Sunday 22 September 2019

Miriam O'Callaghan: 'Change with a capital C means a new beginning with a capital B'

Our vote for change means our fear of climate is not a climate of fear, writes Miriam O'Callaghan

'Ciaran Cuffe's (pictured) performance was by any standards astonishing and especially considering the pre-election polls that had Frances Fitzgerald at 22 pc.' Photo: Steve Humphreys
'Ciaran Cuffe's (pictured) performance was by any standards astonishing and especially considering the pre-election polls that had Frances Fitzgerald at 22 pc.' Photo: Steve Humphreys

Recently, I started Pulmonary Rehab. I had a choice: treat only the symptoms of my tizzicky lungs or have a go, too, at tackling the cause. This would mean no sugar, no white flour and rice, no processed foods.

Perfectly reasonable. Except I'm a sugar addict. Dairy Milk or Fry's Chocolate Cream are daily staples since 1801. But there was nothing - and I mean nothing - like seeing lovely men and women with oxygen boxes in their backpacks or in the baskets of their walkers to terrify me into abstinence. The daily delights would have to go.

And go they did like Bran, the soon-to-be-Broken at the end of Jamie Lanister's still-good arm. I don't hold the Stories of Man but so far the lungs are clear, tests are surpassed. Out of fear, I changed my lifelong habits and now have the energy and optimism of a 20 year-old.

It's similar with the Green surge in the elections. To effect political Change, with a capital C, it turns out there's nothing like a bit of terror. Especially when that terror involves our children.

It's not scientific, but chances are, large numbers voted Green because they either have, or would like to have, children or grandchildren. This means having a planet - so far there's only the "blue dot" Earth - where they are not drowned, burned, blasted or starved to death.

If this meant picking up a pencil and ditching the mainstream sugar and in particular FG's expensive, empty, dangerous confections, so be it. As I write, at the time of the tallies, I can't vouch for the national BP, energy or optimism, but they seem to be pretty good.

But the terror and the change are not absolute. Not yet. It turns out that the cumulative crises of carers, waiting lists that have waiting lists, housing, homelessness, Cervical Check, McCabe-Tusla and the controversies of Broadband and the National Children's Hospital, are not quite enough to scare people into complete and immediate abstinence mode. We are Augustinian in our desires: we want Change but not quite fully and not quite yet.

In the elections, the sugar of name recognition - and big party bucks - saw Frances Fitzgerald do relatively well in Dublin. As an un-airbrushed 56-year old I was disappointed to see her lose her years to appear more marketable and acceptable. What 'feminist' message does this send to us and to our daughters?

Equally, the same name recognition, fuelled by the huge election spend of the main parties assisted Deirdre Clune and Sean Kelly. Both stood in sepulchral silence beside the Taoiseach as he sneered at (though he later apologised to) the Waterford Pathologists.

Yet to voters, that troubling silence was overcome by the sweetness of recognition and association. To voters it mattered that Clune's name is known and also that "she's from Douglas" while Kelly's name is also up there and he is "a GAA man". No offence to Douglas or the GAA, but how they help qualify candidates to deal with the political and climate crises facing the EU, post Austerity, is beyond me. Equally, in the same constituency, independent Diarmuid O Flynn - who? - of the Ballyhea Says No protests against the Bail Out and Austerity declared himself "unelectable" and has bowed out of politics. I, for one, hope he will reconsider. With what the Ireland is facing, we need politicians who have convictions and who are not party and marketeers' candied confections.

In Dublin too it seems voters want their change in easy-to-swallow morsels after their huge slice of Green. Ciaran Cuffe's performance was by any standards astonishing and especially considering the pre-election polls that had Frances Fitzgerald at 22 pc.

In parts of social media and the public imagination, the ghost of the very-much-alive Maurice McCabe hung over the Dublin election.

I believe the treatment of Maurice McCabe by "the system" is not only reprehensible, but should frighten every citizen. Yet, back in the South constituency, some voters must be amnesic or pretty fearless.

At time of going to press, Mick Wallace who had championed McCabe was breathing down Sean Kelly's neck.

In the election week when "co-living" and paying €1,300 a month to share a kitchen with 40 people was being proposed as "an option" for our adult children to get "excited" over, the heavily-promoted Maria Walsh produced a saccharine video about Polly Pocket and Black Jacks that in my opinion, saw politics reach peak cynicism by reducing it to entertainment. One tweeter posted sharply "Polly Pocket had a kitchen". But, Neil Postman was right: we are "Amusing Ourselves to Death".

In contrast to the expensive and expert political confectioners, SF's Reada Cronin made a brilliant satire on the Swing controversy, the stated requirement for instructions and supervision for a politician on a swing, being a sweet political drama in itself this week. Satire is neglected now in politics, and for me, Cronin's satirical video was the communications highlight of the campaign. And it cost nothing to make.

So, we voted for some good change and we got some good change. But now the challenges of that change begin. If they are handled well, we could see a remaking of politics and civic engagement in our country.

We are facing a world, which I believe the mainstream parties cannot imagine and in which they will be unable to manage, Nationally, we need a climate social and economic plan that is many multiples that of Rural Electrification and Free Education combined.

It is up to the Green politicians elected - and also to their opinion leaders like John the Baptist Gibbons - to keep their heads and make sure that the transition to Green is for all, and not just for those who can financially afford it.

This is the stuff of hearts and minds and of every home and business and street. If they engage we can win and win together. If they do not, all is lost. Imagine if the Greens swapped the cynicism of political certainty for the human approach of saying 'look we will do this and do it together but the situation is dynamic and we are just figuring out how.'

Regardless, they will need to show in all they do that Green means a Republic of inclusion, compassion and vision that involves not just aspiration, but hardcore housing, transport, education, healthcare. In voting, Ireland has shown that its real and deserved fear about climate, is not a climate of fear. Collectively, we can take a that leap of faith. This, alone, is an outstanding Beginning. Capital B.

Sunday Independent

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