Tragedy and drama at Golden Island
The confrontation at Golden Island was a play within a play. If Enda Kenny could see himself on stage he might change the part he plays, says Anne Harris
WE all have moments in which we are tragic heroes in our own sub-plot. That moment on which we look back and wish we could change everything -- in particular our own responses. Most of us in this austerity, have many such moments.
Enda Kenny does not give much sign of reflectiveness -- perhaps it's his personality, perhaps he thinks he will always glow in the chiaroscuro light of his soft media coverage. But polls show Fine Gael has already begun the slow fade and when that inevitability happens one specific incident will shine out of the darkness to mock those who thought they were mighty. Let us call it Drama at Golden Island.
That date is Monday, May 14, 2012. The place Co Westmeath. And if it was theatre, the genre would be Brechtian.
Here the characters represent class and the tragic fall is caused not by inexorable fate or hereditary weakness as in Shakespeare or by extraordinary circumstances like the Greeks, but by one man's relationship with his fellow man and action or avoidance of action which is ultimately political. It might go something like this.
Dramatis personae: Three men: Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach; Peadar Doyle, a returned emigrant; Gordon Hudson, a small businessman.
Enda Kenny, prime minister of a small republic is travelling up and down the country, pressing the flesh and his message. Despite the foreground of a bright shopping centre, the set is a drab street of gaping shopfronts and the sound effects are of broken shop signs clanging in the wind. A typical post-war setting.
Peadar Doyle is a returned emigrant, fearful of the cycle of emigration repeating itself and of losing all his children to it. One son has already emigrated, another, a student, is contemplating it and he fears his only daughter will soon follow. He also disagrees with the household charges.
Gordon Hudson is a former small businessman, who ran his own bus company for 29 years until bad health and the recession forced him to close it. He is an anti-charges activist.
As the Taoiseach steps onto the stage, he is confronted by Peadar Doyle.
Peadar Doyle: I know you're busy, but this affects the people of Ireland.
Taoiseach: Yes it does.
Peadar Doyle: Back in 1958, I was forced out of this country.
Peadar Doyle: Now you're forcing my children and my grandchildren out of the country.
Taoiseach: I'm not forcing anybody out of this country.
Peadar Doyle: Excuse me Mr Kenny, let me finish.
Taoiseach: Well, don't make a charge like that on me.
Peadar Doyle: They're going to have to go.
Taoiseach: They're leaving unfortunately -- we're trying to rectify that situation.
Peadar Doyle: They're leaving because there's nothing here for them and I will not leave this legacy. I am one of the people who hasn't paid the household charge. I'm telling you personally and whether you tell me I'm breaking the law or I'm not breaking the law . . .
Taoiseach: You are actually.
Peadar Doyle: Whether I'm breaking the law, I don't mind.
Taoiseach: You don't mind?
Peadar Doyle: No. Because I paid €60,000 in taxes, invested my money that I earned in England where I was forced to go. I'm telling you personally I came back and I invested in my country.
Taoiseach: Who took €60,000 off you?
Peadar Doyle: The government of this country.
Taoiseach: If you want to make a speech, go and do it outside.
There is some cheering and jostling and other protests. Gordon Hudson steps forward.
Gordon Hudson: You are a disgrace to the country. Take the bridge, head west and stay there.
Taoiseach: What's your name. You look like you could do with a day's work, I'd say.
Gordon Hudson: Self-employed and had to pack it in because of ye. Twenty-nine years self-employed. Don't don't give me that crap.
Sudden clatter on stage as six gardai surround Hudson and he leaves the stage protesting.
Of course, this is not a play. Those are the verbatim exchanges between our Taoiseach and Peadar Doyle and our Taoiseach and Gordon Hudson. In truth, if an aspiring dramatist proffered this as dialogue it would be discounted. Would the prime minister of any country engage in such loutish, corner-boy responses to the concerns of its citizens? It reveals, among other things, the debased currency of our parliamentary exchange, where remarks from Enda Kenny about Bertie Ahern "trousering money" are greeted like pearls from Socrates.
But what really came across in Kenny's reaction was his irritation. He was dismissive of an unemployed person, and of a person worried about his children emigrating.
What should be part of the ordinary conversation of the political classes was treated as an expression of undesirables. It took 14 short months for this intolerance to take hold.
Some have written about Fine Gael's creeping arrogance. Creeping? The dye was cast on election-results day when they declined to even try to form a single-party government with the support of the independents, leaping with indecent haste into coalition with Labour and the biggest government in the history of the State.
The purpose of the obscene majority, we were told, was to guarantee the reform agenda they had promised. Not much sign of reform in Golden Island Shopping Centre. Even less sign of it in Fine Gael's treatment of its coalition partner.
Enda Kenny's cynicism is destroying the Labour Party, which is fast becoming reduced and rather as the old Bolsheviks, such as Bukharin, at Stalin's show trials, is now so conformist that it probably believes in its own moral fallibility.
The latest humiliation is Richard Bruton's failure to hand over the legislation on media ownership to Pat Rabbitte, who had expressed a very public desire to fast-track it. Apparently the subject -- vital to freedom of the press -- didn't even warrant discussion at Cabinet.
There is no way to interpret this other than Fine Gael closing ranks over Denis O'Brien's interests. Fine Gael seems indifferent to the perception that it is too close to Denis O'Brien.
Enda Kenny has never said he accepted the findings of the Moriarty tribunal. Instead they talk of "due process" which they know perfectly well is never going to happen.
Fine Gael is now seen as a party which pursues its own agendas ahead of the public good. It seems as if all reforming zeal has been contained in much the same way as the young, talented former dissidents, Leo Varadkar, Lucinda Creighton and Brian Hayes have been. As for Richard Bruton and the "manly" second referendum admission, better to be chastised than patronised by your leader.
Perhaps Enda Kenny will welcome the lessons of Golden Island. Perhaps he can look beyond the "Yes" men in his party and in the media. Because the world of the protesters of Golden Island is unravelling before our eyes, taking with it, not just our standard of living and our sense of nationhood, but all the reassuring certainties of culture and class.
Nothing like this has been seen since the end of the two world wars.
Looming over everything is the referendum and looming over that is the spectre of Greece. Greece is both an argument for a 'Yes' vote and a 'No' vote and the only certainty is confusion.
Fine Gael, a once-proud conservative party is stuck in the image of its leader. If this needs repeating, let Golden Island repeat it: in order to conserve you must change.