What the dogs in the street already know about this government

Question: Who knew that Katharine Zappone was a shoo-in to get the job of Special Envoy for Freedom of Opinion and Expression.

Answer: They knew, we knew, everyone and his mother and the dogs in the street and their mothers too knew. Piglet, Pooh (more on them later) and the animals in Dublin Zoo knew.

Recap for those of us who have no idea what’s going on: Taoiseach Micheal Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney got themselves in more trouble than they thought they deserved after it was revealed Coveney brazenly bypassed normal procedures to appoint his chosen candidate Katharine Zappone to the aforementioned special envoy job. Not content with leaving the cronyism at that, Zappone had a posh outdoor soiree for 50 chums at the Merrion Hotel (where a room could set us back a month’s rent for one lousy night) and invited Leo, Simon and lots of others. Meanwhile, the Taoiseach allegedly didn’t know about her new job until it was raised at cabinet which is fishy because don’t you think Coveney would have briefed him beforehand – even though he is from a different party? (N.B: party is not the same as soiree, though both can get you in trouble if you’re not au fait with the right ones…) Leo alleged that he didn’t know about Zappone’s job either but he has form when it comes to fibs and lots of people on Twitter who don’t like him called for his resignation. To add yet another layer to this sad, sorry tale of cronyism, didn’t the Attorney General get involved to tell us all that, actually, Simon, Katharine et. al were not in the wrong and we should just forget about it all and here’s an idea: now we can have up to 200 people at outdoor events so aren’t we all fair and square again now?

How stupid do all these party people think the likes of us are??? Answers on the back of a monogrammed napkin, please. They are clearly making it up as they fuck it up. It is not a joy to behold.

The Covid rules didn’t apply to them, and not just because they are so too-faced it wouldn’t matter whether they wore a mask or not. This was about entitlement and cute hoorism. As usual, the party poopers from the opposition benches started yelling about how great they were that they didn’t go, probably because they weren’t even invited. Would they have gone if they were invited though? Was there an open bar? What kind of person would refuse an open bar on principal? A Sinn Féin TD? Like the rest of us, politician and plebeian alike, they’d take a free drink from the Taliban itself if it was offering, like.

But to go back to the initial question, the one that was finally, definitively, without reasonable doubt answered for us today: who knew about this.

Short answer: everyone.

Leo Varadkar maintained all along that he did not know about Coveney appointing Zappone, and today he posted the pics to prove it. Yes, an actual government minister put out screenshots of a text message conversation he had with Zappone about the party. All they proved, however, is that he is one of these people who (a) doesn’t use emojis and (b) texts sentence by sentence instead of just getting it all out in a nice paragraph. In other words, his texts are rather leaky…

At least Katharine texts in full, coherent paragraphs. Had she not been sort of forced to refuse the special envoy job in the end she would have made a fine example to all those bad people who text like Leo. That should be something the next envoy of freedom of opinion and expression bans outright. If you’re going to text it, get it out in one go or forever hold your piece.

I wonder if Leo asked Katharine if she minded him posting those screenshots of their conversation in an effort to save his bacon, because, at first glance it looked as if she referred to herself as “Piglet.” In a bizarre, but easily explainable twist, Zappone greeted Leo with a text that read “Hi, Leo from the Piglet!” She meant the Dublin restaurant, but the Great Unwasheds’ minds went straight to Pooh, as they do. Who was Tigger, Eeyore etc in this scenario, they wondered, eager to lean into the ridiculousness of it all.

Whatever about Zappone as Piglet, Leo as Pooh and sad-eyed Micheal as Eeyore, Simon Coveney is definitely Tigger. Silly ol’ Tigger, you couldn’t trust him as far as you’d throw him. He said the other day before some government committee or other that he didn’t tell anyone in cabinet about Zappone. She didn’t lobby him for the role either, and everything was above board and everyone should just let him away with a spring in his… spring, like the beloved cartoon tiger.

Unfortunately for politicians, they tend to be held accountable for more things than goofy talking tigers are so Simon couldn’t spring his way out of this one quite as easily as he might have liked. Earlier today, he told reporters that he had deleted all of his correspondences with Zappone so they couldn’t see if he was telling porkies about her or not.

