Sunday 19 January 2020

Don Gormleone lost in personal battles

While Gormley spends all his time trying to prove he is right, the country drowns in rubbish, writes Cathal MacCarthy

Last June I introduced you all to Don Gormleone. A character based loosely on our own Environment Minister, but one who seemed to leap fully formed from the pages of Mario Puzo with a brief diversion to the volumes of James Herriot to kit himself out in a sturdy tweed jacket and a nice pair of cords. Don Gormleone is a man of boundless self-belief whose schoolmaster air struggles unsuccessfully to conceal a temper of volcanic proportions and a penchant for vendettas and grudges that makes your average Sicilian goombah look like the disappointed runner-up in the Greystones ICA rhubarb tart competition.

When we last met him, Don Gormleone had just taken time out from the crash-and-burn annihilation of the Irish economy to put manners on the archaeologists through a code of conduct. You must remember the code of conduct for archaeologists that the whole country was calling for last year? You don't? Well that's the difference between you and Don Gormleone: even in the midst of an economic catastrophe he keeps an eye on the things that really matter. He takes care of business.

When he was finished putting the frighteners on the archaeologists, the Don turned his attention back to an industry in which his famiglia had always had extensive business interests; rubbish and waste disposal. A rival syndicate called Dublin City Council were intent on setting up a waste operation in Ringsend that would challenge Don Gormleone on his own patch. The Don sent them a message. It would be 'unwise' to proceed. That's 'unwise', pronounced 'fatal'. If the city council boys didn't want to end up at the bottom of the political pond wearing concrete loafers, they'd better back off and start paying attention to what the capo di tutti crapi had to say.

But the city council boys didn't get the message. They insisted on trying to set out an objective argument instead of just doing as they were bloody well told. Worse than that, they dragged in other outfits like the EPA, which Don Gormleone had to warn off last year. Then they reached out to an uptown mob called the ESRI, who the Don had to warn off just this week.

"I do regret that they have been drawn into what is clearly a public relations campaign on behalf of Dublin City Council and Covanta. . . certainly in my time in public life I've never come across anything like this where ESRI is used in this way and I think they've departed from their normal standards in this regard."

Bonasera. . . Bonasera. . . what have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully? The really weird thing about Mr Gormley is that he's completely sincere in this conviction that it's simply not possible to disagree with him in good faith. You can see it in his eyes and the set of his mouth. He's right about the Poolbeg incinerator in exactly the same way as he's right about every other thing on which he has an opinion. And if you still disagree after you've heard Mr Gormley give his own version of what's wrong and how to fix it then it's because you're either an idiot or you've got another iron in the fire.

The only person with no agenda other than the taxpayers' welfare is Mr Gormley and if you can't see that, well, then, it's time to meet Don Gormleone, who'll make you an offer that you can't refuse.

Like the offer he made the ESRI last week: recant on the conclusions of your report or have your institute's previously unimpeachable reputation publicly rubbished and your departure from 'normal standards' noted.

None of this, by the way, is to rush to take sides in the great debate about what we do with the contents of Dublin's bins. I'm actually a little more exercised about the rubbish that's not finding its way into anyone's bins and about which Mr Gormley seems not to care the proverbial fiddler's feck.

I don't know about the viability of the proposed Poolbeg incinerator. I don't know whether the MBT (mechanical and biological treatment) route favoured by Mr Gormley is the way to go. Nor do I know whether Dublin City Council can supply the 350,000 tonnes of rubbish below which they will incur a penalty per tonne. I know nothing about the American firm Covanta, the principals in the Poolbeg consortium. As to the junior partners, Dong Energy, I freely confess to thinking it was the name of a performer in the adult entertainment industry. So if Mr Gormley or his alter ego, Don Gormleone, wants to dismiss the following comments as the ravings of someone unfamiliar with the fine detail, then he is so entitled. I repeat: I don't know the details for or against the proposed incinerator.

I do know that practically everywhere I go in this country I am confronted with rubbish scattered on an epic scale without the slightest indication that anyone charged with remedying this disgusting blight is even aware of its existence. The country is quite literally filthy: the ditches, the roads, the hedges, the fields, the paths and riverbanks, the streets and lonely little glens, every little nook and cranny seems filled with plastic bottles and empty beer tins and polystyrene containers. It's pathetic and almost purpose-designed to fill us with the self-loathing that comes very easily when you're as down and demoralised as half the country is just now.

So I'd love -- just the bloody once -- to hear something from Mr Gormley that indicates that he has finally noticed that while he has been arguing about how we should dispose of the rubbish that the actual crap itself is going uncollected and is now up to our national crotch.

But no. It's the archaeologists. Or MBT versus incineration. Or the crusade to get us to switch over from the old light bulbs while the polar bears still have a chance.

Nearly 20 years ago I was in Sweden. All the supermarkets had a facility that looked a little like a reverse vending machine. The people trooped up with their bottles and cans, slid them down a chute and then got paid cash from a little dispenser. I never saw a bottle or can the length of time I was there. There isn't enough coinage in the world to pay out on the bottles and cans just in the hedges around our universities. The Swedes had these machines 20 years ago. Why haven't we got them yet, John? John? Godfather?

One other thing. What exactly is the whole parish-pump huffing and puffing about this proposed Poolbeg incinerator touting for waste from down the country? I'd imagine that most of the rubbish that festoons 'down the country' came through Dublin, either by importation or manufacture, with Dublin deriving the financial benefit and employment that came with that process. Why then should the city not be involved in the removal of the residue rubbish? What about the rubbish that comes from the holiday homes owned by Dubs? Is that 'Dublin' rubbish or culchie rubbish?

It's trickier than you thought. Do you want to have another go at it?

I'm sure a smart buck like Mr Gormley has calm, lucid and intelligent counter-arguments. And that's what I'd like to hear: lucid and intelligent rebuttals. What I'm tired of is this astonishing peevishness and the quite staggering capacity to represent every opinion that differs from his as evidence of mental deficiency or venal double-dealing.

Don Gormleone would be able to put him straight: the hits are never personal, it's just business.

Sunday Independent

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