Saturday 21 April 2018

Claptrap from the floor not wanted at Lucinda's bash


Former US President Harry S Truman once joked: "My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there's hardly any difference."


They probably could have done with a piano yesterday on a cold wet day at the RDS in Dublin, but overall the Reform Alliance conference did have its unintentional moments of entertainment value (and even political enlightenment) at the event chaired by broadcaster Tom McGurk.

"I'm sure there are a few spies from Fine Gael and Fianna Fail!" laughed TD and Reform Alliance's Denis Naughton yesterday in the area behind the stage at one point. Indeed two minutes later John Stephenson, the colourful nephew of the late architect Sam and the campaign manager for Fianna Fail's Jim O'Callaghan, walked in the door with the equally opinionated Trevor White.

"I'm here out of curiosity. I have no idea, as I suspect nor do they. I don't think there is an equivalence with the PDs. They knew what they were doing. They were determined to start a political party. These guys are dancing around themselves. They are indecisive.

"I do admire Lucinda Creighton at some level, but I have grave reservations about the whole business," said the former publisher of Dubliner magazine. White, who was dressed like John Wayne in The Quiet Man on acid, complete with flat cap and brown tweeds, said: "I do admire her!"

"I don't!" chipped in Stephenson. "She is an opportunist. I'll make no bones about it – I'm now a determined reforming zealot in Fianna Fail. I see Fianna Fail as the party of the future. I am three years sober. I am open about it. I'm a spy in the house of love today."

Stephenson added: "I notice that the Shinners don't regard this as worth picketing."

"Someone told me that Tom McGurk and hundreds of middle-aged men were going down to the RDS! What time is the match?" joked White as he disappeared into the throng. There was a good turnout of nearly a thousand people for a pissy day in Dublin.

In terms of the future of the main political parties in Ireland, the Reform Alliance conference didn't seem gloomily fin de siecle at all. Nor did it seem particularly like an epochal breakthrough in Irish politics or even, for that matter, a monster rally.

But then I am only the virtual pond life that is a social diarist, so I wouldn't know political turpitude in government if it bit me on the arse. And I did drink enough cups of coffee yesterday to keep me awake for a week. Opening the bar in the RDS might have been an idea for ramping up the righteous indignation of people involved in mainstream Irish politics (the Dail bar is there for a reason).

Perhaps aware of the arrival of Stephenson and White in our midst, McGurk, in his capacity as chair, told the audience that he didn't want claptrap from the floor – "if we wanted opinions we'd get on the 46a bus".

After the high-profile speakers like Olivia O'Leary had said their piece, it was the turn of the audience.

One man took the mic and said something to the effect that we should only vote for newcomers in politics.

Another man who didn't want me to use his name turned to me and said: "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter. Winston Churchill said that."

Another well-known man later turned to me to refer to another relatively well known politico as "that legendary pain in the hole".

Lucinda told me earlier that the conference was the first stage of involving the public.

"We will have other meetings around the country. Hopefully we have an impact on the political process. I think it is very dysfunctional. One simple statistic is that Transparency International did a survey of Irish people a couple of months ago that showed that 80 per cent of Irish people feel that they are completely disconnected with the political system, that is pretty serious and pretty worrying.

"So I think the function for us is to maybe generate some enthusiasm and excitement in the politics and decision making," she said – her ambition as large as her belly.

The baby is due in two months.

Were you planning to have the baby in Mount Carmel?

"No, thankfully no," she laughed. "I'm already booked in for Holles Street."

I bumped into her husband and Senator Paul Bradford.

"She is handling it very well," he said of Lucinda.

I don't know whether he is talking about the pregnancy or the rally. But before I can ask, he added: "There is a great sense in the hall today in politics and debating politics. We rarely debate politics and we rarely debate political ideas."

Did her leaving Government make you love Lucinda more because it showed her idealism because she could have stayed in a cushy job, I ask her husband

"She could have stayed," Paul said. "But I hugely admire her political courage."

On the way out of the hall, I bump into Jerry Beades. "Today was an interesting exercise in democracy," he says.

"People want a change. Political parties aren't offering it. So people are scratching around looking to see if anyone will lead direction. People are so despondent about politics in Ireland – 700,000 people in this country are in financial distress."

I tell him that his mates in Drumcondra like Bertie will be in distress reading his comments.

Has Jerry – who was on The Fianna Fail National Executive – fallen out of love with the party?

"I haven't fallen out of love with Fianna Fail at all," he insisted.

"People in Irish politics need to get back to their roots.

"I was – and still am – a friend of Bertie's but I would not have been a friend of his politics," added Jerry, who is the chairman of Friends Of Banking Ireland.

"And not friends of Irish bankers!" he laughed.

At the door of the RDS, I bump into Messrs White and Stephenson again.

"It's the Down With Everything party!" sneered White.

"They are naively grasping at straws that we can have non-political politicians," said Stephenson.

"This a Get Rid Of The Lot gathering," he added. "It is basically a thousand unhappy bunnies.

Irish Independent

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