Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Demise of the PDs

A lot has been said about this in the lead-up to what, over the last couple of months, could only be described as an inevitable event.

Despite the detractors, and despite the party's synonymity with Fianna Fail and big business over the past number of years, there is something sad about the dissolution of the PDs.

The party was formed out of ideology, and, almost uniquely over the past decade, actually stood for something for a time. Whether you agreed with that something is a different matter, but at least you knew what you were (or were not) voting for. Policies.

Irish politics has a sad lack of actual policies and ideologies. Perhaps this is because we are a national of 'realpolitikos'. Or perhaps it's because we don't really care.

Where the PDs fell down, in my opinion, was in recruiting celebrities to their cause, who had no real affiliation with the party's ideology or background.

Tom Parlon, for instance. From 'committed' farming representative... to 'committed' PD junior minister... to 'committed' head of the CIF. The only thing Tom Parlon believes in, clearly, is himself. He is a career lobbyist. Yesterday's commitments from FF to taking action in the housing market would indicate that he is a bloody good one, too.

Colm O'Gorman was another. Well-known for his founding of One in Four, Colm O'Gorman stood for the PDs in a General Election. Although he did not win, he was appointed a Senator. As a 'name', perhaps he was entitled to this. And, with his NGO background, perhaps he lent some perspective to the Seanad. For the time Colm O'Gorman was on the books of the PDs, so was gay marriage. A friend of mine even spoke at their conference on the issue. We have heard very little of that from them since.

The biggest 'name', and cod, of all, was probably Michael McDowell. While he'd been around longer and shown more commitment to the party, that wasn't much in evidence when he chose to sneak out the back door after his ignominious defeat last May. A real leader, with real passion for his party, would have stuck around and rolled up his sleeves. Harney did that. McDowell couldn't be bothered. He makes better money in the Four Courts.

Those who chose, last night, to announce the party's winding up, are those who worked at keeping it going. They were unsuccessful, but at least they tried.

Mary Harney is clearly exhausted - she has given much of her life to the party at the detriment of her own health, and is now trying to do the same for that very department. Fiona O'Malley stuck around even when it was apparent there was not much to be done, for love of the party and out of family pride. Noel Grealish, quite the man of mystery, never wanted to be more than a backbencher. It is his curse that he was left to the end - he never wanted to be a hero, and was never going to be one. And Ciaran Cannon, perhaps the saddest. Full of misguided optimism, Cannon really thought he would do it. A man of some conviction, he did not have the experience or the cynicism to do what was required and make the call at a dignified time. It is particularly unfortunate for him that his first role on the national stage will always be known as a failure.

Muted craic at FF think in

While Taoiseach Brian Cowen is well known for his singing ability, it was showcased only briefly at this year's Fianna Fáil think-in at Ballybrit's Clayton Hotel.

Pre-dinner entertainment consisted of a speech by raconteur extraordinaire Micheál O Muircheartaigh and a couple of birthday wishes for two parliamentarians who celebrated their birthdays in the past week. No mention was made of Bertie Ahern, who celebrated his 57th birthday last Friday, but was busy elsewhere for this year's festivities.

After Monday night's dinner, An Taoiseach was prevailed upon by local host Frank Fahey to duet with Eleanor Shanley in a 'unique' rendition of the Mountains of Mourne. It went down a storm, as one might expect from a room full of loyal acolytes.

However, Cowen's stint as entertainer was short-lived, as he refused requests for an encore. You wouldn't get that from Westlife.

Lest the hordes go home disappointed, Tuam native Tom Kitt and Munster MEP Brian Crowley entertained into the wee hours at the hotel's piano, resulting in some sore heads at Tuesday morning's sobering health sessions.

Traditionally the life and soul of the party at Fianna Fáil gatherings, Cowen looked like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders at his first parliamentary party conference as Taoiseach.

And well he might. Far from the jubilation of last May's homecoming in Clara, it seems the cat who got the cream has realised that the cream was well past its sell by date when he got it, and is now decidedly sour.

As one TD admitted, there are tough times ahead.

"Well, when you haven't enough money coming into the house, what do you do? You cut back. That's what you do."

And that was the tone of Fianna Fáil's 2008 think-in. The phrases 'tough decisions', 'current economic climate', and 'tighten our belts' were bandied about with increasing frequency.

Even the closed sessions were particularly serious this year, concentrating on 'Sustaining Prosperity' ('Digging Ourselves Out, Part I); 'Defining Ireland's Future in Europe' (DOO, Part II); 'Innovation in our Health Service' (DOO, Part III); and 'Leading in our Communities – European and Local Elections' (DOO, Part IV). That's a lot of doo-doo for one conference.

At yesterday's closing press conference, the mood was grim, leavened only by Tánaiste Mary Coughlan's giggling as she posed for cameras, and the inevitable collective snigger when the Grealish question was asked, yet again.

"I genuinely don't know," said Cowen, sighing. "There is a Parliamentary Party meeting of the Progressive Democrats tonight and we will have to await the outcome of that." Now stop asking me questions I don't have the answers to, was the unspoken warning.

Shortly after the press conference An Taoiseach was whisked off to the National Pay Talks, leaving a disgruntled-looking Minister Mary Hanafin to wheel her own suitcase to her car. Now there's chivalry.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Fair City...

Now I know it's not cool to watch the national broadcaster's longest-running attempt at drama, but I feel part of the public service relationship between me and RTE necessitates me supporting them even when they are doing noone a service and they should certainly be doing it in private.

