Wednesday 22 August 2018

Brendan O'Connor

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...

LIKE IT, OR LUMP IT: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar sees new media as the future and is firmly on its side. 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.

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.

The Cliffs of Moher (stock picture)

Brendan O'Connor: This is Ireland 

At this time of year, when we gaze deep into our navels and ponder what it is to be Irish, this great, unique, state of being, we like to make a video, to puff ourselves up a bit to the rest of the world, and tell them how special we are. These videos are what used to be called ads. Ads were about 30 seconds tops and they were an inconvenience that broke up TV shows. Now they are three, four, five minutes long and they are what's called content, and people actually choose to watch them. And the people making them love making them. Especially when they are making them...

Two more pounds down in week 4, which brings us to nine pounds lost

I am not being ruled by my gut any more 

There are those of you who are saying that the Diet of Diets is not an original diet and that it is actually based on the big new fad in losing weight - the two-meal day. And I'll concede you're right. Fitness guru Max Lowery is the poster boy for the two-meal day, but everyone from Brian O'Driscoll to 5:2 guru Dr Michael Mosley practises this style of eating. It also obviously contains the notion of intermittent fasting. For those of us who think the 5:2 version of intermittent fasting is a bit extreme, this is a more leisurely version.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Fergal Phillips

My tell-all book on life with Leo 

Leo Varadkar never really wanted to be Taoiseach. In fact, friends say he looked as if he had seen a ghost (Enda Kenny) the night he was elected leader of Fine Gael. His partner was openly weeping, and not with joy. These are just some of the crazy claims I will be making in a new tell-all book about life inside Leo's Fine Gael. For the first months of the Varadkar regime, I enjoyed unprecedented access to Leo and his inner circle, though he denies ever having spoken to me and claims not to know who I am.

Sunrise over Co Tipperary. Photo: Getty

From darkness into light 

Nine months ago, in a different time, in a different country, Simon Coveney told me in an interview about how he was walking across St Stephen's Green one day when a man came up to him and spat in his face and said something like, "I hate you and I hate what your government is doing to this country." It was one of the things that crystallised in Coveney's mind that there was something very corrosive about the divisions and the anger in Irish society and that made him decide he wanted to bring people together again. And this was a central part of the pitch he made to become leader...

Joan Didion... 'this was a woman who was clearly not that clued into her own truth'

When a five-year-old on acid is gold 

It was hilarious at the time, but it stuck in my mind and niggled at me afterwards. I was watching The Centre Will Not Hold, a fabulous and revealing documentary about the writer Joan Didion. She was talking about Slouching Towards Bethlehem, her reportage essay about the dysfunctional underbelly of the hippie scene in Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s. The documentarian, who is her nephew Griffin Dunne, asks her what it was like when she was in a room with a five-year-old child who was on acid, a famous vignette from the essay. "Well it was..." she says, and then...

The water is so calming and reflective, it's like climbing into the sky

Swimming with ghosts to find home 

It's nice to visit with the ghosts now and then. I had been determined for a while to swim with them. If you walk down past Poul Gorm in Glengarriff and head left along a beautiful woodland path you will come to what my mother calls the Point. And I like to think that the uncles, the mother's brothers who loom over us all, used to hang out there and swim on long, lazy summer days in different times. I guess I felt that by bathing in these same waters there would be some benediction or baptism, or maybe even absolution. Or maybe it would just be good to wade into the waters...

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...

Dossier: Kate O’Connell highlighted offensive statements by Barry Walsh.

Brendan O'Connor: Toxic chat on internet is starting to affect real life 

The Late Debate on RTE Radio One is somewhat of an overlooked gem, at its best anarchic and brilliant. The sometimes confrontational, always righteous and rigorous nature of host Cormac O hEadhra, along with the fact that it is tucked away at 10pm on Tuesday to Thursdays, seems to create a safe space for people to be a bit more authentic than they might be elsewhere - a bit crankier, a bit more direct. It also forces people who disagree about things to sit down and face each other and listen.

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.