Kinder gentler politics and media needed in our democracies

STRAIGHT TALKING WITH... MARY O’Rourke

Ms Jo Cox – what a simple name; what a dreadful deed.

Jo Cox was a Labour member of the British Houses of Parliament, married to Brendan Cox, and had two very young children. Last Thursday she was stabbed and shot as she came out of a local library in her constituency where she had been holding a clinic.

Outrage was voiced everywhere. She seems to have been a lovely, bright, articulate, young woman. She appeared a wonderful worker for her constituency despite being only a little more than 12 months as an MP. She was also a very strong advocate for refugees, particularly those from Syria. She had worked for several years with Oxfam and other related charity institutions. So Jo Cox was an all-rounder and the world is poorer for her passing.

I agreed with whoever said this was an attack on democracy. Jo Cox was elected by the people to do the job of both a legislator and a constituency member of parliament. This is what she was doing when she was struck down. It has haunted me since it happened and I feel for every elected person in the western world who goes about their duties assiduously. Yet they are assailed daily by such hatred on social media.

Of course, people have a right to object to what you say in parliament or what laws you introduce. The right to objection is very strong in a democratic country, and yet that same right does not give you the right to pour filth and awful words on elected representatives, and all under the cover of anonymity. It is the one aspect of modern life in which I feel no one has made any attempt to curtail.

When I left parliament a little more than five years ago, email and social media had just begun to be used as weapons of expression, and indeed they were nasty enough at times. I was shown a post recently on social media that was directed at a national public representative. The venom and hatred that filled those anonymous lines filled me with dread for the future of parliamentary democracy. I would make the plea for more kindness and moderation in the verbal and spoken views on our elected representatives. Citizens have the right to object and complain, but not in a vile and anonymous way.

I read in the national papers on Sunday that groups of backbench Fine Gael TDs are aiming to get Enda Kenny out of office by Christmas and install whoever is their choice. Enda Kenny has been installed as Taoiseach now and he will leave when it suits him, not when it suits any would-be putative leader.

From a purely Fianna Fáil perspective and for the stability of government, the longer Enda Kenny stays at the helm as Taoiseach, the more of a chance this Government with its ‘new politics’ has of lasting. I never thought I would be praising the leader of Fine Gael but, Enda, hold your ground on this one; for the good of the country it is important you stay put.

Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar are squaring up to be the new Taoiseach and head of Fine Gael. To that end, they have both fallen into the arms of the Fine Gael county councillors. Simon Coveney is considering giving them an increase in their payment and Leo Varadkar is advocating access to social benefits. Of course, if these are finally agreed they will affect all councillors, so good luck to all of them.

Many in political circles regard the review of councillors pay and benefits as an aspect of a Fine Gael leadership contest between Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney. In Fine Gael, the county councillors have the say in a vote for party leader, hence the intense interest in them.

It is a very interesting observation and even comical that the county councillors of Ireland are to be the subject of love-bombs rather than being barely tolerated by the political hierarchy. The testosterone is flying around between these two guys and in the wings there is the demure female candidate. An interesting time is ahead for sure.

By the time this column comes out on Thursday, people across the UK will be busy voting to leave or stay in the EU. I am of the point of view that they should stay and I have cheerfully forecast that that will be the outcome. After all, the Hilaire Belloc verse holds true: “Hold on to nurse – for fear of finding something worse”. Voters, I hope, will be inclined to stay with what they know.

Rugby, soccer, golf – such a let-down for everyone, not least the participants themselves in these three sports. I truly feel sorry for Midlands golfer Shane Lowry. He had put up a great fight in the US Open and then found himself lapsing into joint second place on the last round. As in all sports, there will be further glory days to look forward to and to enjoy.

Talk with you all next week.

In the meantime, go safely.

Slán go fóill,

Mary O’Rourke

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