Ghost State: what's spooking out so many of our politicians?
They say that power can turn your head. However, Lord Mayor of Dublin Naoise ó Muirí is living proof that the illusion of power can also have a disorientating effect on the noggin. The Fine Gael councillor has taken time out from his busy schedule as the capital's gladhander-in-chief to commune with the spirit world. All politicians claim to provide a voice for the voiceless but ó Muirí has gone one step further – becoming a figurehead for non-corporeal beings.
For the media, the 'Mansion House is haunted' story has been a gift from heaven or some equally ethereal realm. In a week of otherwise grim news, the yarn about spooky shenanigans in the Lord Mayor's residence came as blessed relief.
The spine-tingling saga began when ó Muirí told The Sun of an incident in which his four-year-old daughter happened upon what she believed was a "ghost" in the sitting room. The apparition, he explained, consisted of a curly- haired girl watching TV at 3am.
ó Muirí didn't simply recount this anecdote as a cute tale of childish imaginings. With that curious combination of pomposity and twitishness that is often the hallmark of local politicians, he used it to highlight what he evidently sees as an issue of some importance. "There is definitely stuff happening," he insisted.
In one of the affair's most blackly comical features, ó Muirí went on to speak of another room in the Mansion House that is notoriously "hard to heat" – citing this as further evidence that the building is possessed. As it happens, there are legions of citizens who have rooms that are hard to heat these days – but for reasons more prosaic than those preoccupying the lavishly featherbedded Lord Mayor.
Like every stately home, the Mansion House has long attracted rumours of paranormal activity. Some previous political occupants have added to the accumulation of folklore. Among them is Catherine Byrne, a former Lord Mayor and now Fine Gael TD, who has spoken publicly about her experience of encountering strange sensations while she lived in the building.
ó Muirí's decision to publicise his concerns about the "haunting" has had the predictable consequence of bringing all sorts of oddballs out of the woodwork: self-styled ghostbusters, mediums and exorcists, all of them offering their spirit-cleansing services. What fun.
ó Muirí might well believe there is no harm in a politician indulging himself in talk of psychic phenomena – but he would be mistaken. Irish public life has been deeply warped by political deference to superstition and irrationality, and no self-respecting public representative should have any truck with such potentially dangerous nonsense. As many can attest, there is nothing remotely light-hearted about the havoc that ensues when otherworldly delusions are permitted to get out of hand.
Ironically, one person who knows this all too well is the aforementioned Byrne. Like several of her Fine Gael parliamentary colleagues, the backbencher has latterly been subjected to a campaign of vicious intimidation by anti-abortion activists so convinced of their divinely inspired righteousness that they refuse to accept anybody else's entitlement to a different opinion. Last week, Byrne condemned these supernaturally motivated zealots as "sick people", and it's hard to disagree with that characterisation.
Ireland needs politicians with belief and vision – not belief in visions.