Thursday 20 June 2019

Eamon Delaney

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President Michael D Higgins. Photo credit: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Yes, Michael D is still his own man - but this may be his 'Dev' moment 

I was at a summer school in the North once, where a gathering of academics and historians were discussing the Republic's neutrality during World War II. There were a few trendy media people there (Channel 4, the 'Guardian', etc) and you could see their boredom as the debate noodled on about national identity and 'the Irish struggle'. Until someone mentioned about how Eamon de Valera had signed the book of condolences for Adolf Hitler in 1945.

'I am fed up explaining why Ireland can’t have an obvious government coalition because our two main parties have their origins in our Civil War and because they field politicians with competing personal ambitions, perks and allowances.'

Party interests still stand in the way of a new government 

I went to Berlin last week and expected on my return to see progress made on a new government. But far from it: the shadow boxing continues and Fianna Fáil's Billy Kelleher sounds terrified by his own party's mandate and by having to take any responsibility. The 'cute hoor' dithering has become tiresome and, quite frankly, the resistance of Fianna Fáil to going into a coalition with Fine Gael is not only selfish and dangerous, but not at all in the national interest.

Political casualty: Angela Merkel's call for an 'open border' policy could come back to bite her.

Angela's bashers: Has Merkel's reputation now been tarnished? 

Among the political casualties of the awful events in Paris is the most powerful political leader in Europe. Normally so sure-footed, critics believe the German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been caught out badly in her hasty call for Europe to take in all of the migrants on its borders, and has been further embarrassed by the report that one of the Paris terrorists apparently used the cover of the refugee influx to get into Europe.

Irish Embassy in Rome

Our embassies are foreign treasures 

News that Irish embassies abroad are worth a small fortune is not surprising. Many of our 'Missions Abroad' have been long established in the most prestigious of foreign addresses and, with rising international property prices, they have become an enviable asset. On Avenue Foch, near the Arc de Triomphe, the Irish Embassy in Paris, housed in the gilded plasterwork of a 'hotel particulier', is worth an estimated €45m - making it the most valuable diplomatic property abroad owned by the State.

Gunter Grass leaves behind a reputable body of work, despite his 2006 revelations that he was a member of the Waffen SS

Liberal thinker with a very guarded secret 

The death of German novelist Günter Grass, at the ripe age of 87, sees the passing of one of the great European novelists and thinkers who acted as a conscience for all things political and historical. If you were a backpacker going across Europe in the 1970s or 80s, or indeed the West of Ireland, it would be hard to miss those battered copies of his classics The Tin Drum (1959) or The Flounder (1977) being clutched by progressive travellers, and usually adorned by the author's own distinctive drawings.

Fitzwilliam Street

Giving a Georgian street its pride back 

It was a major battle in the war between the conservationists and developers in 1960s Dublin, a key struggle between those who wanted to save Georgian Dublin and those who felt modernity should run its course. It was also a battle that the conservationists lost, after a Fianna Fáil Minister rushed through last-minute legislation. And in 1965 the ESB got to replace a façade of 16 Georgian houses on Dublin's Lower Fitzwilliam Street with a long and boring office block.

Dervla Murphy

Dervla Murphy on life on the ground in the West Bank 

Originally from the beautiful Lismore in Waterford (where she founded a now thriving travel writing festival), Dervla Murphy is a gifted author who has been writing travel books for decades and is best known for titles such as Full Tilt - Ireland to India with a Bicycle (1965) and A Place Apart, about Northern Ireland in the 1970s. In 1979, she published a memoir entitled Wheels within Wheels and, at the age of 83, she is still travelling and recording.

Crowds watching the 90th anniversary commemoration of the 1916 Rising in O’Connell Street, Dublin in 2006.

State should rescue 1916 centenary celebrations from tribal hijacking 

The 1916 Rising has been described as the "triumph of failure", in that a clearly doomed revolt led to a resurgent nationalism and independence struggle. But the phrase also refers to the somewhat chaotic nature of the Rising's planning, the reliance on trenches in St Stephen's Green (!) and the fact that the insurrection was actually cancelled by Volunteers' leader Eoin MacNeill, before he was secretly overruled by Fenian militants.

Tom Foley, former USA envoy to Ireland

Former US Envoy locked in bitter Stateside election 

Tom Foley - the US Ambassador to Ireland from 2006 to 2009 - is involved in a bitter battle to become Governor of Connecticut. Foley, the Republican Party candidate, is neck and neck with the Democratic incumbent, Dannel Malloy. However, the race has been complicated by the entry of a third candidate, Joe Visconti, specifically standing on the issue of gun rights. Although, Connecticut is a historically liberal state, the entry of Visconti will draw conservative votes away from Foley.

A prize winning boxer in his youth, Lugs was a well known amateur boxing referee later

Books: Lugs Branigan - Policing the old fashioned way 

Dublin has always been famous for its street characters - Bang Bang, Zozimus, the Diceman. It may seem curious to think of a gruff, lanky policeman in this company, but that is the legacy of Jim 'Lugs' Branigan, a ubiquitous presence on the streets of Dublin for many decades, plodding the beat, tackling gangs and dishing out instant justice, on the spot, with his big fists. The same fists also served him well as a prize boxer, who even fought for Ireland against a Nazi team in a 1930s tournament.

Helmut Kohl

Kohl war: Blushes over Merkel insult 

He was the gruff but genial giant who ruled Germany for over 16 years, and who oversaw its transition from a truncated West Germany to a reunited world power at the heart of Europe. Since his retirement in 2000, the wheelchair-bound, Helmut Kohl (84) has been living in retirement, only emerging to receive plaudits for bringing down the Berlin Wall and work on his memoirs with his biographer, Heribert Schwan, a process that involved over 600 hours of taped interviews.

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Phil Hogan

Hogan's reforms are no match for the level of council excess 

This week's revelations in the Irish Independent about the salaries and often huge expenses of our city and county councillors are a depressing reminder that, despite all the talk about reform, we still have a system of entitlement as regards the public purse. Worse still, this is happening at a local level, where public representatives are supposed to be close to the people. Indeed, we may well have been looking too much at Leinster House and not enough at our councils, and all their myriad boards and overlapping authorities, for the real waste and dysfunction in our political system.

Queen Elizabeth laid a wreath to the Republican dead at the Garden of Remembrance during her 2011 visit. Photo: Reuters/Arthur Edwards

Royal treatment is no more than we deserve 

It was once said of Michael D Higgins that he would "go mad in government". As it happened, he didn't, as an Arts Minister. But our diminutive President may well go mad with pleasure next month when he is taken by horse-drawn carriage to Windsor Castle as part of his UK visit. His itinerary has been released for the first official state visit there by an Irish head of state and there is no doubt that he, and by extension we, are truly getting the Royal treatment.

Haughey's defiance would have secured a better bailout deal 

It's an annual ritual now. At this time of year, every year, the Irish state papers are released, after the 30-year hold back, and they usually heavily feature the actions and thoughts of Charles J Haughey, the most controversial politician of our modern era. And, inevitably, these revelations are damning, with more stories about attempts to rail-road civil servants and reward cronies, but they can also be positive, with Haughey revealed to have shown an imaginative quality in dealing with the economy and with Northern Ireland.