As our grandparents saved the good china for special occasions, so politicians save the really good bullshit for the campaign trail.
"We live longer than anyone else in Europe," said Barry Andrews, defending the HSE on Tonight with Vincent Browne on Tuesday. (We don't, as he later admitted.)
"It would be a logistical impossibility to get this [the finance bill] through by the end of the week," said Brian Lenihan last week. (It wasn't.)
"We do not support the finance bill," said Fine Gael and Labour (but in effect they did).
Then, of course, there are the big lies the electorate tell themselves, like the one about how they bear no responsibility for 14 years of Fianna Fáil in power and won't ever vote for them again.
"There's a man here who voted Fianna Fáil in the last election," said Pat Kenny on Frontline and the audience gasped.
"Are you going to vote Fianna Fáil again?" Pat asked gently, as the man was wheeled out in wooden cage (actually, he was sitting in the audience like a regular taxpayer).
"Yes Pat," said the man, swishing his tail and spitting the words through a mouthful of bestial drool (actually, he was a regular middle-aged man in a nice jumper). "Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael should come together," he added, pointing out that they basically have the same policies. The camera cut to Fianna Fáil's Michael Mulcahy and Fine Gael's Fergus O'Dowd (essentially the same person) who shared a glance and a giggle at being so unmasked on national television.
The previous evening on The Week in Politics, the notion of a Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil coalition was dismissed as "ludicrous" by Fine Gael's Olivia Mitchell. (She favours the union of Fine Gael's small-government neo-liberalism with Labour's statist protectionism – she'd be crap at jigsaws.) This was shortly after Labour's Róisín Shortall went on a rant about the radical left and the dangers posed by a "ragbag" of independents, seemingly impervious to Seán O'Rourke's digs regarding the radical roots of many in her own party.
"I think it's absolutely legitimate to call independents a ragbag," said Olivia Mitchell, coming to her rescue.
"You must be hearing something from your focus groups that is warning you about independents," observed Seán O'Rourke.
"I know nothing about your focus groups," said Olivia Mitchell, which is unlikely.
On Tonight with Vincent Browne, Joan Burton and Vincent Browne bickered about what exactly Eamon Gilmore had said about reversing the budget during a Late Late Show interview. Browne remembered that Gilmore had said there could be no changes if the budget was passed. Burton disagreed and they argued until she said: "Are you going to let me answer the question now or are you going to harangue me?"
He was going to harangue her. Then Burton caught the bug and had a go at haranguing Joe Higgins. He'd characterised Labour and Fine Gael's position on the finance bill as "hovering over the deathbed of a sick and ancient relative, wishing he would shuffle off but desperate that he make his will before he does".
Burton responded with irrelevancies ("Deputy Higgins... or should we call you your MEPship?"), random interruptions, baseless accusations and by occasionally speaking in the third person like The Incredible Hulk ("Joan does want to speak...").
"I think you're trying to harangue him, Joan," observed Vincent Browne. "You're haranguing. I thought you were against haranguing."
"I apologise. I just want a decent debate, dear," said Burton sarcastically.
"Yes darling," said Browne, clearly having the time of his life.
Tuesday's debate about the Fianna Fáil leadership was a more subdued affair. Martin Mansergh supported Brian Lenihan because it was Dublin's "turn" to have a leader. Then he praised all four candidates, before amiably discussing his opinions on a wide range of topics (lying versus interpersonal diplomacy, Chinese gardens in the Phoenix Park, the "mischievousness" of Vin B) as though he were on a show called An Evening With Martin Mansergh. Beside him, Barry Andrews (here to support Micheál Martin) stopped short of burying his head in his hands, while Michael Kitt (here to campaign for Eamon Ó Cuív) looked happy to be on television.
On Prime Time, Pearse Doherty challenged the larger opposition parties' Jesuitical stance on the finance bill, despite the fact that his party leader, the Baron of the Manor of Northstead, had revealed a pretty tenuous grasp of economics that morning on Morning Ireland. (I couldn't quite follow it, but I think he said Ireland should abandon the gold standard, petition for membership of Wilson's League of Nations, and follow the spice trails to the Orient.)
