Sunday 22 September 2019

Lucky are we who have such Great Men

The Dail threw around extravagant praise, but aims to limit the views it allows to be heard, writes Gene Kerrigan

Illustration by Tom Halliday
Illustration by Tom Halliday
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

May God forgive me for what I'm about to inflict on you, but in a moment it will be necessary to replicate some praise for our new Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. It won't take long and you might even enjoy it, in a quirky, masochistic sort of way.

Here's what's supposed to have happened in recent weeks:

As Enda Kenny retired to rest on his laurels, Leo Varadkar was chosen by Fine Gael to be its new leader, in a democratic contest with Simon Coveney.

Every superficial moment of this process was described for us in breathless terms by energetic political reporters. They worked tirelessly to bring us each trifling, unnecessary, uninformative and redundant detail.

Here's what actually happened, when all the fluff is blown away:

Coveney won the most votes but Varadkar was appointed leader in a cynical deal with his fellow TDs.

Enda Kenny 1) quietly repaid a political debt; 2) destroyed the reputation of Shane Ross as a champion of judicial independence; and 3) stitched up Varadkar.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes in a metaphoric smoke-filled backroom, Leo Varadkar and Micheal Martin agreed to try to fix it so there'll be no more whistleblowers, no more Maurice McCabes, no dissidents allowed to question the fairytales that pass for truth.

They intend that Parliamentary power will be concentrated more fully in the grip of the FG/FF cartel.

It remains to be seen if they'll get away with this.

Let's start with that praise for Leo.

The praise was delivered in the truly unique words of Josepha Madigan, Fine Gael TD, as she seconded Leo's nomination for Taoiseach last Wednesday.

"The office of Taoiseach has been occupied by many great men," said Josepha, her tongue not at all in her cheek.

"Today," said Josepha, with earnest reverence, "the baton is passing from one of these great men to another."

Josepha, in case you were wondering, is no star-struck juvenile, she's 47.

"These great men were men of their time," says she. "Leo Varadkar is of his time," says she. "He is a leader for the Ireland of today," says she.

"Open, decent, compassionate," she said.

OK, says I to myself, that will do, Josepha. But, no, Josepha wanted us to appreciate the Mandela-like greatness that is being thrust upon us.

Leo, she said, "is a person of great qualities". Leo, she insisted, is "honest, genuine and decisive".

All right, says I to myself, job done, sit down before... but no, Josepha wanted to assure us that Varadkar has "a first-class intellect".

Perhaps fearful that we might think that an Einstein-like brain is Leo's primary asset, she hurried to correct us. "First of all," said Josepha, "he is courageous". And she quoted "a famous man" on the importance of courage.

At this point, Josepha actually began addressing her new leader directly: "Deputy Varadkar, you have shown great courage and achieved so much," she assured him. Then, as if fearful that Leo's immense modesty was making him doubt his own virtues, she told him (the emphasis is hers), "You are sensitive to the needs and wants of all. You are dedicated to the public interest. You are an honest man..."

Holy Mother of Jaysus.

What has happened to us that the Dail sat there and lapped up this stuff?

The truth? Coveney won the vote, but the system is "weighted" (ie rigged) to ensure the TDs decide the result. The membership vote is to give the skulls the impression that someone takes them seriously. And to give the media something to get excited about.

Varadkar spent a long time lining up his Cabinet colleagues to blitz Coveney. This had two effects: one, he made hardly any impression as a minister; two, by the time he became leader he was hugely compromised, owing favours all over the place.

His "reshuffle" was mostly about repaying loyalty. He reportedly tried to demote Mary Mitchell O'Connor to Junior Minister, but she didn't fancy a junior job on a stipend of a mere €124,000.

Yoking his immense intellect to his remarkable courage, Varadkar offered her a "Super Junior" job and all was well.

Apparently, the Dail will have no bother finding the extra €16k to add to MMO'C's stipend, thereby supersizing her job.

Thus did one of Josepha's "great men" manage the affairs of State. Her other great man, Enda Kenny, had effectively forced the retirement of the former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan - although he lacked the authority to sack him. Maire Whelan, Attorney General, was his legal adviser at the time.

In questionable circumstances, in his final Cabinet meeting, Kenny engineered her appointment as a judge.

Her appointment is "nakedly political", say opponents, and I couldn't argue with that. Shane Ross, who has strongly argued for reform of judicial appointments, could have made a stand at that meeting - but that would have created an awful fuss, just as the Cabinet was about to give him a constituency goodie he'd long fought for: the reopening of Stepaside garda station.

Shane eventually made a stand - three days after it mattered.

Kenny, in his last act as leader, left the Maire Whelan hand grenade in Varadkar's lap and happily skipped away to enjoy his vast pension.

We all now know that the Garda force is in rag order. For years, decent cops tried to convince the authorities to stop the rot. Courageous whistleblowers emerged and were blackguarded, smeared and bullied. Only after 2011, when a number of Independent and left-wing TDs took a stand, did the whistleblower phenomenon gain traction. The likes of Mick Wallace, Clare Daly, Joan Collins and Ming Flanagan stood their ground, as the smears were liberally showered on them.

FF/FG today make noises about how much they value whistleblowers - when it mattered, they stood idly by.

Now, Varadkar and Micheal Martin are conspiring to change Dail speaking arrangements, to reduce the time allowed to the left.

This is a move by the political cartel that controls parliament.

What is a cartel?

It's when two or more outfits, that are supposedly in competition, make a pact to divide up the market.

For instance, a number of neighbourhood pubs might conspire for a common purpose - to set prices, or to squeeze out competition.

That's how FF and FG link up these days, as a cartel.

They control both government and opposition, sharing a narrow range of failed ideas, which have made a mess of housing, health and the police. The alternative left view is to be squeezed out.

The FF/FG cartel excuse is that some of their TDs find it hard to get time to speak. Although the right-wing view vastly predominates, individual FF/FG TDs want more time, to repeat what they heard their leaders say and get their names in the local paper.

This will be done by cutting back the time for those who have made the running in questioning the corruption and failures within the establishment.

Instead of Mick Wallace, Catherine Murphy or Ruth Coppinger on urgent issues, Gobby McGobmouth will spout about his support for a new traffic light.

On Morning Ireland, Micheal Martin dropped a hint that Sinn Fein will also benefit, so stay out of this. Even if SF do what's right, FF/FG have the numbers.

When the next Maurice McCabe is being ignored or smeared, who will hold aloft the banner of truth and independence?

Well, not to worry. We'll always have Josepha Madigan.

Sunday Independent

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