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When Mass appeal beats mass media

Frank Coughlan


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'That's what radio and telly do sometimes: emphasise and exaggerate all the things that are wrong with politics while making us neglect it on a more human and relatable scale' (stock photo)

'That's what radio and telly do sometimes: emphasise and exaggerate all the things that are wrong with politics while making us neglect it on a more human and relatable scale' (stock photo)

'That's what radio and telly do sometimes: emphasise and exaggerate all the things that are wrong with politics while making us neglect it on a more human and relatable scale' (stock photo)

Every election campaign has its low points. Being reminded last week that Willie O'Dea still roams Leinster House like the ghost of Fianna Fáil past and might be in government again soon was certainly one of them.

The noise pollution that passed itself off as a televised election debate on Virgin last Thursday was another.

That's what radio and telly do sometimes: emphasise and exaggerate all the things that are wrong with politics while making us neglect it on a more human and relatable scale.

We could all reel off names of duly elected lousers and chancers down the years who have turned the waters putrid, but most of our elected representatives have done their best.

The fact that we blame them for all our excesses and stupidities shows just how useful they are on a therapeutic level. It was handy, for instance, that every eejit who bought an apartment on the Bulgarian Riviera had Bertie Ahern to blame when it all went belly up.

But there is a disconnect which mass media, by its very nature and calling, only heightens.

Performing for the cameras - the successor to standing up on the back of a trailer outside Mass - means any sort of intimacy with voters has been replaced by spin, sound bites and, very obviously, make-up.

We don't know our politicians any more and, considering how many seem to be tone deaf, it's fair to suggest they don't know us either. Both sides could benefit from a touch of the personals: the handshake, the eye-to-eye and an honest if polite exchange of views.

I had one such chance encounter early Saturday week as I strolled home with a few newspapers tucked under my arm, looking forward to an afternoon of selfish idleness. What little was on my mind did not include contemplation of the election.

It was just then I saw Stephen Donnelly, Fianna Fáil spokesman on health and a candidate in my Wicklow constituency, stride across the road to greet me, a big beam on his face and a cheery hello not far behind it.

He introduced himself, though there was no need.

I said I had voted for him as a Social Democrat the last time out and hadn't been impressed when, within a year, he turned up on the front bench of the very party he made his reputation grinding into the dirt.

He didn't flinch, prevaricate, smarm or even do the Fianna Fáil shuffle. Instead he explained with sincerity, conviction and no little detail about that particular journey and the personal tossing and turning involved.

It didn't seem like I was just another cranky voter being fobbed off and I was impressed as much by the honesty as his reasoning. He returned my frankness with some of his own and I couldn't ask for anything more.

It's good to talk. Politicians are human too you know, despite what they tell you on the telly.


Sinn Féin takes a step towards respectability

In A famous 1928 Dáil exchange Seán Lemass taunted the government by declaring Dev's new Fianna Fáil to be only "slightly constitutional".

When this anti-Treaty party came to power in 1932 it so worried the British that the government in London set up a high-powered cabinet committee to keep a beady eye on this post-revolutionary rabble.

You can sense the same sort of panic around now as Sinn Féin, itself slightly constitutional in many respects, threatens to win office.

But democracy didn't collapse in 1932 and instead of routing the establishment the once radical Fianna Fáil became a defining element of it.

If history is good at anything it is repeating itself.

Irish Independent