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John Drennan: Cute hoors of Hazzard hit new low

If the signature trait of the Jackie, Michael ('Dolly') Healy-Rae political dynasty is that they do things differently, it is ironic that what may yet finish this endangered political line is the genetic similarity between these poisoned little political apples and the Fianna Fail tree they fell from.

The terrible Healy-Raes may have provided us with a bucolic dash of fresh air when they first appeared, but every tortured appearance of Jackie and 'Dolly' last week reminded us of the denouement of Animal Farm where the poor animals (us) were no longer able to differentiate between the Healy-Rae pigs and the FF humans.

Before we say a word about the toxic twosome, we should note that both deny making the 3,636 phone calls to the infamous Celebrities Go Wild programme.

Indeed, after vigorous investigations it is now clear that at least a dozen of these calls can be traced to some obscure FF senator, whose name escapes me for reasons of his utter uselessness . . . oh wait, it's Ned O'Sullivan.

When it comes to who made the other 3,624 calls, the theories vary from Lord Lucan, to the man on the moon, to some sort of telephonic equivalent of the big bang theory of creationism.

We do admit these explanations are not convincing but they are as good as we or, more important still, the Healy-Raes can manage.

Of course, the spectacle of what Miriam Lord called 'the Healy Premium Rates' did at least provide us with some entertainment.

However, the sight of politics being gratuitously dragged through the pigsty, even over as small an affair as this, meant the laughter left an acidic taste in the mouth and a sense of bile in the stomach of any patriot who might want to respect the institutions of the State.

In fairness, all of us once thought the Healy-Rae Hillbillies were funny. But that was a long time ago and for some of us they were always only amusing in a 'funny peculiar' way.

Our distaste had nothing to do with the bucolic accents or some elevated belief that TDs should be habitues of the Law Library and chosen from a list system where only third- level graduates can vote.

In fact, if anything, when Jackie Healy-Rae was first elected, their carefully cultivated anti-elitist Kerry Dukes of Hazzard-style personae were almost attractive.

For a time, the myth of Jackie the 'outsider' who represented the ordinary citizens of a world that the Sancerre-sipping socialists of Sandymount only saw through the windows of their SUVs might even have been true.

Instead our distaste for these loquacious political buffoons was informed by the fine mist of greed that soon attached itself to the Healy- Raes as first Jackie and his political clone 'Dolly' embraced Bertie Ahern's new ethos of 'ask just how much I can do my country for'.

They may never have taken a ride in a Venetian gondola but Jackie and Dolly were some of the most enthusiastic beneficiaries of Bertie Ahern's cunning decision to eradicate corruption from Irish politics by nationalising it, courtesy of the salaries our politicians and patriotic civil servants received.

When it came to this happy event, 'the Premium Rates' were certainly not left behind as, courtesy of salary expenses and that wonderful un-vouched leader's allowance, more than €250,000 a year entered the pockets of the voluble patriarch of the clan.

That wasn't the end of it, for there was the €200,000 that his sons pocketed from the council in 2008 and 2009 alone, the €193,000 pension payment Jackie Healy-Rae trousered for his services to himself . . . our apologies . . . the nation, and the various stipends from our State boards.

Mr Healy-Rae might, at the start of his Dail career, have resembled a colourful old rogue from The Dukes of Hazzard but, by its close, he had become the new 'Boss Hogg.'

The denouement was all the more curious given that Healy-Rae was a child of the fiercely Republican FF of Lemass where men of 'no property' marched brandishing burning sods of turf.

Today, however, the Healy-Raes -- father and son -- represent the apotheosis of the amoral politics of cute- hoordom where 'ettics' were for losers.

They are political nihilists trading on the inaccurate concept that seeing as all politicians are 'at it' we might as well make sure that at least our own can dip their beaks in the trough.

In the aftermath of the 'Dial yourself up a Dail seat furore', his successor and doppelganger Michael Healy-Rae attempted to coat the entire debacle in the sanctimonious gloss of charity.

Apparently, today 'doing it for charity' has replaced patriotism as being the last refuge of the scoundrel.

It was a changed world last week as Dolly stared into the cameras with the unctuous, water-brimmed, sad eyes of a dog sitting in the rain in the yard waiting for pity.

Pity, however, has left the building, Dolly, old pal.

Instead, the most cutting comment about the debacle came from the obscure Labour backbench TD Jack Wall.

Mr Wall may not be as well known as a media star or a 'celebrity' or the sort of Irish Times intellectual who pens dissertations from the lofty heights of a wildflower-covered, roof-garden holiday home about the role of 'class' in Irish politics.

Wall is, instead, an old-fashioned Labour man who is deeply rooted in the community he serves. But he is amongst the best of his trade because he has dignity, standards and a simple philosophy of looking after the working man he represents.

Wall, in short, is authentic; and that very trait means he is far more qualified to spot a fake than anyone else.

Last week, it was hard to argue with Wall when he noted that politics really had "hit rock-bottom'' if public money was being used to support "vanity contests".

Of course, like their 'Hogg'-style cousins in Fianna Fail, the Healy-Raes are slow to fully get it.

Last week, the first response of Jackie Healy-Rae was that it was "not as though someone actually stole the money".

Well actually, Jackie, it was theft and, if an auto-dialler was used, it was cheating.

Still, neither you nor Michael need worry, for in spite of the changed times that are in it, the Dail is in no great hurry to turn over any stones lest a whole further nest of earwigs scampers out.

Happily, in spite of the un-likelihood of any further investigations, the 'grab all you can' Healy-Rae dysentery (apologies) dynasty won't be sneaking back under the old stone.

The Healy-Raes may have spent more than a decade and a half trading on their self-proclaimed image as Ireland's most loved political outsiders, but we know now that this status is as fake as one of those stage-Irish Temple Bar pubs in Dublin.

Ultimately, it is the Hillbilly Healy-Raes who now stand unveiled as being the baldest representation of the sleazy political traits and characteristics that hollowed out John A. Costello's first Republic and left us the current mortgaged, default-riddled shell.

They are, of course, still ducking and diving; but after last week, no amount of grease or stage-managed comb-overs will hide one key fact.

It is easy to forget sometimes, but politics, as men like Jack Wall know, is ultimately about class.

And mannequins like the Healy-Rae Hillbillies simply don't have any.

Sunday Independent