Unwisely he said he deleted his texts because his phone was hacked and deleting texts is apparently something he does the whole time in case hackers get to them. Yeah. Sell us another sausage. This was starting to look less Winnie the Pooh and more Animal Farm. Not a peep from the Attorney General btw. And that, comrades, is when Varadkar decided to wade in to the pigpen and prove how pure he was by publishing his texts, thereby stabbing his fellow party member in the back. What a godawful mess.

I don’t know about you, but I do know this: everyone now knows, thanks to Varadkar, that everyone in government – except possible poor ol’ Eeyore Martin himself – that Zappone’s appointment was a fix. And here’s another thing I know: this government has got to go. The Irish people don’t deserve its horseshit.

To lighten the mood somewhat and to leave you feeling less like Eeyore and more happy and wonderful like Tigger, I’ve taken the liberty of rewriting Orwell’s seven Animal Farm commandments for the #MerrionGate era.

“The Seven Commandments After #MerrionGate:
Whatever goes upon two legs, wears a Blueshirt and publishes your private text messages to save his skin is an enemy.
Whatever goes upon four legs in a scramble to recover your legitimacy is a friend/ Attorney General.
No Merrion attendee shall face consequences.
No politician shall sleep with a free conscience.
No TD shall drink alcohol without first performing thorough damage limitations.
No Minister shall kill a story because it makes them look like a hypocrite.
All animals are equal, some are less equal depending on what they know or don’t know.”

Did that work? Any issues just complain to the relevant envoy. They’ll probably be inventing that any day now.

United Ireland: are you mad? Not as mad as I am.

I’m just after half-watching a programme aired by our national broadcaster, here in the South of Ireland.

(I threw in that last bit to piss people off. You’ll have to excuse me if you are one of these people who gets pissed off by the phrase “South of Ireland” — it’s just that I don’t get out much these days so pissing people like your good selves off is one of my few social outlets. Anyway. I digress… Digressions, by the way, are another unfortunate by-product of my lockdown isolation, but I’ll try to keep those to a minimum too… Count yourselves lucky you don’t have to live with me. In my home in the South of Ireland.)

The reason I only half-watched the programme was I don’t really care about a United Ireland. This is because I am still relatively sane. The kind of people who want a united Ireland above all else are the kind of hopeless romantics who still watch Disney princess movies into adulthood. They are to be pitied and even feared. They are young and old, right-wing and left-wing, rich and poor. The only thing they have in common is they are all deluded by some kind of romantic notion of Irishness that never existed. As someone pointed out, the only time Ireland was ever united was when it was under British rule. Hah! I do love irony. Ever since we got the Brits half out, some of us have been obsessed with a naive, fairytale, W.B Yeats-style, Gaelic-speaking, tribal Ireland that is about as realistic as Tír na nOg.

I have other things to care about, such as whether I will ever get a job or whether I will ever be able to afford to rent a house/apartment. At the moment, I am unemployed — and believe me, it is not for lack of trying to get a job. A united Ireland is about as much use to me as a bicycle is to a fish. The lockdown really put a spanner in any of my attempts to get on the career ladder. Had I not done a Master’s, I might have qualified for the pandemic unemployment payment by now, and then I’d be raking in €350 a week for watching sitcoms on Netflix. But unfortunately, this pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time, and my Master’s was cut short, and my career, or any semblance of it, was plunged into obscurity. I think the likelihood of me becoming financially independent might be possible by the time I’m thirty. It all depends on what the virus does — and, more importantly, what the government does. They ain’t doing a whole pile so far. They can either capitulate to the atavistic fringe element of romantic looney Gaels or they can pull their heads out of their arses and start implementing policies that serve Irish people. I’m sick of the political discourse in this country being dominated by Gerry Adams’s balaclava’d “antifa” — yeah, right; pull the other one — fanboys on one side, and neo-liberal shills who care only about maintaining the status quo and massaging each others’ egos on the other. The latter, by the way, are the reason our health and housing systems are fucked. We haven’t had a decent government in my lifetime, certainly.

