Wednesday 23 January 2019

Brendan O'Connor

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Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Brendan O'Connor: 'Minister Zappone, what if now is a dark chapter?' 

It's probably unfair, but don't you find yourself innately suspicious of people who are always picking up awards and making keynote speeches? Most of us feel, rightly or wrongly, there are two types of people in the world. There are workhorses and show ponies. The workhorses are the serious people who keep the show on the road in organisations and have no time for going around making speeches and hustling to get awards, while the show ponies put their primary focus on public perception.

Michael D Higgins

Mischief played a part in this pointless election 

We knew there was something going on by the six o'clock news last Friday. And it was confirmed in the nine o'clock news. By six o'clock the turnout in the north inner city of Dublin was 10pc. In Jobstown by 9pm, an hour before the polls closed, just 9pc had turned out. In west Tallaght by 9.15pm about a quarter of people had voted. Turnout all over the country seemed to heading for a record low. Did Gavin Duffy and the two other millionaire businessmen not strike a chord in Jobstown? And with half of the electorate in general?

‘Brace yourselves, but I think I’m getting into moccasin-style loafers’

A man's life story is told through his shoes 

You can mark out the stages in a man's life by his shoes. One of my first big growth spurts was when I decided to stop wearing brothel creepers. It was a difficult decision to make, and it felt a bit like going straight, but deep down I knew it was time. If you're Larry Mullen or Gavin Friday you can maybe keep wearing creepers, but for those of us who live in the real world, there comes a time where it no longer works. And god knows I didn't need the height boost of big crepe soles.

It's very difficult to please some people

The subtle art of making other people happy 

Niamh Horan is somewhat of a guru to me. She devours books of all kinds, but her specialist area is the upper end of the self-help ouevre. Not that she reads every "love yourself" book out there. She focuses more on the ones that have 'New York Times bestseller' on front of them - the ultimate badge of respectability for self-help chancers, and indeed for literary chancers. Whatever it is about the rest of us, if we see 'New York Times Bestseller' on the front of a book, we make a presumption of quality. Somehow if it is good enough for the readers of The New York Times, it is good enough...

'Do you really want the worry of a house sitting in a remote area of Spain'

How I became an expert on foreign property 

Don't get me wrong. I binge on all the must-watch quality TV. Succession is gilt-edged high-end trash with plenty of laughs, and Sharp Objects is a hypnotic, creepy classic. But sometimes you just want pure, unadulterated low-involvement bubblegum, and that, for me, right now, means A Place in the Sun in all its various incarnations - summer sun, winter sun and, of course Home or Away, where the 'contestants' make the no-brainer choice between buying a dusty Tudor cottage in the rainy Lake District or a condo with a pool in sunny Florida.

Pope Francis greets pilgrims from the Popemobile as he makes his way around the gathering at the Phoenix Park. Picture By David Conachy.

Brendan O'Connor: Did the Pope's visit signal the beginning of the end? 

Like many of you, we had the papal visit on TV in the background all weekend, dipping in and out of it when we were around. An English person in the house, with the clarity of an outsider, eventually pointed out what he found oddest about it. It was the fact that there was this kind of reverential, respectful coverage of the visit, but then, every time it cut to commentators, they had to discuss child abuse. But then, it was a weekend of contrasts and incongruity.

'Dinner for one involves a plate and some cutlery, if I'm feeling civilised'

When my wife and children left me... 

Thursday was Mexican day. I hadn't planned it that way but I was walking past a burrito place on the way home. I never have a burrito really. And I do love a good ole mess of a burrito. So I decided it was Mexican day in my house. And no one was going to argue, because they were all away, and I could do what I wanted. Now the only question was lamb and chorizo or beef. Hmmm. Difficult one. I know! I'll have both. Because I can do what I want. And if they're both nice, it'll be Mexican night on Friday as well.

Pope Francis speaks during the Festival of Families at Croke Park during his visit to Dublin. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Pope gets a belt of the crozier 

Pope Francis, you would have to say, looked a bit shook as he got up to speak. It had all been going reasonably well up to now, warmth all around at the airport and the Aras, and then, the Pope got the equivalent of what used to be known in this country as a belt of the crozier. He was effectively called out from the pulpit, in the most polite and respectful way, by an 'intrinsically disordered' man half his age. Pope Francis may have won many people over on this visit. But perhaps Saturday, August 25, 2018, will be remembered more as the day Leo Varadkar won us over. It marked his...

Brendan O'Connor. Photo: Andres Poveda

Why I'm 'donating' my archive 

After much soul searching, and having consulted with my family, I feel that the time has come for me to ''donate'' my archives to the State. I would like to see it go to the National Library, or maybe they could put it with the Book of Kells in that room in Trinity. While it might not draw the same queues as the Book of Kells, I feel there would be a certain initial flurry of interest, as former friends, girlfriends and people who no longer speak to me come in for a gawk. We would need an indexing system of course, so people could access material relating to themselves quickly and easily.