But Fair City. Honestly, isn't it time we started giving credit where credit is due? The Fair City rebrand has been genius... who'd have thought an Irish spoof version of Eastenders could be so successful?

This Terence character (is that his name?) looks rather familiar. In fact, very similar to a guy called Trevor who once terrorised the denizens of Albert Square. Granted he killed noone's wife and there was no restaurateur being electrocuted in the immediate vicinity (see I do watch it), but the similarities are very obvious. Maybe Terence, who is an Irish actor with a very odd Eastern-European, KBG-style accent, went to the same drama school as Trevor. Funnily enough, there was also a villain called Trevor in Brookside, who happens to play Bob in Fair City... maybe there is a school for them and Fair City is like the Transition Year placement you end up coming back to work for when somewhere else fires you.

But the rebrand... and that ad with Paul in it. Hard-hitting stuff indeed. More please! Since Shameless took its series break I've been at a loss for a good comedy!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Budget eh - How to survive the recession part 2

Budget eh? Well, the Government is a step behind me there. I've known this recession was coming since I interviewed David McWilliams back in May. Oh yes sir, I have.

As a friend of mine said the other day, "this recession is all about coffee". It sure is, my friend. We have gotten far too used to our daily 'treat'. But the thing is, you can't call it a treat when you give yourself one every day. Then it becomes something you expect as a normal part of the day.

A treat is something our parents know about. Like the first holiday you ever had to Trabolgan when your dad got a payrise and you were 15 and too old for it. But you pretended to enjoy it because it was a treat and you knew that was, by definition, something you enjoyed.

Celtic donkeys have their first holiday (often camping in France) at 2 and have 'done Europe' by the time they are 10. At that stage only Disneyworld Florida can give our jaded worldly children any joy at all. From there on it's the slippery slope of 'doing' SE Asia and then pretty much having nowhere else to go except NY at Christmas because it's such good value.

Anyway, I digress. Sorry. Back to 'treats'.

Cut them out, people! Ta-dah. How to survive the recession 101.
Christy Moore (see previous post) is another tip.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Music to have a recession to

Listening to Christy Moore on Today FM last night (well done Iano, enough of that Bowie nonsense), something struck me. He is music to have a recession to.

Christy wrote songs for the seventies and the eighties, times when things were tough and people were too.

Having grown up through the good times of the nineties I was never a big Christy fan, but now that the recession is beginning to bite and I'm cutting back on the lattes, it's time for some morbid realism of the type Irish people used to be good at. Now that Joe Dolan (who was always slightly too cheerful, in my opinion) and Ronnie Drew have left us, only Christy is left flying the misery flag.

Here are the words to Ordinary Man - if you haven't lost your job yet, print and keep a copy for when you do!

Ordinary Man

I'm an ordinary man, nothing special nothing grand
I've had to work for everything I own
I never asked for a lot, I was happy with what I got
Enough to keep my family and my home

Now they say that times are hard and they've handed me my cards
They say there's not the work to go around
And when the whistle blows, the gates will finally close
Tonight they're going to shut this factory down
Then they'll tear it d-o-w-n

I never missed a day nor went on strike for better pay
For twenty years I served them best I could
Now with a handshake and a cheque it seems so easy to forget
Loyalty through the bad times and through good
The owner says he's sad to see that things have got so bad
but the captains of industry won't let him lose
He still drives a car and smokes his cigar
And still he takes his family on a cruise, he'll never lose

Well it seems to me such a cruel irony
He's richer now then he ever was before
Now my cheque is spent and I can't afford the rent
There's one law for the rich, one for the poor
Every day I've tried to salvage some of my pride
To find some work so's I might pay my way
Oh but everywhere I go, the answer's always no
There's no work for anyone here today, no work today

And so condemned I stand just an ordinary man
Like thousands beside me in the queue
I watch my darling wife trying to make the best of life
And God knows what the kids are going to do
Now that we are faced with this human waste
A generation cast aside
And as long as I live, I never will forgive
You've stripped me of my dignity and pride, you've stripped me bare
You've stripped me bare, You've stripped me bare.

Not a full stop to be seen, but in the current economic climate, full stops are a luxury we can't afford!

Being sexy in politics

Ok , so most of us would agree that being sexy is no bad thing. Most of the time. But why is this even an issue in something like the US Presidential Election?

It's human nature that we prefer someone who is good looking to someone who isn't. But overcoming our natural instincts and letting logic have a role is part of what makes us human.

So, hearing Sam Smyth, for whom I generally have great respect, asking Ed Hayes, the Sunday Supplement's US snitch, if he "fancies" Sarah Palin, was a bit of a pain.

Why should fancying a candidate make them any better at their job? And why should this question only be asked about women?

Hillary Clinton is perceived as too intellectual, too tough and too 'willing to do anything to succeed' for most voters, particularly most men. All these 'unfeminine' characteristics are part of what lost her the Democratic nomination. Also, she just isn't hot.

Granted, Obama is attractive. And granted, this won't have done his chances any harm. But have you heard anyone asked recently, on a quality current affairs programme, if they "fancy" him?

Grow up, Sam.


Here's a novel idea. Why don't we move the school holidays to begin in July, and end at the end of September, which is clearly meant to be the summer? And put some kind of state holiday in April, which, for the last couple of years, has been the finest month of all.