Friday 15 November 2019

Billy Keane: 'The first politician who renounces gobbledygook will sweep the nation'

THE late Sean O Se taught for a year in south Kerry back in the early 1960s. One morning this small boy produced an empty page instead of an essay.

"What's your excuse, young lad?" asked Sean.

"Sir," he whimpered, "I has no pencil."

"Tut, tut," went the teacher. "It is, I have no pencil. He has no pencil. She has no pencil. We have no pencil. They have no pencil. Now, young fella, have you any questions?"

"I has, sir. Who have all the pencils?"

Sean learned a lesson that day. You must talk to people in their own language.

There were lads in our class who weren't great at reading or writing and some were terrible at maths, too, until a clever teacher figured out the key to unlocking the code.

Some of our schoolmates were Traveller kids and they often missed school. There was always catching up to be done.

Bryan McMahon was our teacher. He was years ahead of his time, and he had no time for those child torturers, X, Y and Z.

Neither had we, even though none of us had ever met an X, a Y or a Z. Indeed A, B and C, who used to hang out like corner boys on the joins of triangles, had no relatives among the clans or anywhere else either.

Bryan substituted pounds, shillings and pence for X, Y and Z. Those other imposters, A, B and C, were replaced by ponies, horses and asses.

We all warmed to The Master's teaching methods, and the Traveller boys were the quickest of all. They thought in realities, not abstractions. Once money was introduced to the equation, they had no bother at all with the sums.

Many of our economists and politicians have scarcely helped in explaining the financial system. They hide behind jargon, rhetoric and a form of trade gobbledygook used to confuse, disengage and mesmerise.

Some day a politician will speak in English and he or she will sweep the nation.

"We're all bollixed if we don't cop on to ourselves," would be a good start.

Mickey MacConnell, who composed 'Only Our Rivers Run Free', put it best.

Mickey was a political reporter in Leinster House for a number of years until he was paroled by his editor.

What crimes, you might ask, did Mickey commit to deserve a sentence of penal servitude with hard labour?

Mickey was an innocent man. He was put in the job because he had excellent shorthand in the days when the summit of technology was a ballpoint pen and a jar of Tippex.

Here's the chorus of a song he wrote about a politician's answer to a question. The best of order now.

Well I'm very glad you asked me that, for at this point in time,

In the circumstances that exist there in the pipeline,

Infrastructural implications, interfaced with lines of thought

Which lead to grassroots viabilities which at this point I'd rather not

Enunciate in ambiguities, but rather seek to find

Negotiated compromises which are the bottom line

For full and frank discussions which could serve to integrate

With basic fundamental principles to which we all relate

Not in doctrinaire philosophy which any fool can see

In inescapable hypothesis confronting you and me

But in the interests of the common good then you need never fear

For I have the matter well in hand and I'm glad I made things clear.

CHARLES Dickens, another great communicator, based Mr Micawber on his father, who was imprisoned for debt. An income of £20 a year and a spend of the same meant happiness, but an income of one shilling less meant unhappiness.

My favourite economist is a small farmer. He hasn't much spare cash. He spent most of his savings on hay and silage after our summer of endless rain ruined the grass harvest. He loves a pint, but lately he has taken to drinking halves.

"Are you sick or something?" I asked.

"No," he replied, "I'm fine, but men with small boats must sail close to the shore."

Ireland is a small boat, yet we are borrowing €100m a day for its upkeep, and that has nothing to do with bank guarantees or old debt. It's new debt. For day-to-day stuff.

Imagine if you did it at home. You'd be sleeping under the stars and the children would go hungry.

So there you have it in a nutshell, as Mrs Squirrel said when she gave her young lad his last dinner before the winter sleepover. That is the reason for the cuts and the extra taxes. And where to make the cuts and who to tax? We might deal with that on another day. On second thoughts, who wants to be unpopular?

I'd rather face into castrating a shed full of squealing bonhams armed with no more than a plastic chip shop knife.

Irish Independent

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