Wednesday 13 December 2017

Brendan O'Connor

Reshuffle: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with newly appointed ministers Heather Humphreys and Josepha Madigan, plus new Tanaiste Simon Coveney outside Government Buildings, Dublin Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Despite what they say, it was a good week for Leo 

Does anyone else think Leo had quite a good week? As it ended, he was parading one-and-a-half shiny new female ministers and Micheal Martin was writing love letters to Europe about his best frenemy. Indeed, last week seemed to bring Micheal and Leo closer than ever. Shane Coleman and Stephen Collins, two shrewd commentators who don't mind standing outside the herd, were predicting the Government could last a lot longer than everyone else is assuming.

Brendan O'Connor: A bit of great advice from a wise man 

At the end of a party last weekend, when everyone had a few drinks on board, I ended up talking with older, wiser people about the key rules for life, the things we had all learnt. We went over our ups and downs in business life and personal life, and I was pushing my usual simplistic thing that it's all about luck. To an extent, it's about how you deal with the stuff that happens to you. But mainly, none of us can avoid the vast forces that change our lives, those things we call good luck and bad luck. My mother, who is the font of all wisdom on these things, has two mantras on...

RETURN TO FORM: U2 perform during their ‘U2: The Joshua Tree Tour’ at Croke Park in Dublin last July. Photo: Clodagh Kilcoyne

Out of the humbling comes a triumph 

U2 released three versions of their recent single You're The Best Thing About Me. The real clue was, weirdly enough, in the acoustic version. Acoustic versions of songs can either feel like an incredibly intimate view into the heart of a song and a singer, or like bad busking. But this was different. And a few listens confirmed it. There was no doubt about it. It might not have been their greatest song ever, but there was a certain swagger to this version. It had some echoes of those acoustic B-sides U2 used to do around the time of The Joshua Tree. And it made you realise what had possibly...

I keep a skinny wardrobe and then a fatter one

Everyone feels free to mention my weight 

People feel free to comment to me about my weight. Anything from, "Jesus, you've lost some ton of weight" (fat guys), to "Don't lose any more weight now" (women of a certain age). I know I should take umbrage in the current climate. But I don't bother. Wouldn't it be worse if they were saying, "Jesus, you've put on some amount of weight", or, "My God man you're enormous". The comments are meant well. They are complimenting me. And the people who don't know aren't up to speed with the latest rules.

Chilly winter water is a slight shock

Wild man's mini mock epic in 20 minutes 

The people who have just got out tell me that it's not too bad today. It's warmer than it was during the week. The sun was on it yesterday they say, so it's warmed up. I always tell people after I get out that it's not so bad. This is because after you've been in it it doesn't seem so bad. And also, what else are you going to say? They need all the encouragement they can get. It is much more daunting before you get in than afterwards, when you have conquered it. So you can afford to be magnanimous afterwards, with that sense of achievement in you.

'The problem with spin is that it is out of fashion. If Leo’s spin people are so smart, they should know that authenticity is all the rage now.' Illustration by Tom Halliday

Brendan O'Connor: In an age of authenticity, why choose spin, Leo? 

Ironically, the spin unit that is supposed to buff up the Taoiseach is already damaging him. He and his people are actually finding they have to spin the story of the spin unit now. The Taoiseach was nearly caught during the week saying that he had personally appointed John Concannon to the job of head of the spin unit, but he quickly corrected himself to saying that he had merely asked if Mr Concannon would be available to be appointed to the job.

Cartoonist: Tom Halliday

Brendan O'Connor: Why we should give Millennials a tax break 

Footage and photos from Liam Cosgrave's days in power provided a sharp contrast to today's Ireland. Lots of grey men in grey suits, no country, we might smugly imagine, for young men (though Cosgrave was a young man when he entered the Dail); and no country for women, young or old. Contrast that with our shiny present, and a young, attractive Taoiseach in Lycra with an approval rating of half the population, according to last week's Irish Times poll.

