Politi­cians shap­ing up for a Christ­mas box

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SPORTS - Keith Dug­gan

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.

Prac­ti­cal­i­ties

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.

Fraught time

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

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