Our country contains a multitude of people and perspectives — and not all of them are good. See above. Why the hell would we add the DUP into the mix for (Protestant) god’s sake? I think the Shinners sometimes forget that a so-called united Ireland would involve, by geographical necessity, the most ardent loyalists and Queen fans. (No, I’m not talking about the band here, sadly). The DUP have already told us they’re not a big fan of the whole united Ireland idea — probably because they are British, as they say. Why don’t we leave them to it? They have a right to be British if they really want to be — although someone should tell them that Geri Halliwell’s Union Jack mini-dress has not been considered remotely fashionable by anyone since, well, the day before she wore it.

To amalgamate, or “unite” two dysfunctional, disparate Irelands would be to undo all the progress that has been made since 1994. (Nothing to do with my being born, by the way. There was a ceasefire). Sinn Fein’s rhetoric of a united Ireland for the Irish people of tomorrow is nonsense; if I manage to retain what’s left of my marbles until the end of this lockdown I will be one of the Irish people of tomorrow, and what I want is a job, a house, good healthcare, to be able to provide for myself and my family, and go on a few adventures now and then. It seems like a lot to ask for when I see places stricken by famine, war, and poverty, but, Jesus, as Brian Lenihan once said, “We all partied.”

Tell that to the people living in hotels and on the streets in what is supposed to be a good country. As for me, it’s been so long since I was let out I don’t remember partying at all. Perhaps I’m coming down with the same type of amnesia as the United Irelanders. Ah well, the lucidity was nice while it lasted.

Inauguration Day: exeunt Trump; enter Biden, Harris

Just now, something remarkable has happened!

Why is it remarkable? It isn’t. If anything, it’s unremarkable. The only reason it’s remarkable is that it hasn’t happened in such a long time. It might even be a cause to celebrate.

The remarkably unremarkable thing to which I refer is a tweet by incoming US Vice-President, Kamala Harris. It was the kind of boring, trite, full-of-earnest-shite type of tweet that politicians churn out so regularly, especially in challenging times. Harris was just doing her job, tweeting about “healing” to reassure the American public of her administration’s commitment to providing relief from the pandemic – or at least the part of it that doesn’t believe in QAnon. Although maybe those QAnon quacks are the ones that need Kamala and Joe the most.

Normally, political speak irritates me, but the fact that Kamala Harris and her colleague, incoming US President, Joe Biden, are proving themselves to be comfortably controversy-free thus far is actually a good omen. As an Irish person with American friends and relatives, it’s nice for me to know they now have a reasonably well-adjusted president who doesn’t go around grabbing women “by the pussy” or tweeting in all-caps at strange times of the night, or inciting insurrectionist mobs. A pessimist by nature, I won’t go so far as to say that I feel good about America’s future, but I do think that anyone is an improvement on Trump. So, Biden-Harris it is.

All MAGA talk will be gone with Joe, who doesn’t believe in using overly emotive language – except when speechifying about how much he loves his home town Delaware, or when he quotes Irish poets. (Just on that poet quoting thing, can one of you guys over yonder tell him we have other poets besides Seamus Heaney?). Joe and Kamala know that MAGA is impossible; America has never been great, nor should it aspire to be. History has taught us that greatness in nations is impossible without colonisation, suffering, and small-mindedness on a criminally large scale. Greatness is a product of tyranny, and that is too high a price for any nation’s people to pay. To this day, the jury is quite literally out on whether or not Trump was a wannabe totalitarian with sinister designs on the United States, or if he was merely coasting along on the giant wave of his ego, bolstered by money and yes-men.

One thing’s for sure, Trump’s presidency was never boring. It was a constant roller-coaster of international headlines screaming: “Oh no what the f*ck has he done now?” From the day he was elected in 2016 to this morning when he finally vacated the White House, he has never been dull, not even once. During his four years in one of the world’s most prestigious jobs, Trump became a caricature of himself – and he was already pretty ridiculous – morphing before our eyes into a straw-wigged, bloated, power-blinded, Tangerine Nightmare spouting blatant lies and whipping up unsavoury personal scandal like a Southern Mama might whip up a Key Lime Pie. (I had to Google Southern desserts to get this reference correct, and now I want to eat my way all around the Southern states…)