'Even Santa looks stern when he is looking over a half-pair of glasses'

Now I can see the benefits of my glasses 

The glasses are becoming an issue. They are welded to my face these days. I have actually become convinced that what they assured me wouldn't happen has happened. Using the glasses as a crutch has made the eyes get lazier. And now they just refuse to read anything on their own. And things the eyes and me might have made an effort with before, we don't bother now, we just get the glasses out. I have become dependent. They have got their claws into me. If the end of the world happens now, even if I survive, I'll be useless. Because I won't have my glasses. And there won't...

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank McGrath

Just put us down for 90, Leo 

It's back-to-school time for politicians. The long crazy summer-school season - whereby those who can't function outside the political bubble can stay in it, but in a more 'fun' way, by listening to speeches by off-duty economists about what Willie Clancy would have thought of Brexit, before getting book recommendations from Paschal Donohoe at the bar afterwards - finished up during the week, and will now be replaced by think-ins and away-days in preparation for the real thing.

Seek out the things that feed your soul, like music, singing and bouncing

Mid-life crisis: Something to remember me by... 

I was listening to uplifting self-helpy podcasts, with Americans, who sounded tanned and toothy, telling me how to feel better. I lulled myself to sleep with them at night, thinking they might have some secrets as to how I could snap out of my mood. But they were making me feel worse. Because before they got to the solutions, they kept talking about the problems, and in a really judgmental way. And I was usually asleep by the time they got to the solutions. I may as well have been trying to put myself to sleep listening to a tape that just repeated "You are a piece of sh*t".

STREET MEMORIAL: Flags, messages and candles placed after the deadly van attack on Las Ramblas, one of Europe’s most famed boulevards. Photo: Manu Fernandez

Will we always be one step behind agents of chaos? 

I was looking at dead people on Las Ramblas presumably before their loved ones even knew they were dead. In my defence, I stopped looking once I realise what it was. Many people's understandable response to anything these days is to whip out the phone and start filming, and then post it. Presumably people feel that it is important to document these things, to show people the true horror, to bear witness. But then, you wonder, does it spread the virus of 'terror'?

Damore suggests Google should make software engineering more people-oriented. Stock photo: Bloomberg via Getty

That Google heretic might have a point 

It is widely accepted that we need to have a conversation about men and their limitations. And, thankfully, that conversation is happening. It has been widely accepted, for example, that if there had been more women in charge in areas like banking and finance and property, the financial crash would not have been as bad as it was. It is widely accepted that an overdose of testosterone, of a particular type of man, and not enough people with different perspectives and skills, caused the madness that led to the crash.

A new tip is to eat real food, plenty of veg and generally food that is made from scratch

Mid-life crisis: Taking control of my life again is not easy 

I'd be the first to admit I've been a bit lost since I gave up the diet. The Taylor Made Diet was more than just a diet. It was a way of life. There was something cultish about it. The delivery would come every two days - the kids would say "Dad. He's here!" and I would methodically take the stuff out of the bag to see what I was having for the next two days, and then put the cartons in my corner in the fridge, set apart from everyone else's food. No decisions about food. No shopping. No thinking. Eat the food.

Wine drinking has become a hobby

Mid-life crisis: Can we talk about my drink problem? 

I'm looking for a drink. Join the queue says you. But this is the bigger picture we're talking here. It's another one of those ageing things. Like the reading glasses and the wondering if you should start listening to jazz and doing the garden. So anyway for those of you who don't know, which was me until recently, drinking is an aspect of the midlife crisis. And I don't mean not being able to handle the devastation of a hangover any more. That's old news by now. This is a far more existential issue. What to drink?

Simon Coveney: Adversity to deal-making has not helped his cause

Simon should be everything we want in a new Taoiseach 

Does all of this not make you a bit nervous? It was seemingly all over bar the shouting in 24 hours. Leo hadn't even officially popped his head up. His supporters - the choreographed, coordinated choirboys - had done it all for him. It was as if he was just watching, waiting, as the plan unfolded, as they came out at staggered intervals, each one taking him closer to the coronation. It seemed to show an utter disdain for the process that Fine Gael had put in place to choose a leader, to end it before that process really began.

