Saturday 16 December 2017

Gilmore the opening act for the grey brigade's Glastonbury

THE straight Main Street in the Donegal village of Glenties was festooned with green-and-yellow flags yesterday in anticipation of the big event which kicked off amid fevered excitement and fanfare.

The important occasion was, of course, the Donegal-Down Ulster final.

There were actual trumpets playing with gusto in the Highland Hotel. And clarinets, a tuba, no less.

However, the brass band wasn't for the football team (who eased past Down by 2-18 to 0-13), but to mark the opening of the 2012 MacGill Summer School -- which is a sport of sorts, being a six-day marathon of nigh-on non-stop talking.

It's the final stations of the cross for weary politicians before they can don their wellies and head for the beach. This year's political pilgrims include the Taoiseach, the Tanaiste and a gaggle of ministers.

Nor do the opposition escape scot-free -- both Fianna Fail's Micheal Martin and Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald are taking part in panels. And there are also some ghosts from governments past -- former PD leaders Dessie O'Malley and Michael McDowell are guest speakers, as is former Transport Minister Noel Dempsey.

Nor is it just politicians who trek to MacGill; there are a smorgasbord of spin doctors and strategists, a plethora of pointy-headed economists, academics and even an archbishop, -- Dr Diarmuid Martin.

In the audience of the main hall, there are a lot of retired folk, for whom this week-long talkathon is Glastonbury for the grey brigade.

And to add a gothic touch to proceedings, there is a small colony of bats who reside in the long curtains of the hall. Occasionally during the debates, the bats come out to play, whizzing around the room and discombobulating those of a nervous disposition.

Eamon Gilmore, who was giving the John Hume Lecture at the opening session last night, turned up to speak to the media beforehand sporting a jolly blue-and-white open-necked check shirt.

But the Tanaiste hadn't left his caution behind him when he crossed the county line into Donegal. Despite the Dail year coming to a bit of a rocky end for the Government, what with James Reilly losing the Post-It upon which he had scribbled down the numbers of his junior (Labour) ministers, and also a cohort of Fine Gael deputies getting all antsy about the issue of abortion, Eamon shrugged off talk of trouble.

"No, I'm not concerned," he insisted. "We have a very good working relationship, and particularly a very good working relationship between the Taoiseach and myself which is capable of resolving any issue that arises in the lifetime of the Government," he insisted.

The Tanaiste admitted that abortion "is a sensitive issue" and promptly kicked the can as far down Main Street as he could boot it.

Eamon also played safe with his speech, giving a broad-ranging state-of-play style of address which steered clear of any hot-button topics.

Though perhaps he hinted at battles yet to be fought when he stated: "Ireland today is very different from the Ireland of 20 years ago, but there is still some road to travel before we can say that ours is a republic that treats its citizens, regardless of their faith or their sexual orientation, equally.

"Now is the time to build a new relationship between Church and State in Ireland, based on mutual understanding and respect, but also on the primacy of personal freedom".

A hint perhaps. For it's way too early in this triathlon of talking, debating and speechifying to start a scrap.

Irish Independent

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