I read somewhere recently that Trump was the ultimate postmodern president, and quite possibly we got him because we deserved him. At times, when I heard the man formerly known as President Trump speak, I wondered ‘is this guy for real?’ Headlines from recent history tell me I’m not alone. Plenty fell for his celebrity credentials, but he turned out to be a crude caricature. Now the powerless are left to pick up the pieces – it’s an old story, constantly reproduced. Men in power and their egos. When the trail of controversy Trump left behind is long forgotten, will he be remembered as the man who turned the presidency into performance art? Will video clips of his speeches be displayed in galleries alongside, say, Marina Abramovic’s Rhythm 0? Will Trump’s name be mentioned in the same breath as the Russian dissident punk group, Pussy Riot? My limited knowledge of art, performance, and politics tells me that Trump’s most significant legacy will be his ability to find the intersection between the three and drive a stake through it. Most of us still don’t know whether he’s insane or just criminally profane.

Either way, he’s gone now – exiting (ironically???) to the strains of YMCA by the Village People – and a new era of ordinariness and predictability is here.

I COULDA BEEN A CONTENDER: Bernie Sanders (at Biden’s inauguration today) was thought to be too far left for many in the Democrat Party, but those gloves may be presidential material yet…

Kamala and Joe are two safe pairs of hands, although let’s not make any glowing predictions quite yet.

EXEUNT TRUMP

ENTER BIDEN & HARRIS

*audience breathe a sigh of relief as the drama is finally finished

Look out, Joe. They’re coming for you from Mayo.

Ah, it’s a disgrace, Joe.

They can’t win their own race, so they claim victory in another halfway across the globe. It’s desperate altogether.

Typical Mé Féiners in Mayo, making everything about themselves; well, they’re worse than the Orange Fella.

While the rest of the world was out celebrating Biden’s victory over Trump and Kamala Harris’s historic appointment as Vice President of the United States, Mayo was out celebrating itself.

Mayo’s tenuous claim to fame on the new American President is his ancestry. Hasn’t he cousins in Ballina.

Any excuse, sure. Ballina put on such a display of triumphant gombeenism that would have put any Yankee Redneck to shame – and perhaps a few former Fianna Fáil Taoisigh, too.

Ballina town centre was hopping; Buck’s Fizz corks popping, as Mayomen paraded their genes up and down the town whooping like Yahoos.

Not one of the locals seemed to recognise the larger reason to celebrate the Biden Harris result. They didn’t care a damn that Kamala Harris is the first woman and the first person of colour to be elected Vice President of the United States.

All they care about below in Mayo is winning. And since victory in the All-Ireland Championship has proved elusive for, oh, about a hundred years, the poor eejits are making do with having a distant cousin in the White House. (It will probably be painted green and red now.)

It’s Cultural Appropriation, I tell you. Ballina is stealing the victory of the American people and repackaging it as their own. This kind of identity pilfering is unique to Mayo; you’d never catch a Dub or a Kerryman at that type of thing. Do you know why? They’ve won All Irelands, so they know what victory feels like.

The most Joe would get in Kerry might be a Healy-Rae throwing his hat in the air in jubilation. Well, Joe, as long as he doesn’t throw it into the ring, you’ll be sound, says you.

And these Mayo (distant) cousins of Biden are angling for a trip to the soon-to-be Green & Red House. They couldn’t make it any more obvious. Sure, didn’t they openly admit it on RTE news last night? Distant cousin after distant cousin queued up to talk to the roving reporters, each one frothing at the mouth with glee.

Like most tribes, they have a leader, and his name is Joe too. We’ll call him Joe Two to distinguish him from America’s newest First Man, Joe One. His kingdom in Mayo might not be the size of Joe One’s, but Joe Two has a slogan too – “Joe Biden for the White House; Joe Blewitt for your house.” Joe Two is a handyman. I think his talents also lie in slogans, especially when compared to his distant American relative’s weak effort: “Build back better.” Blah blah blah.

Joe Blewitt image by Paul Faith/AFP via Getty images.

Joe Two and his merry band of Mayo cousins will be piling into his van to drive all the way from Ballina to Pennsylvania Avenue any day now. They’ll be a bit watery when they land, but they’ll still start painting the White House green and red before Joe One can say “Howdy.”