Click here to view full-size graphic

In God we trust, but Garda and charities not so much 

Trust is the glue that holds our society together. High levels of social and political trust lead to social cohesion and democratic stability. Ireland has seen a dramatic fall in trust for many of the institutions that traditionally held life together here - the Church, the media, the Garda, charities. In general, trust has been hugely eroded and displaced by the recent convulsions in the world - the online revolution, social media, fake news, Trump, Brexit, the rise of extremism and the increases in transparency which have laid bare corruption and incompetence across companies,...

U2 kick off their world tour of the Joshua Tree in Vancouver, Canada Photo: Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP

All that Enda can't leave behind 

As U2 kicked off their The Joshua Tree world tour in North America this weekend, Taoiseach and avid air guitar aficionado Enda Kenny has announced that, inspired by the band, he has decided to go Stateside again this summer for one final revisiting of past glories. Enda's All That You Can't Leave Behind US Tour will kick off in early June and take in several cities, but the Taoiseach is remaining coy about any further dates, or whether the tour will continue into Europe. "Enda played a few small venues in Europe recently, but there is talk he might like to go back to Europe and do some...

WALKING ON DUN LAOGHAIRE PIER: There has been a sharp drop in belt tightening in the last five years — and it has been driven by younger people and by Dubliners

Our Ireland is changing: gradually, and suddenly 

You wonder when the change comes, will it come suddenly - a tipping point, but a tipping point we've been building up to for years. How will the country change? Two ways, as the man said: gradually and then suddenly. And the sudden will hit us before we know it. The future is gathering out there. It's Leo and Macron standing together. It's the Citizens' Assembly; however it might have diverged in views from the country at large, it represents some kind of rump of new thinking. And the future is a younger generation who are unlike you and me and their parents; who are...

Taoiseach Enda Kenny Picture: Tom Burke

The people, the leader and the sun 

The build up to today's big event has been huge. It began with an announcement on State TV, which was followed up by daily reminders to the people. The people spoke of little else for a whole week. They are generally a hard-working people who are easily pleased, and, quaintly, they still believe what they are told by many of the instruments of the State. So even though they had been lied to before, they didn't question it when they were told it would be sunny on Sunday.

Clash of personalities: Peter Boylan (pictured) and Rhona Mahony have been at the centre of the great National Maternity Hospital debate Photo: David Conachy

The Peter and Rhona show overshadows real issues 

This is Ireland. So it is perhaps not surprising that it came down to personalities. In one corner is Rhona Mahony, a feminist icon for Mna na hEireann, or a pushy, over-ambitious, self-regarding woman, depending on whom you listen to. In the other corner is Peter Boylan, an attention-seeking troublemaker or the only person left in Ireland with any integrity, with the calm and stillness of an experienced medic - again, depending on whom you listen to.

Traditional: Despite the best efforts of internet and cable TV, 78.6pc of Irish people identify as Catholics

In defence of Catholics and also of Catholicism 

At Mass last week the priest made an interesting point. He was saying that people have to have a reason for their faith now, an explanation for it, a story of why, if you will. What was interesting was his reasoning as to why the congregation needed a reason, a story to tell. It is, he said, because Catholicism is no longer the dominant ideology in Ireland. It didn't sound like he was saying it with regret. He was just stating a fact. It sounded like he had adjusted to this new reality and he was telling us, the congregation, that we needed to adjust to it too.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Washington for St Patrick's Day Picture: PA

Sure what can we do about it? 

If the original Easter was happening now we probably wouldn't bother with the resurrection. We might do the crucifixion all right, because if there's one thing we like more than nailing ourselves to a cross, it's nailing someone else to a cross, particularly anyone with the gall to go against the grain and try and tell us a few home truths. But then we'd probably just shrug our shoulders, and figure, "Well. He's dead now. Nothing we can do about it." Fatalism. Literally.

