Saturday 14 December 2019

Gene Kerrigan: 'Maria, Verona, Lorraine - and Enda, too'

We need TDs with a wider view of life, and fewer party hacks, to end the permanent crisis in governance, writes Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Some day, please God, science may finally develop a machine immense enough to measure the ego of the average TD.

In recent weeks, we've borne witness to the tragic effects of swollen ego. And to the comic effects of a lack of political depth.

One sitting TD and two candidates running for that position have taken a public hiding - as a consequence of their own conduct.

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And more than one veteran politician has exhibited planet-sized ego after a long, distinguished political career that in human terms doesn't amount to the proverbial hill of beans.

Maria Bailey, Verona Murphy and Lorraine Clifford-Lee have been condemned as though they were Bond villains.

They should take heart, though - they are mere spear-carriers in a minor plot from the tatty drama that Irish politics has become.

Hopefully they'll go on to live the fulfilling lives we all deserve. And - for all our sakes - may they stay well away from the political pantomime we're all currently enduring.

As for you, Enda Kenny, you're a bloody disgrace.

Where to begin?

It truly is a tatty political drama, with flawed humans making grand gestures, while a bewildered audience mutters, "Who's writing this s**t?"

Maria Bailey might have gone on to become a successful TD, a minister, an EU Commissioner - so much money rolling in, so many lackeys bowing and scraping, she'd eventually have to believe in her own magnificence or her head would explode.

(I mean, look at Phil Hogan.)

Then, Bailey fell off a swing.

You or I might limp away, vowing to take it easy for a few weeks. Ms Bailey is made of sterner stuff.

She did a very Fine Gael thing: she reached for a lawyer. And before you could say "Hey, look, Maria's just run that 10k race in under an hour", the owners of the swing were being dragged into court to see how much they should pay Bailey for falling off their swing.

Now, there are some who will tell you that Leo Varadkar thought this was unbecoming behaviour for an FG TD. They'd have us believe that's why Maria Bailey got the bum's rush and her political career ended up in the shredder. It's all down to the sheer idealism of Mr V.

No. Not at all.

During election campaigns, with fingers crossed behind their backs, the parties say what they know we want to hear.

There was a time when politicians based such promises on their own instincts - today it's all thoroughly researched in secret polls. The parties spend vast amounts on in-depth polling, and on intense questioning of "focus groups", to find out what voters would like to hear them say.

And Fine Gael's secret polls said Bailey's swing-time antics had turned off voters. Which is why, with Stalinesque coldness, the party "deselected" her from its general election ticket.

All that matters is holding the seat.

Meanwhile, it turned out that Fianna Fail's candidate for the Fingal by-election had a history of badmouthing people she apparently considered beneath her.

And Fine Gael's candidate for the Wexford by-election had badmouthed immigrants.

Oh, dear - it's almost like there's a pattern here.

FF's Lorraine Clifford-Lee explained that she badmouthed people only before she became a politician, so...

Erm, Lorraine.

The problem for most of us is not that you broke some rule that says politicians have to be careful about displaying what might be bigotry, because it's a bad look. The reason this is a problem is it displays an arrogant, deluded, petty mindset.

And we like to fantasise that our politicians have a more firm understanding of the human condition.

However, there's nothing uniquely discreditable about Maria, Lorraine or Verona.

All over the world, there are people who assume their inclusion in some sub-group (white, Christian, middle-class, American, Russian, British, Irish...) makes them superior to all outside that group.

This allows them to sneer at others (black, working class, Traveller, Jewish, Muslim, whatever) and has been used to justify anything from petty insults to lynching to physical extermination.

In the old days, decent people would refute this nonsense with a remark about how we're all God's children.

I prefer the one that says we're all unfinished creatures scrambling around a harsh, troubled rock that's sweating unnaturally somewhere in an unknowable universe.

Skin colour, nationality, height, weight, body-shape and "social status" are pathetically irrelevant in the face of the horrors and the glories of being human.

Or, to put it another way, get over yourself.

Lorraine apologised repeatedly.

Verona was rushed into a reception centre for refugees, where she got to meet actual people who are from Other Places. She seems to have been impressed to find out they're just about as human as she is.

Who would have thought?!!??

(I wonder what secret polls said about constituency reaction to Verona's bad-mouthing? No deselection needed?)

Very handy, when the Fine Gael director of elections is Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Justice, who can get you into such a facility at a moment's notice. It's almost as though these unfortunate people's current living quarters are the political equivalent of a car wash, which candidates can be run through, so they can rinse off some of the grime that's damaging the party image.

An abuse of Charlie's position, some would say - but, what the hell, if it helps civilise a Fine Gael politician, let it go...

And, there are worse than Charlie.

Speaking of which...

Enda Kenny had a 40-year political career. Until he became Taoiseach, he rose without trace. His achievements are... well, arguable.

For instance, he pledged in 2007 to end the trolley culture in hospitals. When he quit as Taoiseach in 2017, things were worse than ever. I'm trying and failing to remember anything - anything whatever - he did to try to end the trolley culture.

These days, Kenny is a mere TD. In a period after he quit as Taoiseach, he signed himself into the Dail on 79 occasions. Yet, on 71 of those days, he missed every single vote.

It looks like he signed in - which qualified him to get a travel and accommodation allowance (TAA). And on 71 of the 79 days he then did, what? Who knows?

A runner, is my guess.

In short, he's taking the TD wages (€96,189) and the TAA (€47,000 on the period RTE covered) but he's selling the job short until he takes his pension (around €130,000).

In what other position would you not get fired for this?

Fine Gael gave its view, in a statement. This behaviour, they said, "is a long-standing tradition", for a former Taoiseach.

Oh, well, it's traditional. That's fine, so.

Try it, though, in your own job. Where were you yesterday?

Twiddling my thumbs.

What? Why?

Oh, we all do it. Long-standing tradition.

Politics is a noble job. At its best, it involves a struggle to manage the affairs of multitudes without sacrificing the needs of the individual. At its worst, it's a lucrative job for those with truck-loads of smarm, expertise in cute-hoorism, a vast ego and a bloody hard neck.

These are not the qualities that make up a parliament that succeeds at good governance. The proof is in the state of the country.

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