Typical Cultural Appropriation. Joe Two and his Mayo cowboys will play all nice in the beginning, but they’ll eventually steal the states from right under the Americans’ noses. They’ll let on to Joe One that they’re doing a Fixer-Upper job on his new gaff, but they’ll leave him high and dry the minute anything goes wrong. Mayo cowboys only want one thing, and that’s victory. They don’t care about family or decency; they’d give their Granny for Sam. ‘Cousin Joe’ is all a front, a neat way of appropriating American success. You’d never see a Mayo man in a Native American headdress on Halloween. We all know what became of the Native Americans, and it was a lot worse than losing a good few All Irelands. No, the Mayo man only wants a little taste of victory, for now. And he knows he’ll be allowed a share in Generous Joe’s. But like most of history’s victors, Mayo will eventually get greedy, and it will all end in a trail of tears. Will those tears be green and red or star-spangled red, blue, and white? That all depends on whether or not Joe “Two” Blewitt blows it.

(Editor’s Note: If there’s any room in that van, Mr. Blewitt, I’ll book it. I have Mayo heritage myself, you know.)

The news is making us miserable, edgy and tired

Ireland is a nation of moaners and whingers. If complaining was an Olympic sport, we would win gold every time.

Perhaps it’s the weather, or perhaps it’s a by-product of the years of societal oppression and joy repression courtesy of the Catholic Church – either way, we love a good whine. We are so good at it, in fact, that our infamous black humour is well-renowned all over the world. In that sense, we have achieved the impossible, turning a negative into a positive.

Whereas the Americans are almost annoyingly positive all the time, we Irish don’t have great expectations of ourselves or anyone else, which makes us relatable and even a bit loveable, like Eeyore.

Our national talent for never looking on the bright side of life, to paraphrase Monty Python, has stood to us recently as we endured lockdown in its various stages and levels of severity.

You’re miserable, edgy and tired. You’re in the perfect mood for journalism.

Warren Ellis

The news on Sunday night that Chief Medical Officer, Tony Holohan, was recommending a national Level 5 lockdown – that’s the one where you can hardly skim a stone – fairly put the kibosh on it all. The nation was stunned; we weren’t expecting such a strict lockdown so soon. Somebody on Twitter – where else – said that if Holohan really cared about public health he wouldn’t have delivered such a recommendation on a Sunday night, a time when most are highly strung thinking about the week ahead and what horrors it might bring.

Speaking personally, I tend to do most of my worrying from 8pm on a Sunday to 2am on a Monday, so I agree with part of the Tweeter’s statement. (As my nearest and dearests can attest, I don’t restrict my complaining hours; complaining is a 24-7-365 gig.) I would not be so negative, however, as to allege Holohan doesn’t care about public health. It’s kind of his job, and he seems a very empathetic sort. So, his heart is in the right place even if his call for a move to Level 5 was far too abrupt.

With Holohan cracking the whip, and anxious to avoid another strict lockdown, I decided to submerge myself neck-deep to wallow in that cesspit of negativity, Twitter. I read all of the takes – most of them miserable, for misery loves company. I only emerged periodically to rehash some of the takes I agreed with aloud to my parents, who seemed to be taking the news like a pair of slowly sinking stoics on the Titanic long ago. “Sure if we do go into Level 5, we do,” seemed to be their attitude. I looked at the dog to see if she might start a one-man orchestra, but she snored away oblivious. Lockdown means more walkies for her.

Some people, like me, seemed very critical of NPHET; others were critical of the people criticising NPHET. For a lot of bleeding-heart liberals criticising NPHET seems to be akin to killing puppies or eating Walker’s crisps – things you don’t do in Middle Ireland. I wondered did Tony Holohan and the Robin to his Batman, Ronan Glynn, suffer from vertigo such was the height of the pedestals they were being put on by many. On Sunday, I wasn’t particularly interested in reading about how fantastic NPHET is; I was in the depths of despair at the thought of going into Level 5. I was also enraged that most people thought NPHET were right – why aren’t these people complaining more, I asked myself.