Stock photo: PA

'Miracle is real thing' shocker 

Easy now. Keep her steady there. And we were doing so well. We had learnt the biggest lesson EVER in caution, and the run of ourselves, and the losing thereof. And we have been quietly determined never to let it happen again. We even managed to ignore little telltale signs of recovery. We just kept our heads down and kept paying off our debts. The word boom, which used to be generally regarded as a good word, became a curse word in Ireland. We listened to naysayers and economists and the like with a reverent respect. Because experience had taught us the guy or gal with the...

Attacks: Flowers placed on Westminster Bridge, London, after the terrorist incident last Wednesday Photo: Victoria Jones/PA

A week of two terrorists: One good and one bad 

There were certain reactions permitted last week. Others were not allowed. The permitted reaction to the death of Martin McGuinness was one of sympathy and respect. Unless you were a direct victim, or a relative of a direct victim of one of the many ingenious murders that McGuinness carried out in his day. Those people were allowed their say. And everyone politely nodded and understood that they felt the way they did. They would say that, wouldn't they? They're too close to it, too emotionally involved. They can't see straight about what a great man he was, because they are...

There's no point in thinking too far into the future because we will never know what’s in store

Brendan O'Connor: I've a pain in the face from talking 

So it turns out I'm not the only one with a pain in my face. I mentioned here recently about the neuralgia or atypical odontalgia, or whatever it is that has had my gums and teeth on fire on and off for the last 20 years. And of course we all think we are individuals, but really, there is nothing unique about us. It turns out that face pain is some kind of modern-day plague. And thank you to everyone who wrote to me with the various things you and your loved ones have tried, and to tell me what worked and what doesn't work.

Warren Beatty and host Jimmy Kimmel on stage at the Oscars after the mix-up. Photo: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Wily Warren Beatty and the universal art of ass-covering 

Like many of you, I initially put it down to Warren Beatty's legendary alleged vanity. It wasn't just the way he examined the card for a moment before passing it off ungallantly to Faye Dunaway so that she would be the one to make the wrong announcement. It was the way he then hogged the mike to explain, exactly and forensically, why it wasn't his fault. The Moonlight people had already been denied their moment in the sun, and now Beatty seemed to be compounding it by stealing their moment again to cover his ass.

They're back: Cranes as seen from the sixth-floor balcony at the New Central Bank building on Dublin’s North Wall Quay last week are one of a number of possible signs that the recovery really has kept on going, as Enda Kenny has always insisted. Photo: Frank McGrath

Life's not perfect, but a bit of confidence is a big plus 

Norwegian Air announced flights from Ireland to New York and Boston last week. The first tranche of 5,000 flights sold out in six hours. Norwegian Air thinks it's their fastest launch sale ever. Admittedly this first tranche were at a knock-down price, but still, we can only assume that a lot of them were sold to people who decided on impulse to take off to the US, or people who were thinking of a trip and took this opportunity to commit. There's no doubt that things like this give us the heebie-jeebies a bit. We still look back and laugh nervously at that era when Irish people would fly off to New...

Man in waiting: Leo Varadkar. 'Star quality is an indefinable thing... and Leo has it right now' Photo: Gerry Mooney

Are the 40pc 'dinosaurs' ready for a gay taoiseach? 

For many there is almost an inevitability about Leo Varadkar becoming the next leader of Fine Gael and thus, all things being equal, the next taoiseach. Even Leo himself seems to feel that momentum. We have heard very little out of him about his actual ministerial job over the last few months, but we have heard many leader-style pronouncements out of him, about the direction of the party and the government. At times he seems to speak as the de facto leader of Fine Gael, or as if he in some way embodies the party.

To be a Puffa Man or not to be a Puffa Man, that is the question

You can't compromise on some things 

As you get older your life becomes a series of compromises. If you have traditionally seen yourself as deviant, those compromises are more difficult. But equally, as you get older, and especially when you come into your forties, you also get more and more set in your deviance. So it's a balancing act. I think the trick is to give in on the little things that make life easier, and to keep up the fight in your head and your heart on the important stuff. Key to this is the ability to distinguish between what matters and what doesn't.