Monday 16 September 2019

Willie O'Dea: 'Brexit the panto: bad acting, flimsy plot'

While we watch the Westminster farce from a distance, our own show doesn't escape a touch of panto, writes Willie O'Dea

Palace of Westminster. Photo: PA
Palace of Westminster. Photo: PA

Willie O'Dea

We know that Christmas is a time for pantomimes and this year our nearest neighbour is mounting the greatest political panto of modern times in the guise of the Brexit decision at Westminster.

As pantos go, the Westminster panto leaves the Gaiety, Olympia and Cork Opera House ones in the shade. It has all the classic hallmarks: a complicated story, horrendous overacting, evil one-dimensional villains, high jinks and an ending that neither makes sense nor relates in any meaningful way to the flimsy plot.

The current production, which we know should end on January 21, is a bizarre and quirky mix of Goldilocks with the three little pigs with sizeable chunks of the Wizard of Oz and even Frankenstein thrown in for good measure.

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Though it is ostensibly under the sole direction and authorship of Theresa May, large chunks of the predominantly ad-libbed script do owe their origins to the DUP and the Tory European Research Group, a fact given away by their arcane structure

While the British Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, does enjoy a decent walk-on role as one of the Wizard of Oz characters - I won't say which one, though he can play the part without benefit of make-up or wardrobe - he only has a handful of original lines and he is reduced to stupidly mouthing many of those.

Unlike most traditional Christmas pantos, it is excruciating to watch and comes with the added pain of knowing that we on this island will suffer greatly if the show over runs.

While Britain attempts to cope with its national pantomime, we have been spared a similar fate.

In keeping with its obsession with perceptions and spin, the Government here seems to have decided to abandon the traditional Christmas panto in favour of an ultra-modern, avant-garde, multi-media, multi-platform performance arts installation.

It figuratively features the Taoiseach live tweeting and periscoping from the heart of a ring of highly polished silver mirrors, each strategically placed to reflect none of the reality outside the circle. This way the Taoiseach can bask in the pleasing images he sees around him while convincing himself that no one else can see those realities either.

But we can see them. Not only that, we experience them.

One of those painful and bitter realities is the continuing health crisis, which many of us fear will deteriorate early in the New Year.

The crisis in the public healthcare system has now reached such a low that the "winter crises" of old that once lasted for six to 10 weeks annually now run for almost 10 months of the year.

The picture does not improve when you look at the trolley crisis. Almost 10,000 people aged 75 or older had to lie on trolleys in emergency departments for longer than 24 hours in the first eight months of 2018. By year's end, that number could hit 14,000, and now we have the added worry of a looming nurses' strike.

The other desperately tragic reality is the worsening housing and accommodation crisis. At just under 10,000, the numbers of homeless people speaks to the huge size of the crisis.

More than one in three people in emergency accommodation is a child. What these figures do not convey, though, is the obscenity that this crisis is still growing. The number of homeless families increased by 17pc since October 2017.

Meanwhile, the initial data available shows that Minister Eoghan Murphy will miss his promise to build 3,800 social houses and apartments in 2018 by about 60pc. To be fair, there are still eight days to go to the formal end of 2018, but I somehow doubt that Eoghan, the non-builder, will manage to fill the gap, even with his own bespoke hard hat and tapered hi-vis jacket.

As with the health crisis, we will see the targets, goals and commitments made this year and last buried in the small print of some glossy press release and kicked to touch into 2019 and beyond. It is storing up trouble like a squirrel storing nuts.

In the meantime, have a happy Christmas and I'll see you in the New Year.

Willie O'Dea is a Fianna Fail TD for the Limerick City constituency

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