On Monday, when the government decided to half-listen to NPHET’s advice and bring us all into Level 3 – an acceptable compromise – even more people joined the moan-fest. Smooth operator Leo Varadkar spoke to Claire Byrne on RTE about the government’s reasons for half-listening to NPHET. He was convincing, to a point, talking about the need to balance all public health interests, not just coronavirus, but he made a hypocrite of himself when he declared to Claire that NPHET members would never have to suffer the consequences of losing jobs under Level 5 restrictions. He also spoke about poverty, despite the fact his government continuously side with property owners over cash-strapped renters. (Not to complain, or digress too much, but I have been unemployed during Leo’s tenure as Taoiseach, and getting social welfare was like getting blood from a stone. To add insult to injury, there was no complaints department at the dole office.)

Uproar ensued because if there’s something Ireland loves as much as complaining, it’s a good fight. Over-caffeinated political correspondents typed feverish tweets claiming that the government was now at odds with NPHET, and there was no going back. They ignored, however, the fact that Varadkar said he has a very good working relationship with Holohan et. al. They just disagreed on the need to go into Level 5. I don’t know if it’s a hangover from silly season or what but manufacturing “a big split” between the government and a health advisory board in the middle of a pandemic is not a very nice thing for the Irish media to do. Especially as it isn’t true. Of course, everyone lapped it up, and soon it was as if Varadkar had literally stabbed Holohan in the back.

The whole thing turned into a soap opera with everyone shouting at each other while the pol corrs clapped their hands with glee. Normally I like pol corrs, but I think some of them desperately need a night off to attend the Abbey en masse when theatres re-open because they’ve forgotten what real theatre is supposed to be like. The public isn’t much better.

We need to stop complaining for once in our lives and take some personal responsibility for ourselves in our own situations. Cocoon if you need to. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Adhere to guidelines issued by epidemiologists (remember NPHET are not epidemiologists) as best you can. (Actually, this is more or less what Holohan said in a recent statement.)

Finally, a mention must go to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly’s response to a pol corr asking who would be responsible for further coronavirus deaths going forward. In a moment of pure, beautiful smart-arsery, Donnelly said, simply: “The virus is responsible.”

With public representatives like that is it any wonder we are the way we are?

Seeing the glass as half empty is more positive than seeing it as half full. Through such a lens the only choice is to pour more. That is righteous pessimism

Criss Jami, Killosophy
Watching the news in 2020 with a face on you like an otter eating a watermelon

Golfgate: they can’t swing this one

Golf is a mug’s game. Just ask Dara Calleary. His tenure as Minister for Agriculture was going fine for a few weeks until he agreed to go to an Oireachtas Golf Society event in Clifden the day after the government announced new measures prohibiting large gatherings.


Now, as we know, Calleary wasn’t the only government representative present flouting the rules – but his head was the largest to roll. Unlike his disgraced predecessor, Barry Cowen, Calleary resigned straight away. It was a case of jump, or be pushed. At this rate, Micheál Martin is going through more Ministers than Stalin. (At one point, Stalin also led a triumvirate government, but I think the comparison ends there. Martin doesn’t enjoy purging his Ministers.) It’s all terribly embarrassing for this ‘new’ government, but to be honest, nobody cares about their feelings anymore.

Public sympathy is thin on the ground for this crowd of, well, eejits, who didn’t pause to think about the consequences when they packed their polo-shirts into their overnight bags for a golf party in a hotel.


The blithe insistence of Calleary and other experienced politicians like Phil Hogan and Jerry Buttimer on flouting their own government’s rules shows an appalling lack of judgement. Did they not know they would be caught in the act? It’s difficult to look dignified in a bright pink Ralph Lauren shirt panting as you swing a golf club in the air hoping for the best. I am not sure whether the 81 people attending the event are guilty of arrogance or ignorance – or both. They might as well have written “there’s one rule for ye and another rule for us” on the new social distancing safety measures. What’s next, a cough in the face?


I know that these politicians are on holiday, but they have to obey the rules and be responsible citizens just like everyone else does. The virus doesn’t know the difference between people who eat in McDonald’s, wear tracksuits, and shop in Lidl and people who eat oysters at golf dinners and have large salaries. Your bank balance, your education, and your accent don’t really matter when you’re exposed to tiny molecules of a virus that can be very dangerous for many. Like most people, the men and women who attended the Golf Society event probably weren’t in the at-risk category and if they contracted the virus they would make a good recovery. We are annoyed about the hypocrisy. This is not about being a kill-joy – I’m delighted the pubs, cafes, and restaurants have begun to open again because I missed them sorely. It is about holding people in positions of power to account.


