I used to work with a journalist who when he’d receive phone calls from irate mothers bemoaning why their son’s courtcase was splshed across the paper bringing shame to the family, he’d calmly tell her “sure now Ma’am, wouldn’t it be worse if he came in and told ya he had cancer.” It was a ploy that inevitably worked as it proved the first point of agreement between the caller and himself. Always comparing your woe to something far worse is often a way of putting perspective on things. If you crashed your car, you could say, sure’ it’d be worse if someone was hurt, ‘tis only bent metal. If you stole somethng, you could say, arragh the way people are going on, you’d swear I killed someone.
It was a ploy that was often used by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern when the screws were being tightened and it was one that was used again to great effect on Tuesday, when former Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue marked his departure from office by unloading two rounds of lock, stock, and two smoking barrels on everyone really. Everyone, that is, apart from himself.
In terms of brass neck, it was a masterclass. By denying that he had ever been corrupt, he was using the Bertie defence of claiming innocence of an offence of which nobody had ever accused him. Nobody for a moment has laid a charge that any of his decisions as minister were swayed by an extra helping of foie gras or an extra slurp of the finest wines. We never thought he was being bought off. It’s just that the things he bought were bought with our money and without any seeming regard for its source.
His farewell address was described yesterday by his colleagues as one of the finest ever delivered in the Dail, and if this is the case, then its content is symbolic of the bubble of unreality in which members of the Oireachtas seem to place themselves. To those of us who live outside, it was an arrogant denial of his own culpability and lack of judgment.
In a speech that regularly mentioned the dignity of the office blah blah blah, it was obvious that the dignity was only threatened when it was being used as a political soapbpx at the end when he pleaded to the people of South Kerry to return him to the gravy train. As they undoubtedly will. We have seen tarnished politicians in our own neck of the woods, returned as a sort of faux ‘us against them’ mentality is employed to absolve one of any wrong doing. If anything tarnished the dignity of the office, it was the self-pitying, selective, incredible nature of the address that ended Mr O’Donoghue’s tenure.
The issue of expenses is a sentivie one to politicians. It beggars belief how some of our local politicians are claiming expenses more than five times the average annual wage. But if logic prevails and tolerance for bull like we heard this week is strained to breaking point, then that too will soon come to an end.
On Tuesday afternoon, the sight of Beverly Flynn trying to rouse her colleagues into a standing ovation for O’Donoghue was a fitting symbol of the day. This and other governments, and indeed the body politic has been treating the public as gombeens for far too long. This should be a turning point, but if we continue to let these sort of people govern us, I doubt it will.