Wednesday 21 August 2019

Gerard O'Regan: 'Silly season's here and it seems our leaders need a holiday - from each other'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Niall Carson/PA)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Niall Carson/PA)

Gerard O'Regan

Stealth-like, it creeps upon us. Mysterious overnight rumblings in the summer undergrowth herald mood changes when the morning comes. It's more of a feeling than anything graspable. But those who know it accept its inevitable arrival once sunny days start tumbling into one another.

It's called the silly season. A slightly daft but so often apt term favoured by those in the media business. The bottom line is there suddenly seems, whether real or imagined, to be a shortage of serious news stories. For those whose currency is the hard edge of current affairs, it is an especially discomfiting state. Will there be enough quality tales to keep the pot on the boil?

The conundrum is both simple and complex. Come high summer, thoughts inevitably turn to holidays - or at least embracing some sort of break from the norm. But a continuous run of blue skies can also signal all sorts of mid-year mood changes.

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Perhaps it's in the world of politics the effects of the silly season are felt most of all. Those on the front line ache for a seasonal recess; a chance to draw breath before returning to battle once the evenings start to draw in. But as the mythical cut-off point for some down time approaches, things can turn tetchy.

The 'sinning priest' combustion between Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin was the first sign of seasonal silliness this year. It was indeed a crass analogy by the Taoiseach - unnecessarily referencing a traumatic interlude in our history to score a point. It indirectly insulted priests simply making their way in the service of others.

It's clear Varadkar never intended such offence to be taken. But is he suddenly in need of a break from the hurly burly? Perhaps the endless Brexit merry-go-round has taken its toll? He has looked stressed, on however superficial a level, in recent days.

There are also times when Martin's tendency towards a holier-than-thou prissiness clearly gets under the Taoiseach's skin. However, despite moments of needle, they both need one another to keep things going as they are. There still have no option but to play for time. And who knows the moment their nerve-jangling mutual dependency will end?

Silly seasonitis is also dwarfing the Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt roadshow. They promise 'the devil and all' to wangle the job of prime minister as the contest reaches high farce. Naked political ambition in its rawest form is on full show. Half-truths are thrown about on a grand scale.

The sheer brazen neck of the Johnson campaign is made possible by the antiquated system by which the Conservative Party chooses its leader. All he has to do is get the nod from a grouping of true blue Tories with an average age of 57. It's impossible not to see him being first choice for such a time-warped collective. As of now both he and Hunt are locked in a cocoon - determinedly shielding themselves from the real world.

Meanwhile, the EU changed and repositioned its officer corps this week. But it will be autumn before battle will really be joined, between the new Brussels front-line force and Johnson's Brexit vanguard.

It cannot be forgotten these summer days mark the rhythms of the sports calendar. Wimbledon, with all its pageantry, is here to regale us. And the Tour de France will soon enthrall. We will be beguiled by the sheer force of will for singular sporting achievement - one man and his bike essentially competing against himself.

The Women's World Cup left us wondering if some of the top female players can pass the ball better than certain men in the Republic of Ireland squad. In the GAA firmament, gladiatorial hurling retains poetic grandeur. Gaelic football labours under much dissected burdens - but the allure of knife-edge dramas to come is potent.

From the doings of Leinster House to the greenery of Croke Park, things are seasonally betwixt and between. It is worth repeating those winsome F Scott Fitzgerald lines quoted in this newspaper a few days ago: "And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees ... I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer."

Perhaps Leo and Micheál could indulge such fanciful thoughts. Some things near their end - as others are about to begin.

Irish Independent

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