That EU Commissioner Phil Hogan had the audacity to blame the hotel at which the event was being held for not enforcing the measures just tells you how out of touch these people are.

https://twitter.com/PhilHoganEU/status/1296748599934685184

I wonder how many of the attendees had health insurance, and I wonder how many of the people working at the hotel have health insurance. Blaming low-paid hospitality workers for one’s own lapse in judgement is cowardly and morally reprehensible. When Phil Hogan made that statement, did he think of the workers? (Nah, he thought of his own neck on the block.) Many have been out of work due to the pandemic and are only returning now. They’re having to work twice as hard to make up for lost time and lost money; they are being taxed to the hilt for years to come because of the money we all lost during lockdown. We all have to make sacrifices – as NPHET keeps saying – and politicians are no different.

Won’t somebody please think of the statues.

It was only a matter of time before the ‘tear ’em down’ cohort turned their attention to Ireland and her statues.

Of course, nobody had really noticed how offensive many of the world’s statues were until the weeks after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The murder of black people – men especially – by US police is too common. It has happened a lot more than once, which tells us that the police have a problem with race, or that they are racist.

When the Black Lives Matter movement was set up after Trayvon Martin’s murder, it helped draw attention to the fact that the police were failing to “serve and protect” adequately. This was news to a lot of white people, myself included.

George Floyd’s murder was similar to Trayvon Martin’s in that it shook the world out of its comfortably complacent attitude towards institutional racism. There were protests; there were riot police. There was a lot of anger. People began to look at things with new eyes – and something they began to focus on, for whatever reason, was statues.

There were conversations about slavery and removing the evidence of it in our society; in the UK, a statue of slave trader Edward Colston was filmed being torn down by protesters. They rolled the statue to a nearby harbour and pushed it into the water. This display of anarchism made some people feel uncomfortable.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and we appear to have reached the ‘tear ’em down’ phase in this country too. I’m pretty sure the Shelbourne case was a first for Ireland. As with other incidences of people pulling down statues without consulting health and safety, legality, etc, there has been some mixed reaction.

The Shelbourne’s American owners were initially alerted to the possibility of the statues depicting female slaves when an Irish-American blogger brought it to their attention. (Them bloody bloggers are never not stirring shit.) In the days following their removal, an art historian has said that, actually, the statues do not depict slaves.

The Irish Georgian Society lodged a complaint with Dublin City Council and some politicians like Senator Michael McDowell and Green MEP (and architect) Ciarán Cuffe said the owners should have followed correct procedure in removing the statues. Cuffe, McDowell, and others are understandably concerned about erasing Dublin’s past. The statues were sculpted by a Frenchman, Mathurin Moreau. (I have no idea who that is.)

Dr. Ebun Joseph has spoken in favour of removing the statues; debating Micheal McDowell on Prime Time, she said that whether the statues represent slavery or not is beside the point. “They represent white opulence. They represent white privilege, black servitude.” Ebun Joseph is an expert in race relations, racial stratification, and the labour market. She teaches on a Black studies module at UCD and, as she said on TV to McDowell, she believes in removing statues like those so the next generation doesn’t have to see them.

She failed to turn Michael McDowell’s head from the past and she angered a lot of similar-minded people who also love Georgian architecture, Dublin, and the Shelbourne Hotel.

To be quite honest I do not see the point in removing statues. I agree with McDowell and Cuffe and some of the others who have written about them. They are a part of history and should not be taken down, and certainly not without careful consideration. People of all backgrounds should know the history of slaves, and they should know why and how white people have profited from black people’s suffering for centuries.

Having said that, I have honestly never ever, not even once, walked past the Shelbourne and thought to myself, “Jaysus, them are some lovely historical looking statues there.” I have never noticed them before in my life; I’m usually too busy gawping at the real-life people walking in and out the hotel’s doors to be bothered looking at statues. I may be wrong but I’d guess that, apart from a few art historians and their corduroy-trouser wearing friends, nobody has ever really noticed the statues. Would they be missed terribly if they were gone? Would it be as though the city lost a limb, or something else valuable, like, I don’t know, Sam Maguire?

