Screw democracy, here's Dear Leader
Politics has lost out to personality cults in the Democratic People's Republic of Ireland, says Gene Kerrigan
Is it just me, or is there a distinct whiff of North Korea about the country these days? God, no, I'd hate to be negative or anything like that -- but, is it really necessary to treat the impending coronation of a New Dear Leader with so much unashamed crawling?
Did we always treat our political administrators with such a level of sycophancy? I'm afraid we did. Which is why an obvious crook such as Charlie Haughey could get away with it for so long.
We're the Fightin' Irish, the Rebels, a kick-ass nation that bows to no one -- but, deep down, we seem to have an instinctive need to simper and curtsy to our betters. We haven't had a change of leader for 11 years, so the fawning classes have a lot of surplus obsequiousness to get out of their system.
To be fair, most of the North Korean-type toadying is to be found in the ranks of The Party and in the media. Out here in the real world, people note that yer man Cowen got the job and he'll have the big office as soon as yer man Ahern clears off -- end of story.
In what we might term Celtic North Korea, one Dear Leader is departing and another Dear Leader's time has come. The media grab every word out of Brian Cowen's mouth and hold it up to a bright light. We seem desperate to find out what policies he might promote. Isn't it odd that someone can spend almost 24 years in the Dail, as Ministers for Health and Finance, not to mention Tanaiste, and still the media hasn't a clue what his core politics might be?
It's what happens when we reduce democracy to an electoral horse race, drowning ideological content in personality politics. A bit like they do in North Korea.
One of the problems I have with fawning over Dear Leaders is that you often have to hold two contradictory notions to be equally valid. For instance, I must believe that Bertie Ahern is one of the sharpest minds of his generation. And, at the same time, an awful bloody eejit who can't remember where he put (or got) hundreds of thousands of pounds.
I must see Mr Ahern as a financial mastermind who steered a nation to economic glory. And, at the same time, a crap accountant who can't keep track of his salary cheques.
Anyway, reality can be a downer. So, in a constructive spirit, I resolved to keep my face straight and bow and scrape along with the best of them as the Departing Dear Leader continues his lap of honour. The old me might complain that television is full of slow motion shots of a grinning Mr Ahern, set against nostalgic pop songs -- the new (North Korean) me thinks this is appropriate.
And when Pee Flynn, in a bizarre coincidence, turned up at the Planning tribunal, I made sure not to make comparisons as he talked of the tens of thousands of pounds he kept in his safe. And I suppressed the urge to guffaw when I heard that Pee too got a "personal political" donation.
I now agree with Pee of the Three Households that there's nothing wrong with taking large lumps of money from a developer -- sure, wouldn't it be bad manners to say no?
To add to the gaiety, Pee's daughter, Beverley, was meanwhile being re-initiated into membership of The Party. Just what the country needs, the old me might snarl: one more smug loud-mouth with a questionable past clawing her way back up the ladder of power.
The North Korean me hopes that come May 7 we'll see Bev elevated to Minister for Justice, all the better to crack down on those who facilitate tax evasion.
A couple of days later, it was another Dear Leader's turn to go to Dublin Castle. A tear ran down my cheek as I watched Tony Blair, co-sponsor of the invasion of Iraq, a crime that has so far cost hundreds of thousands of lives, being applauded as an "ally of peace". Not a tear of anger or negativity, I hasten to add -- a North Korean tear of fervent positivity.
The seductiveness of the cult of the Dear Leader can be seen in the way in which even outsiders can be dazzled. The Greens have an arguable case for coalition -- it might, in their sincerely held view, do more good than harm. I could argue that on education they are betraying their own policies, not to mention legions of schoolkids crammed into overcrowded classrooms. And on health they're condemning generations of patients to suffer a health business, not a health service.
However, as a payoff, the Greens get to ban all those old lightbulbs.
But, whatever the political arguments on coalition, just look at the manner of John Gormley, clearly breathless with the very thought of being in proximity to the Dear Ones.
"I think they like us," Gormley chirped, during negotiations for coalition. There are times, as he exults in rubbing shoulders with the dear, that you expect him to whip out his autograph book and show it around ("Look, that's Martin Cullen's signature! No, really it is!").
Mr Gormley once described Mr Ahern as "a deceitful and untrustworthy Taoiseach", but that was just ritualistic oppositionism. The new North Korean John Gormley proudly leads the green wing of The Party we might call Grianna Fail.
In Celtic North Korea, one need only keep saying something in order to make it true. For instance, Mr Ahern states bluntly that his former secretary, Grainne Carruth, was "harangued" at the Planning Tribunal. And the Dear Leader's grinning devotees such as Mary Hanafin cheerfully retail this as a fact, despite the record showing it not to be true.
The North Korean part of our mind must continue to accept that Mr Ahern did not deal in sterling, that every penny that went into his Irish Permanent account came from his salary cheques. It must suppress the meaning of what Mr Ahern said when he was defending Grainne Carruth.
"She just didn't remember something", he said. Then, in last week's Sunday Independent interview, he repeated that Ms Carruth "could not genuinely remember".
What did she not remember? Obviously, she didn't remember the st£15,500, even when the tribunal proved beyond doubt that she lodged it into Mr Ahern's account. It wasn't that she was deliberately misleading the tribunal about the sterling, Mr Ahern insists -- she just forgot.
But, isn't Mr Ahern therefore admitting that there was sterling to forget? And that the sterling came from him, to be deposited into his account? Isn't this an admission that the story he's told all along was so much hoo-ha?
Shut up, shut up, shut up. Disloyal thoughts must be ruthlessly extirpated. The Dear Leader must not be harangued by treacherous and fickle traitors from the lower classes. My Celtic North Korean self hereby denounces my disloyal and false beliefs.
The old me might lament that the prosperity of the past 15 years was squandered by successive governments. And that's why up to 500 of us needlessly die of strokes each year, due to lack of resources.
It's why the cancer services are untrustworthy, the nursing homes are unsupervised and the emergency services are over-stretched. It's why kids with cystic fibrosis die prematurely because the government decided that was preferable to shelling out for isolation units.
The Celtic North Korean part of me says, well done, Departing Dear Leader. And assures the incoming New Dear Leader of my unquestioning loyalty.
Mind you, they say the New Dear Leader's fierce intelligent, so they do.