Politicians shaping up for a Christmas box
There has been a lot said in the general blizzard of excitement and bluster brought about by the Election That The Country Has Been Promised, like it or not.
But straight away, Miriam Lord’s reporting of Michael Ring’s reaction to the latest political and constitutional crisis to shake our small and doomed little island goes into the top 10 of all-time Irish political moments.
Picture it: a bleak Thursday evening, Leinster House in full-chaos mode: the elected representatives in the bar anxiously slamming pints and watching the
Six-One News. Outside, a chance meeting on Merrion Street between the pre-eminent political writer of the age and good old Ringy, the Ernest Borgnine of Irish politics, always there smiling in the background of every afternoon melodrama ever made.
Imagine the buses sluicing past and the gorgeous shop displays and the perishing cold as the Ringer triumphantly sums up the hour: “Leo knows he is playing senior hurling now”. Ah, yes. Everything anybody needs to know to understand Ireland is contained in that moment. Listen closely to its echoes and you can hear the timeless observation about the difference between the crises in English and Irish rugby. In England, the state of rugby is always serious but never fatal. In Ireland, it is always fatal but never serious. Irish rugby has upped its game but in Irish politics it is ever the same.
So say it loud and clear: no good can come of this. Electioneering is not a winter sport in Ireland – and it is certainly not a Christmas game.
December is a combustible month here at the best of times. Even before the Dáil landed this crisis upon our laps, the streets have been fairly anxious with nervy chat about “the run-up” to Christmas and attendant fears of “not having a thing done” and how Neven Maguire has this great cinnamon recipe for the sprouts.
As usual, the Government hasn’t thought about the practicalities of this. Do they know the country they represent at all? What’s the point in bombarding the telephone and light poles with election posters when is getting dark in most of Ireland by 2.45pm? It was reported that December 15th was being considered as a possible election date. In the political world, that date is loaded as it coincides with the EU summit on Brexit.
But across Ireland, the second last Friday before Christmas will be loaded for starkly different reasons. By the middle of December, half of Ireland is probably on Valium and the other half probably should be. By then, a full fortnight has passed since The Late Late Toy Show, which acts as a kind of unofficial clarion call for the country to go blissfully doolally.
The main thoroughfares to all toy stores have traffic jams which extend for anything between three and eight miles. The television is spitting out Christmas ads which make everyone feel sad and happy at the same time. It’s really cold out. It’s really busy. Parents are trying to explain to young children that they can’t post the Santa letter in the same post office as last year because, well, it’s been closed because of the need to consolidate State resources. But where’s that nice lady, mum? Outsourced, luveen. Outsourced.
Many’s the parent will have broken down after scouring every online store in western Europe in search of a Luvabella doll only to be told, at the 11th hour, that Mulvey’s in Carrick-on-Shannon have a rake of them. There are swarms of young men in fun Rudolph knitted sweaters roaming through towns and partaking in the Twelve Bells of Christmas crawl. By Friday 15th of December, Fairytale
of New York is simultaneously playing in at least 75 per cent of pubs. Households across deepest Offaly and Tipp have assembled Christmas light displays visible with the naked eye from Mars. And it’s in this environment that our elected representatives are considering landing unannounced on the doorsteps of Ireland to ask the citizens if they’ve thought about how they might vote. At all. They’ll be lucky to escape with their scalps.
People simply don’t have time to deal with the details of this in December. The nation has been asked to accept rural decline and urban homelessness and criminal house prices and absurd rents as inevitable problems that will, in good time, be acted upon only to be told, out of the blue, that the House must fall. Over an email. An important email, yes, but one that was either not read, misread or read and then not acted upon. (Sounds like the fate of most emails to most people).
Fianna Fáil has declared it has no confidence in the Tánaiste and possibly other members of cabinet. The nation shrugs. What’s the big deal? Don’t they know by now that the people don’t have much confidence in any of them? But they are still willing to let them lash away.
Nobody wants to think about politicians in December, let alone have them materialise at their front doors on those evenings when the plum puddings are in the oven, with their hopeful smiles and their “sure you’ll think of me anyway” entreaties.
This is a fraught time. RTÉ has already complicated matters by demanding that the Republic declare Ireland’s greatest sporting moment; half the houses in Ireland are barely on talking terms over rows about whether Arkle or John Treacy was better at the running.
Tensions will be high enough in December with the usual swirl of pine tree needles and gift wrapping and the tree not being straight and Slade on the radio and Christmas carols on the street; throw a cocktail of Civil War politics and Mick Wallace in high dudgeon into that mix and it cannot end well. The people will speak and it won’t be in the language of Oh, Holy Night.
Maybe the Ringer is right. Maybe it’s only this weekend that Leo is discovering the true meaning of the grim cliché that championship is championship.
But when he came in last summer, it was made abundantly clear that Leo never cared for the old political reliance on GAA stock-phrases to get him to the top; that he was a Taoiseach for a new time and would lead a pilates-and-tag-rugby kind of Cabinet.
Indeed, he might point out that Ringy, hailing from a part of Mayo that hasn’t won a club championship since 1970, is hardly the best judge of what constitutes the senior hurling anyway.
But hot talk is not what is needed right now. As Matt Cooper noted on Thursday night, there seemed to be “a bit of testosterone” drifting through the hallowed corridors of Leinster House.
“They are all a bit pumped,” he observed. Of course they are. That’s because, like everyone else, they haven’t a thing done for Christmas. Getting themselves re-elected as TDs, as junior ministers, back to those plum cabinet posts: it’s just not something any one of them needs to be adding to the yuletide to-do list.
Whatever about hurling, the Irish general election is a very specific kind of sport. It is best held at that time of year when the evenings are lengthening and the championship has not yet begun and the tallymen are sharp and clear-minded and ready to eliminate the slackers on the third count, long before they hear that axe falling.
In England, the state of rugby is always serious but never fatal. In Ireland, it is always fatal but never serious. Irish rugby has upped its game but in Irish politics it is ever the same