Beyond the neon runes – Oh, the humanity

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Simon Harris and Leo Varadkar

At a certain point during your childhood, you made one of the most important decisions of your life. Ignoring your father’s attempts to steer you in the direction of his childhood favourites, maybe even picking their local rivals out of spite, you aligned yourself to a football club, usually one from across the water.

Incapable of comprehending the significance of the moment, you blithely dived in, going red or blue, black and white, off the back of one game, one goal, one irresistible flash of genius. And from that point forth, you are stuck with them, stuck with the team who, on that fateful day, captured your heart and vowed never to let it go.

If you were lucky, this marked the beginning of a beautiful relationship, a love affair involving cup finals, league titles and European glory. If you weren’t, if you’d been seduced under false pretences, you’ll one day find yourself in the same position as your father, half-heartedly pitching the merits of your comatose giants while Junior slavers over a far more attractive prospect.

However, despite all the pain they’ve caused you, despite it leading to a life sentence of misery and suffering, you wouldn’t change your decision for the world. Because they’re your team, and by Christ you love them.

Amazingly, some people do the same thing with political parties.

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Granted, this choice comes a little later in life, when a modicum of rationality has developed, when you don’t just jump in with the first crowd to score a goal. But still, many teenagers and twenty-somethings, nail their colours to these flimsy masts and announce that’s where they’ll stay, for eternity.

My grandad was one of those people, as I’m sure many of yours’ were. A Fianna Fáil man come rain or shine, his influence rubbed off on each of his thirteen children. And why wouldn’t it? Sure, aren’t they the most successful team of them all? Boasting an unbridled 75-year run of success, this love of ‘The Republican Party’ was passed down through many a generation.

Things are different now though. There’s not so many men blindly devoted to Fianna Fáil or any of the major political parties these days. We could spend all day debating the reasons why, but, for good or bad, we’re now a nation of flip-floppers, as likely to plump for Fine Gael as an upstart from People Before Profit or some fella in a Torino jersey.

Under such circumstances, it takes something more than party policies, budget plans, and lengthy manifestos to sway those teetering on the brink, you need something extra, a bit of charisma, that undefinable quality which draws people in. Because ultimately politics is a popularity contest; you can be the cleverest, most skilled negotiator of them all, but if you can’t connect with the public you may as well forget about it.

Lest we forget, our current leader won no contest, popular or otherwise, he ascended to the throne by default. Now, during his first real crisis, we are beginning to see that Leo Varadkar has few indefinable qualities, and even less people skills. In fact, you could go as far to say that he’s decidedly unlikeable.

At any point during this Cervical Cancer scandal, have you been even remotely convinced by anything he or Simon Harris have said? I know I haven’t.

Yes of course they’ve said all the right things, their speech-writers working overtime to concoct the perfect mix of sympathy and outrage. But there’s been absolutely nothing behind it, not a scintilla of sincerity, of genuine emotion. For all the world, they could have been talking about a new school being built up the road, a new business venture coming to the mid-West, the unification of our separated state.

Emma Mhic Mhathuna has labelled them ‘the Teletubbies’, but I think she’s doing Dipsy, Laa Laa and the gang a disservice, at least those guys know how to enjoy themselves. Harris and Varadkar are more like Statler and Waldorf from Sesame Street, a pair of prematurely decrepit oul’ lads, whinging and whining their way through another day in the Dáil.

Honestly, can you imagine anything worse than a night out with those two?

Bertie might have been a crook, but at least he was a bit of craic. Varadkar’s idea of fun is to wear brightly-decorated socks. This is how far we’ve fallen. As for Harris; has he ever been caught smiling? I can see why he was given the Minister of Health role though, what better person to impart endless bad-luck tales than a man who constantly looks like he ran over his own dog on the way to work.

While undoubtedly intelligent men, skilled in the political arts, business-savvy, and logistically sound, they are also cold, clinical and callous, their efforts to mitigate the damage caused by this controversy an affront to the nation.

No-one is suggesting that our political figureheads be wisecracking raconteurs, but is it too much to ask for a bit of humanity during troubled times?

I’m sure Varadkar and Harris are trying to transmit emotion, imagining what it’s like to feel sad as they mumble their way through another pesky news conference, but it’s just not in them. These aren’t men of the people. They’re men of office. They’re administrators, bureaucrats. When this story broke, we needed brimstone and fire, Lemass and Collins, what we got was a damp squib, a couple of scared schoolboys out of their depth.

And yet, when you look at the rest of them, the other contenders, you can’t help but wonder if it would have been any different. Had it been Micheál Martin up on the plinth instead of Leo do you think he would have been able to settle our nerves and restore the faith of a country in uproar? I doubt it. What about Brendan Howlin or Mary Lou? No, stop laughing, I’m serious. This is the parlous state we’re in; a job lot of politicians, a bunch of career-making schemers, not one of them remotely interested in the needs of the public, all out to further their own ends.

Perhaps that’s always been the case, perhaps I’m naïve to think it should be any different. But I’m tired of looking into the dead, soulless eyes of our Taoiseach as he witters his way through another vacuous statement of intent. I’m tired of feeling like nobody really gives a damn, that it’s just a job to them, that as soon as this term is up they’ll move from one ministerial role to another, ticking it off the CV as they go along.

Whatever happened to effecting change, to representing your constituents? And I’m not talking about clientelism either, the simultaneous back-scratching which gives jokers like the Healy-Raes a permanent place of residence in the halls of power. I’m talking about real change, about wanting to make this a better country and not just covering your arse till your time is up.

Then again, if the results of the Political Rich List are to be believed, and half of our TDs are indeed millionaires, then it’s easy enough to see why most of them don’t give a shite about anything other than their next paycheque.

Once upon a time in a land far, far away 

If Leo has his way, he’ll be there on Saturday. Up near the front, a pair of Tony the Tiger socks sticking out from beneath his bespoke suit. But even a man as bereft of empathy as An Taoiseach should be able to figure out that attending the Royal Wedding might not be his best move under the current circumstances.

Instead he’ll just have to watch it on television like the rest of us, and by the rest of us I mean the 34 per cent who’ve said they’ll tune in to watch the make-believe Prince get hitched to a former Hollywood actress, before flying away on their magic carpet to a land full of waterfalls and cherry blossoms.

The sane among us will do everything in our power to avoid this nonsense, boycotting all forms of media until the hubbub has died down. In a just society, that would simply mean not watching the BBC or Sky, not purchasing any British newspapers, or listening to any of their radio stations. But our society is far from just. Someone, far up the food chain, has insisted we take an interest, whether it be the Director General of RTÉ, the Editor-in-chief of The Independent, or Leo himself, quietly pulling the puppet strings from his fortified office.

Harry Windsor and Meghan Markle

So, unfortunately, there’ll be no escaping this fairy tale, no getting away from how fab Meghan’s dress is, or how dashing Harry looks.

But as soon as it’s over, as soon as the Queen has cleared away the last of the sambos, everything will go back to normal, we’ll boo England at the World Cup, laugh at the Brexiteers, and continue to refer to our closest neighbours in the most unflattering of terms.

You can read earlier editions of Beyond the Neon Runes here.