Mak­ing pol­i­tics great again

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Front Page -

THESE are heady times. There are days when you know you are liv­ing through the Reel­ing In the Years of the fu­ture, and this is one of those times. We will look back and laugh at what yokels we were back in 2018, at the ridicu­lous navy suits with nar­row lapels and nar­row trousers the politi­cians all wore. “Fash­ion hadn’t evolved on to flares, large lapels and loud ties at that point,” we’ll say. “Taste­less un­der­state­ment was all the rage.”

Pol­i­tics this past week has been like pol­i­tics in the 1970s without the smok­ing. It was even re­fresh­ing to see a bit of high emo­tion. Mea­sured calm is the hall­mark of new pol­i­tics. So De­nis Naugh­ten’s emo­tional out­burst in the Dail brought a nice bit of hu­man drama. Here was a man whose only fault was a kind of eat­ing dis­or­der, the dis­or­der be­ing that he couldn’t re­mem­ber din­ners af­ter he ate them.

What most peo­ple didn’t re­alise was that the whole thing was planned. Se­nior sources in­side Govern­ment have told the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent what re­ally hap­pened. When the Strate­gic Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Unit, which still op­er­ates in se­cret deep in the bow­els of Govern­ment Build­ings, got the feed­back on the Bud­get, they re­alised they had a prob­lem. The word that came up most of­ten in fo­cus groups based around the Bud­get was “bor­ing”.

“There wasn’t even one cock-up or un­fore­seen land­mine,” was a typ­i­cal com­ment from a fo­cus group mem­ber, a ru­ral male aged 40-55. The SCU sent a memo to the high­est lev­els warn­ing them that they were in dan­ger of los­ing peo­ple, that things had got too pre­dictable and sta­ble.

And so, se­cret cross-party sup­port was scram­bled. Naugh­ten agreed to take the fall and went into in­ten­sive classes at the Gai­ety School of Act­ing, prac­tis­ing emo­tional speeches and sub­se­quent flounces out. Bren­dan Howlin and oth­ers were given their lines for af­ter Naugh­ten left the cham­ber, and the Taoiseach then wrote his own lines, even com­ing up with the idea him­self of de­lay­ing his state­ment to the Dail by a dra­matic 20 min­utes. Frances Fitzger­ald was taught to act dig­ni­fied and vin­di­cated but coy about the prospect of com­ing back into Cabi­net. There was even talk for a time of the Govern­ment shoring it­self up by bring­ing an­other In­de­pen­dent on board through pro­mo­tion, but script ed­i­tors de­cided that re­plac­ing Naugh­ten as Min­is­ter for Com­mu­ni­ca­tions with Michael Lowry might stretch credulity.

The ic­ing on the cake was a let­ter the scriptwrit­ers wrote for Micheal Martin, which was to drop on Fri­day just in case in­ter­est was wan­ing at that point.

As of Satur­day the SCU’s re­search showed that rat­ings and au­di­ence en­gage­ment were back to ac­cept­able lev­els, but now the pres­sure is on to write the next chap­ter, and add fur­ther plot twists.

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