's remarks -- on the contrary, we discerned a real understanding on Murphy's part of the fundamental nature of this historical error, whereby the important things of life, such as music and art and sport, are seen as a sidebar, while the droning of some Leinster House hack is the main event.

The political class, which includes the political journalist class, has seized the commanding heights of our public life to such an extent, they can put Eamon O Cuiv in front of us for an entire day, as if he had something very interesting to say, as if he was a man of great importance. Which, of course, he is not, until you put him on television for an entire day, at which point he can't help becoming important -- maybe too important, even dangerously so.

And so last Tuesday, this man who has nothing interesting to say, and who doesn't even say it in an interesting way, appeared on the Six One News, on Prime Time, on the Vincent Browne Show, and on Ireland AM the next morning, to say, above all else, that he had nothing to say. Because Fianna Fail wouldn't let him.

No doubt Mike Murphy would be wondering how a society could have got it so wrong, it could give an Eamon O Cuiv all this precious TV time, while people of real talent, people with so much to say, are kept waiting.

And he might also have wondered if O Cuiv had actually spent the night in the studios of TV3, after his appearance on Vincent Browne, rather than going home and coming back again for his spot on Ireland AM -- as I recall, they have a comfortable waiting area in the hall in TV3, and you can get coffee.

By then, he probably couldn't believe his luck. Wherever he went, not only did they give him the opportunity to say that he would be saying nothing, and saying it many times, they let him talk about his preference for going into coalition with Sinn Fein, as if there was nothing wrong with that.

All across Europe, they're talking about the dangers of extreme nationalist movements with names like The Golden Dawn taking advantage of the delinquencies of the money-men to bring their particular brand of order to the chaos. And yet we assume that we in Ireland are somehow immune to this, we who have seen this island devastated within living memory by those very forces of nationalism.

So there was O Cuiv on almost every Irish television programme except Xpose -- they still have standards -- looking forward to the day when he will be running the country in collaboration with this extreme nationalist movement of ours, and he just sailed on through.

Can anything stop them now?

EVENTUALLY, last Tuesday, or National Eamon O Cuiv Day, we got to Edna O'Brien at 10.15 -- the same slot as Ireland's Favourite Painting.

Edna is so interesting, under the current dispensation you'd half-expect her to be shoved back till four in the morning. And in this Life, Stories documentary, she confirmed that she is not just more interesting than the stars of Prime Time, she is more interesting than most of the Irish writers who came after her.

When her husband Ernest Gebler read her first novel, he said to Edna: "You can do it. And I will never forgive you." Which was probably a bit too interesting.

These days we look at the nominations for the Booker Prize with the same sense of excitement we feel when we are reading an article in the Education Times about the candidates for a teaching post at some provincial university.

But it used to be one of the great attractions of literature for any young person, that most of its practitioners seemed to be such extraordinarily attractive people, such wild spirits.

Edna is one of them.

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