Thursday 22 August 2019

Gene Kerrigan: 'Fasten seatbelts, we're in for a bumpy ride'

They suggested bribing us, bullying us, perhaps starving us, and now they're having a go at Varadkar, writes Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

The Brits are being beastly to our Mr Varadkar. Which leaves some of us feeling conflicted.

On the one hand, Leo Varadkar is easily the least impressive Taoiseach of the past few decades. Enda Kenny had some unfortunate fantasies (remember the minister who wasn't there at the meeting that never happened?). And, if a problem or policy couldn't be explained to him in a single page, Albert Reynolds didn't want to know.

But we must admit there was more to either of them than bluster and spin.

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Reynolds, in particular, played a significant role in historic events. And, unlike with some politicians we're not naming, there wasn't a faint smell of something not quite identifiable when Albert departed public life.

If you ask Fine Gaelers why they made Varadkar party leader and Taoiseach, they'll probably say he seemed promising at the time. In fact, if you ask Fine Gaelers about Varadkar when he eventually retires, they'll probably say the same thing.

From the moment he was elected, they'll say, Leo seemed somewhat promising. And now he's gone, well, we're sure he'll amount to something one of these days.

In between, it would be true to say that Mr Varadkar was kind to vultures and others of wealth and power. And that he spent a lot of our money vainly trying to convince us he was solving the serious social problems that continued to fester right in front of our eyes.

There are many who spit vitriol at a mention of Varadkar, but I can't manage to work up such passion. He's a man who desperately wanted a job for which he shows little aptitude. There's really little more to him than that.

Our major offices of state have seen an unusually high percentage of timeservers and placeholders, he's just one more.

Yet, when the Brits belittle him, well, damn it, what they're saying about Mr Varadkar just isn't true, or fair.

Currently, sections of the British media and many of their leading politicians have chosen Varadkar as the fall guy for the mess they've made of Brexit.

The Daily Telegraph, for instance, last week had a contribution from a Tory, a former chief of staff to Brexit Minister David "thick as mince" Davis. He denounced Varadkar for his "bellicose rhetoric... playing to the domestic anti-Brit gallery."

Oh, come on, lads, "bellicose"?

The trouble with Varadkar is that when bellicose is called for - as it is now, in dealing with the mad Brexiteers - he can't quite manage more than a hurt drawl.

Sure, yes, Varadkar can be snotty when he's dismissing nurses and teachers who want fair pay for their crucial work. But he's more of a sneer-and-snigger chap than a stroppy loudmouth.

As for playing to the anti-Brit gallery, this is the lad who pretty much swooned in front of the cameras after being allowed enter the sacred precincts of 10 Downing Street.

And then there was Bruce, good old Bruce Arnold. Did some decent work in his day, was targeted by Cosgrave and also by Haughey. Now, he's reduced to throwing the most obvious of insults our way, the "little Irish", "bought by Brussels", and all that.

The British have a sublime history as the creators of memorable comedic characters. From the Steptoes, through Hancock and James, the Fawltys, Captain Mainwaring and his comrades, to Del Boy and Rodney, Malcolm Tucker, Mr Bean, Alan Partridge and countless others, all sharply drawn and built around recognisable characteristics of British society.

Yet, nothing prepared us for the comic invention of the Brexit comedians. Each of them, from Boris Johnson to Farage, Mrs May, Rees-Mogg, Patel, David "thick as mince" Davis and such loveable peripheral characters as Mark Francois, is as well-drawn as anything from the typewriter of John Sullivan.

Any of them could carry a TV series. (No, Bruce, not you.)

As an ensemble, they're comic gold, as they wreak havoc in the UK.

Handed an unexpected victory, they appointed David "thick as mince" Davis as Minister for Brexit, with predictable results.

With huge effort, they eventually negotiated a withdrawal agreement they couldn't live with.

They simply forgot about Northern Ireland. Reminded, they invented a "backstop", to get out of a corner, but they never really understood why they're supposed to give a damn about a bunch of so-called "unionist" Paddies, not to mention the actual Paddy Paddies, and all their assorted grudges.

Pushed by the ERG, the rightest of right-wing Brexiteers, they decided they couldn't support the withdrawal agreement unless they were allowed to create the conditions for the return of violence in Ireland (otherwise known as removing the backstop).

According to the ERG's bubbly little weekend soldier Mark Francois, they've now decided that even if the backstop is removed, they won't accept the agreement.

They chose as prime minister a man journalists admire for his "intelligence" and "vigour". Mr Johnson's most significant previous job was Foreign Secretary, and those who worked with him noticed the intelligent, vigorous chap couldn't master his brief and was even lazier than David "thick as mince" Davis.

Johnson's lies are so manifold that he doesn't bother denying his duplicity. He now boasts about it. He got €58,000 from a bunch of eejits to come over here last January and give a speech. While here, he said publicly he voted for the backstop because the entire British cabinet considered it a "convenient fiction" - a lie.

When the police were called one night after his female partner was heard screaming "Get off me!", amid sounds of some disorder, Mr Johnson assured the cops there was nothing to worry about and they obligingly went away.

He refused to publicly explain what happened, which leaves us free to draw our own conclusions from the available evidence. I think I know roughly what's going on when a woman screams "Get off me!", but it seems today's Tories are cool with that.

All this being self-evident, it is undeniable that the anti-EU comedians have a point.

The EU is undemocratic, there's empire building within it, the euro was never properly worked out and stultifying right-wing policies have been smuggled in under the cloak of administrative necessity.

Across Europe, bankers and their gambler friends have been protected by the political and professional classes, while years of austerity siphoned away the resources we earned by our hard work.

All of this - and more - needs challenging, from below.

Instead, in the UK, a range of angry millionaires, some of them aligned with the Bannon wing of the Trump movement, have funded a campaign that reeks of racism, imperialism and working-class servility.

They finally got what they wanted - a referendum win; they got rid of Cameron, they got rid of May. They've got Boris Johnson as prime minister and a cabinet that ranges from the fairly foolish to the downright dim.

With all this, they're still complaining, still unable to get the Brexit they want. Mark Francois, who hasn't yet gotten over World War II, sneers at "Herr Juncker in the bunker" (he thinks Jean-Claude is German), but all they really have left to attack is our poor Mr Varadkar.

Variously, they've suggested the Irish might be bribed, intimidated or starved into doing what they're told.

They're now revving up the Brexit engine, full speed ahead, determined to crash into a wall, confident this will hurt others more than it will hurt them.

Sunday Independent

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