Richard Bruton came out fighting. "The paternity of this bill is Fianna Fáil and the Greens!" he insisted. "But you're the midwife, aren't you?" asked Miriam O'Callaghan.
Bruton also forgot to mention the finance bill's creepy uncles, Jackie Healy-Rae and Michael Lowry. It was they who would dominate the news the following morning, as they wangled last-minute amendments on the taxation of bank bonuses, tax relief on student fees and the pay-and-file date for the self-employed (as well as free ice cream and pedal-cars for the people of Kerry South and North Tipperary). "Maybe we should have let Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy-Rae do the negotiations with the IMF and the EU?" observed a texter to Newstalk's Lunchtime.
The finance bill was forgotten when newly crowned Fianna Fáil leader Mícheál Martin gave a press conference, repositioned Fianna Fáil in the legacy of Lemass, O'Malley and Hillery, called for a series of leadership debates among the party leaders, and asserted his support for political reform, the laughter of children and the life-giving energies of mother sun. He also uttered a vague apology for the bad state the political system led the economy into.
On an RTE News Special, pundits weighed in on Martin's political legacy in anorak-like detail before someone asked where Enda Kenny was. "You will be seeing so much of Enda Kenny you will be marvelling at it," promised Frank Flannery, Fine Gael strategist. It sounded like a threat.
On RTE's Six One News it was all about Fianna Fáil. There was a word from the other leadership contenders. "I was joint second in the final elimination, but let's not argue about technicalities," said Brian Lenihan, who had really come third and clearly wanted to argue about technicalities. There was also a report from Cork where Martin's family and friends were celebrating. "Happy Cork people!" observed Sharon Ní Bheoláin, as though she'd witnessed a room full of toddlers or a basket of kittens.
Then Micheál Martin reiterated his message of renewal and change in an interview with Bryan Dobson. "A parliament that never debates the banking system until it collapses is a system that's gone wrong," he said, making me wonder how different the country might be had a reforming politician of Martin's integrity and vision somehow been in the cabinet for the past decade.
On Tonight with Vincent Browne another iconoclastic radical was challenging the status quo. This time it was political outsider Éamon Ó Cuív. "Why aren't you in the Labour Party?" asked Vincent Browne, looking bewildered. "In fact, you're far too left. You're what your colleagues would call the loony left.'"
Clearly, Fianna Fáil is all things to no people, an ideological basket case spoiled by decades in the sun ("I don't know what we stand for any more," sighed a canvasser on Prime Time). So on Thursday, in a fast-paced interview with Newstalk's Ivan Yates, Martin again tried framing them as a plucky, reform-oriented opposition party (in favour of single-seat PR constituencies, a reformed Seanad, an empowered Dáil).
Then spoilsport Enda Kenny emerged to reject Martin's Nick Clegg-like request for a three-way. Kenny felt a five-way debate would be "more inclusive" (translation: "wouldn't leave me so exposed") and various politicians and broadcasters spent the week pitching their own fantasy football-style line-ups ("I tell you, it's going to happen with three party leaders invited and if it happens that only two show up so be it!" said Vincent Browne that evening.).
Then, for some light relief, the government passed the finance bill ("Phew!" said the opposition), Michael Noonan said he and Enda were off to Brussels to try to reduce our bailout interest rate, and the RTE News at One ran a melancholy report about the last day of the Dáil. In it a whimsical Bertie Ahern was heckled by a People before Profit councillor. ("You're a disgrace," she said.)
Like Micheál Martin, Ahern has regrets, but rather than regretting the mistakes we all made, like Martin does, Ahern regrets that nobody told him "what was going on in the banks". Oh, and also that he didn't spend more money building a big stadium (translation: "I wish I'd built a large monument to myself so I wouldn't be remembered for that big crater where the economy was").
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