Cusack: 'gombeen culture'

Speculation about the political ambitions of Cork hurling goalkeeper Donal Óg Cusack has increased after he gave a state-of-the-nation address to Sinn Féin's inaugural An Phoblacht autumn school in west Cork.

Cusack, who attracted international headlines when he came out as Ireland's first openly gay élite athlete with the release of his autobiography last year, delivered a passionate speech at the event in Ballyvourney recently.

Titled 'What kind of Ireland do we want?' Cusack's speech focused on the current economic crisis and it is likely to fuel speculation about his political ambitions.

In a clear attack on the political establishment he said: "We know now that we cannot let the prevailing political culture allow the past to be ignored. It is the key to unlocking the future. Nor can we allow the people who have created the mess in the first place continue to dictate the escape route.

"But, equally, we must engage in a real debate about what we want... if we go back to the days when 'keeping up with the Joneses' was Ireland's guiding doctrine, we will surely end up back at the same place. This simply cannot be countenanced. Less has to be more."

Cusack did not wish to comment this weekend but, responding to a question about the possibility of Cusack standing for election for the party in the future, a senior Sinn Féin politician said: "He is not even a member of Sinn Féin. He spoke at the autumn school, as did economists and other people who are not members. That was it."

Cusack's speech also criticised the way the country's golden circle "has always been underpinned by our pervasive gombeen culture" and claimed: "We need a government that listens to its people and is guided by a sense of duty, a sense of care and a sense of patriotism."

The speech also evoked a song called 'Dark Horse of the Wind', written to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. Cusack claimed the song "unfortunately now resonates again today as we move towards the 100th anniversary" before reading all 30-plus lines of the song.

He added: "This country lies in the ashes of many broken dreams and we await the final prognosis. When Connolly remarked in 1915 that 'recent events in Ireland have gone far to show that the old lines of political demarcation no longer serve to express any reality in the lives of the people', he could have been talking about September 2010."

The high-profile chairman of the Gaelic Players' Association (GPA), who plays in goal for Cork and plays his club hurling with Cloyne, would be an attractive potential election candidate target for political parties. It was reported that Sinn Féin was interested in getting Cusack's Cork hurling team-mate Seán Óg Ó hAilpin to stand in the 2007 general election.