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Brian Brennan: Reality bites as Healy-Rae left to learn the art of straight talking


Michael Healy-Rae talking to reporters outside Dail
Eireann last week

Michael Healy-Rae talking to reporters outside Dail Eireann last week

Michael Healy-Rae talking to reporters outside Dail Eireann last week

MICHAEL HEALY-RAE has the distinction of being the first TD to be removed under new legislation, and against his will, from a state board.

He also has the dubious distinction, as he demonstrated all through last week, of being one of the last elected purveyors of political double-talk and gobbledygook, of which we have had more than our share in recent years.

As the Taoiseach and his ministers are becoming increasingly aware, the truth about the state of public finances and the tough measures required to repair them cannot be avoided.

Uproar and protest may follow, but the only way forward is to tell it like it is.

Evasive, pretentious and meaningless language has no place in a society that has so recently been devastated by deceit and concealment.

Public trust in our financial and political establishments has been undermined and has to be earned all over again. The road to recovery must include honest, plain speaking by those in charge.

It's not so long since Taoiseach Bertie Ahern kept the country amused by constantly mangling the English language and dropping linguistic clangers.

But that was at a time when the national spirit ran high and it seemed our freewheeling prosperity was too strong to be undermined by foolish politicians, even those incapable of adequately articulating their own thoughts.

As it turned out, of course, the fools and our money were soon parted, while the politician in question continued to prosper.

Meanwhile, bankers and regulators kept their secrets to themselves and their activities did not even register on the public radar (with respect to Morgan Kelly, David McWilliams and the handful of prescient economists and commentators who were invited by Ahern to shut up or commit suicide).

Oh, how we chuckled when Bertie talked about smokes and daggers, or came out with classics like: "The grassroots -- the rank and file -- are now made from fibre optics," and "I don't think it helps people to start throwing white elephants and red herrings at each other."

He was a master at stating the obvious and making it sound like a revelation: "Every party knows that the composition of the next government will be determined by the electorate."

The Harvard psychologist and author Steven Pinker has a lot to say about political rhetoric. Politicians are generally afraid to say anything unambiguous concerning policy, he says, because it is bound to offend some section of the population.

So they express themselves vaguely so as to create something called plausible deniability, which may be required at a later stage. For example: "Never in the whole wide world would I ever have said such a thing."

And what happens when a politician -- perhaps one newly elected to government and unfamiliar with the hypocritical art of plausible deniability -- does blurt something concrete and unambiguous?

He will be seen as having committed "a gaffe". A gaffe has been defined as something that occurs when a politician tells the truth. Take a bow, Mr Varadker.

Sometimes even an Irish politician can fail to conceal the truth about himself.

In a legendary 'Late Late' appearance, the then EU Commissioner Padraig Flynn epitomised the gombeen propensity for insulting the intelligence of "ordinary" people when he boasted about his massive salary and then gabbled on about how expensive it was to run three homes.

"Try it some time," he smirked condescendingly.

Monstrous irony is no stranger to Irish political rhetoric either. When Charles Haughey went on TV to tell the Irish people, in menacing tones, that we were living beyond our means, he was secretly aware that he was the worst offender in that regard.

And a squirming politician will take refuge in constant repetition of the totally irrelevant. Another trick.

Goebbels knew that if you repeated a proposition, however bizarre, often enough, people would come to believe it.

Michael Healy-Rae, in a radio interview with Matt Cooper at the height of the 'Ring of Kerry' controversy last week, repeated several times that he could not have made those contentious phone calls from Leinster House because he had been far away at the time, engaged in a TV reality show.

THIS despite being continually reminded that nobody had accused him of making the calls himself. What people wanted to know was whether Michael had any idea who might have made the calls supporting him, or perhaps arranged for them to be made.

Addressing the nation from the steps of Leinster House the following day, Healy-Rae continued to deny something of which he had not been accused: "I do not owe the Houses of the Oireachtas one cent, and everybody knows I did not make one call."

When you're under pressure, it seems, one denial is as good as another, regardless of the question.

And the politician who offers the denial simply assumes that the Irish electorate is too stupid to distinguish between the relevant and the irrelevant.

Healy-Rae will now have a little more time to reflect on his priorities in this time of national crisis and on the futility of meaningless political rhetoric.

Irish Independent