Leo Varadkar sent a letter to Mr Martin on Friday seeking talks on extending the deal
Photo: Getty Images

Brendan O'Connor: An Taoiseach, mindfulness and the Politics of 'Likes' 

It's easy to see why Leo likes new media more than he likes the pesky old media. He has said as much himself. The old media is obsessed with the story over the truth; even the political hacks are more interested in titbits of gossip. Whereas new media, like Facebook and Twitter, does what it is told, largely. If you want to put out a message - anything from a picture of you filling a dishwasher to a statement on something less important, like politics - you can put it out directly on social media, where it won't be mediated or distorted by mischievous journalists.

I could open a barber shop that is also an avocado shop, called Avahaircut

What would I do if I were a millennial? 

Do you ever wonder what you would do if you were a millennial? In terms of a job? I think it's a good exercise to do, just to ascertain how much of a dinosaur you are, and how long more likely to be remotely relevant. And also to make sure you're not stuck in a rut, that you could survive if civilization collapsed in the morning and we all had to start again. If you can easily think of what you would do if you were, say, 25, then you are clearly still employable and you might still have a hope when the robots take over all the jobs our generation does.

SYMBOLIC ROLE: President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina. Photo: Tony Gavin

Isn't it time for us to have a president with a disability? 

Finian McGrath floated a brilliant idea last week. He was out talking about the presidency on a few occasions. Obviously he said the usual guff that everyone has to say about how amazing Michael D is and what a fantastic job he has done. You are contractually obliged to say that if you are going to go on to suggest that Michael D shouldn't be the president for 14 years. McGrath went on, in various places, to say that actually even seven years is a long time to be president, that five years would be enough, and furthermore that it would be "boring and stale" to put Michael D back in without...

SOLUTIONS, NOT SOUNDBITES: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health Simon Harris during the government press conference on the cervical cancer controversy

A loose wire shaped like a noose just says so much 

The term 'safe space' can be a bit overused these days, but if ever there was an argument for a safe space it is in young people's mental health services. Those who work in young people's mental health will tell you that many of the children who present to them are not presenting with a pure illness or a simple chemical imbalance or pathology. They are there because of stresses in their lives, things like bullying, abuse, family problems, and increasingly, life pressures that are exacerbated by the online world.

Illustration by Tom Halliday

Lessons from a week in the twilight zone 

One day before he left the HSE, the day after he got permission to exercise his share options as a director of a US healthcare company, Tony O'Brien announced the setting up of a culture unit in the HSE, which will be led by the head of the HSE Values in Action programme. On reading this, it was hard not to think of W1A, the sitcom about jargon-addled corporate dysfunction in the BBC, where the main character is the Head of Values, and one of the plotlines is the competition to fill the new post of Director of Better, with one of the characters noting that, "We do things well, but we...

'The weather is much more unpredictable than it used to be, isn't it?' (Stock image)

High pressure, rising slowly 

It seems like a nice day. It should be a nice day. The indicators are good. The figures, on paper, are good. Temperatures are high, we are told, even though many people can't actually feel it in their own areas, in their own backyard. And while there is a bit of sunshine here and there, a lot of the time it's quite heavy. You could even say that for some it still feels a little oppressive around the place. The air seems pregnant with something. There is an unsettling stillness, maybe a sense of a calm before the storm.

SIGNAL: Minister for Children Katherine Zappone. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Brendan O'Connor: They were as pious as us back in the 'dark chapters' 

When Philip Roth was living in London, the playwright David Hare used to meet him for lunch, latterly in fast food baked potato joint Spudulike. "He kept trying to persuade me to go to the Middle East," Hare wrote recently. "He thought the fanatical Jewish settlers were hilarious. When I protested that religious zealotry was his subject matter, not mine, he replied: 'I promise you, David, these people are so crazy there's room enough for all of us.'"

Ed Sheeran pictured performing at Pairc ui Chaoimh during his Irish Tour 2018. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision.

Thank God for Ed and the sun 

Kicking and screaming is the only word for it. And we thought we'd come so far. We were world leaders in tech and artisan hipster coffee shops. Being gay was not only not illegal any more, they could get married and be the Taoiseach and everything. Your granny didn't even know we had gay men of Indian extraction in the country and we put one in charge. A lot of people weren't even sure if he was any good. But we put him in charge anyway. Because that's how we roll these days. We don't bat an eyelid at change, at modernity. We had even sorted out the North at one point,...

ORDEAL: Vicky and Jim Phelan leaving the Four Courts after the €2.5m settlement of their action for damages. Photo: Collins

Using her precious time to shine a light on the rot 

The country is in awe of Vicky Phelan. But that's no good to her. Neither is the €2.5m settlement this terminally-ill woman got after being dragged through the courts by the HSE and the clinic in Texas which did not spot what were, according to expert witness Professor John Shepherd, obvious abnormalities on the slide of her cervical smear. The money might buy her some more time with her children, and some of it will be there for those young children when they turn 18. But none of it is any good to them, is it? Terminal illness has a way of putting everything else in perspective.

The Gloaming hypnotise with melancholy and flashes of tender beauty

Communing with the ancestors through trad 

I want to talk briefly about art. I hasten to add that it is one of the many things I know nothing about. But I had an encounter with an artist and a class of an epiphany last Monday night at the National Concert Hall. In one way it was the last place I wanted to be, as I was gearing up for the first show in the new run of Cutting Edge and I prefer to be keeping the head down and focussing on work at these kinds of times. But the tickets had been bought ages ago and I love the Gloaming.