After two years coughing into our elbows, the worst of the Covid plague seemed to be over. Two years of non-stop tension. Finally — despite some worrying Covid data coming in from abroad — even the most cautious amongst us became hopeful.
Hey, we said, there’s nothing stopping us just stretching out and relaxing through the spring and summer and into next autumn, yeah?
Hold my vodka, drawled Mr Putin . . .
In less time than it takes to find Ukraine on a map, Mr Putin had provided us with all the ingredients we need for World War III.
Day and night we watched pitiful scenes of refugees on the run and we got to see actual war crimes on our screens, in real time, as Mr Putin pointed his tanks and artillery towards cities and villages.
Mr Putin is very good at making parents scream and children cry. When everything else is forgotten — the abuse of power, the stolen wealth, the nationalist posing and the unmistakable madness — it’s the bewildered kids and their terrified parents that will be remembered.
For most of us, there was no political issue last week that was anywhere nearly as riveting as Putin’s war in Ukraine.
However, two Irish political parties were already finding other priorities.
The Labour Party was in the process of dumping one party leader and choosing the next.
And Fine Gael grabbed an opportunity to push their militarisation agenda.
You’ve no doubt heard the cynical motto: Never let a good crisis go to waste.
If, for instance, you need to dump a party leader, it’s best to do it when people are distracted. What better distraction than what might turn out to be the preliminary stages of World War III?
So, as events in Ukraine had us all on edge, the Labour Party stuck its leader Alan Kelly up against a virtual wall. Ready, aim, fire . . .
And a political career was over.
With luck, Labour reckoned, many voters will be too fixated on the Ukraine drama to even notice he is gone.
The media pundits were quickly on hand to endorse the party’s explanation of why Special K had to be dumped.
And it goes like this: Despite doing his best, Kelly hadn’t been able to increase the party’s standing in the polls.
Soon after he became leader, Labour was on 3pc in the polls. They’re still on 3pc.
It was agreed an effective leader should by now have raised Labour far beyond that. And it was clear Alan Kelly had no miracle plan in his back pocket.
Therefore, Labour needed a dynamic new leader to Make Labour Great Again.
So, out goes mouldy old Kelly (age 46). And in comes sprightly young Ivana Bacik (age 53).
Em, yes, you’re right, that doesn’t make sense — the fresh young leader is seven years older than the tired old leader?
Don’t ask awkward questions.
Here’s the truth.
The Labour Party is screwed because it spectacularly betrayed its base. At the 2011 general election, after Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael policies had crashed the country, Labour put on its radical clothes. It attracted droves of idealistic young people and won 19.4pc of the vote.
Unfortunately, it then helped FG in converting the massive private debt created by the rich into public debt we all had to pay.
The Fine Gael/Labour government imposed harsh austerity measures. While the rich were helped to recover from the crash, those who bore no blame for it endured the worst pain.
At the subsequent general election in 2016, Labour dived to a miserable 6.6pc of the vote.
Politicians believe the public memory is short — voters might hate you for a while, but they eventually forget what it was you did and drift back out of habit.
But in 2020 the Labour vote was cut again to 4.4pc.
How Kelly was supposed to reverse all this in less than two years is a mystery. Perhaps Bacik will explain how it’s done.
However, Labour politicians and media pundits were agreed — there was no need to mention all that austerity stuff and the betrayal of the voting base, no need to bring actual politics into it. It could all be explained by Kelly’s obvious failure to jack up the poll numbers.
Here’s a thought. Suppose Labour honoured its promises in 2011, went into the Dáil and argued that those who caused the crash should pay for fixing it.
Suppose Labour argued against an austerity programme.
Suppose Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were forced into collusion in 2011, instead of in 2019. Suppose Labour stood against their politics of protecting the rich and providing crumbs from the top table for the rest of us.
The party would have got a big vote in 2016 and 2020. Today, Labour would be thriving.
Sinn Féin would be among the also-rans.
But, that didn’t happen. So, we continue to pretend Labour’s failure is a kind of accidental kink in the poll numbers.
Meanwhile, the leader of Fine Gael took the opportunity last week to give a boost to a longer term party project.
For some time, our ruling class has been irritated by our tradition of neutrality. Some of us see that tradition as a plus — politically and morally.
And we like the fact we have no colonial baggage — it distinguishes us from countries with a tradition of pushing other people around.
Elements of our ruling class find all of this somewhat limiting. They like the notion of an EU army. They’d love to be members of Nato with access to our very own shiny rockets and killer drones.
We have amongst us politicians and civil servants who have visions of the day they get to represent us on some Nato task force. I bet at least some of them have a workplace room at home — but they don’t call it their office, they call it “the situation room”.
Look at the fervour with which they campaign to win a seat on some UN or EU body. Look at the sweat breaking out on their foreheads when it’s Ireland’s turn to host something or other.
This quivering ambition to play soldiers with the big boys is every bit as real as Putin’s need to publicly bully his subordinates. It comes from the same belief that leadership is about power, not service.
Last week, in a clumsy attempt to exploit the Ukraine tragedy, Varadkar suggested we might be “attacked”, though he didn’t say who the attackers might be. His implication was that if it can happen to Ukraine it can happen to any of us. Perhaps he fears the massed ranks of the DUP might some day pour across the Border, demanding we close the parks on Sundays.
He tried shaming us. We depend on “the British and the Americans”, he said, to come rushing to save us when the attackers descend.
Who has militarily attacked us, ever, over what issue? Who is likely to attack us?
In what circumstances did the British or the Americans rush to save us?
We’re taking about multi-billion budgets running into the far distant future.
Final question: did anyone notice what Mr V was smoking when he made this speech?
Varadkar is proposing spending billions on fantasy war games.We need careful examination of what’s going on inside that head.
Every country needs defences based on credible threats. We are lucky to be among a fairly safe assortment of neighbours.
We do, however, need to watch out for those who would squander vast amounts of money providing them with the props to bring their militaristic dreams to life.