Ironically, now that I know they’re there I’m ever so slightly worried about the statues. I hate throwing things away – especially beautiful, valuable things. While I’m not sure I agree with Dr. Joseph on the statues debate, I do know that Ireland, like most countries, is racist. All you have to do – if you are white – is listen to what black Irish people say about the things they experience every day to know that we are a racist country. Nobody likes to hear that about their country. Imagine not feeling wanted in your own country? An ESRI report said that 49% of Irish people would not like to see more black people here – which must be damn hard to hear if you’re Irish and black, as Ebun is.

For want of any better solutions, perhaps we should go and ask the statues what it is they want. If none of us flesh and blood people can decide, maybe they can. I think if I were a statue, I would want to be taken inside the Shelbourne and put somewhere more comfortable. Maybe at the bar with a big bottle of Möet Chandon or Middleton… I wouldn’t ask for much, like. Those four statues have been out in all weathers for more than a hundred years now and I’m sure they’ve worked up a fierce thirst. So, I’m appealing to the good people at the Shelbourne, boot some of your rich patrons out, and let the statues in to rest awhile. There won’t be a peep out of them; let them fade into the background once more and let Ireland concentrate on making her actual people feel safe and loved. Ending direct provision would be an idea, for starters.

5 Reasons political correspondents deserve our love and understanding

Further to my recent ramblings on the fallibility of our politicians, I wish to add a special little article dedicated to that most controversial of journalistic professions. I’m but a babe, fresh out of journalism college, but even I can see that the job of Political Correspondent (or pol corrs, as they are known in the trade apparently) is a tough one.

Now, I’m not saying pol corrs are perfect, fabulous, wonderful people – that is a job for their long-suffering spouses. But it would be remiss of me if I didn’t jump in to defend them at a time when a lot of them have been criticised for feeling sorry for Éamon Ryan after he was outed on social media for sleeping during a vote.

So, here are 5 reasons why pol corrs deserve our love and understanding.

They NEVER sleep.

Unlike a lot of politicians, pol corrs don’t have the luxury of falling asleep in their chairs. They spend long hours in government buildings every day listening to politicians. And as we know from their media appearances, politicians are a noisy bunch; they speak out of turn, they shout at each other, they drone on and on and on and on about obscure pieces of legislation that, more often than not, nobody really cares about. It’s the pol corr’s job to sit in the uncomfortable press box all day and listen to these Dáil sittings just in case anyone says anything newsworthy. Or falls asleep, as Éamon Ryan did. (He isn’t the first to do so, and he certainly won’t be the last). Even if a poor sleepy pol corr was tired enough for a nap, they wouldn’t be able to sleep on the wooden benches in the press box. Perhaps it’s just as well. But it’s not just Dáil sittings, pol corrs are essentially like baby monitors for politicians; if there’s a hint of trouble or scandal you can bet everyone in the country is logging into Twitter to check what their fave pol corr is saying. This brings me to the next reason why the cratúrs deserve our understanding…

Their job is VERY competitive.

Perhaps the main reason pol corrs don’t sleep is politicians are so damn unpredictable. They have no discernible schedule for doing something idiotic. That, coupled with the 24-hour news-cycle (thank you, internet), means pol corrs are expected to be permanently on the ball waiting for whatever the next big political scoop is. They compete to tell us all the news like teacher’s pets in school, only the teachers in this scenario are newspaper editors, and the pets are, yeah, the pol corrs. Journalists are usually hoors for a bit of gossip so, in times of scandal, the sports desk, the culture desk, etc will be deserted in a newsroom as everyone gathers around some glee-ridden pol corr’s screen. After the scandal is reported, whichever lucky pol corr has been lucky enough to break the story will be inundated by tweets. A lot of these will be from fellow journalists congratulating them, but most of the buzz is generated by the public who can’t resist indulging their schadenfreude tendencies.

It’s thankless work.

You’d think that people might be more grateful – or at least more well-disposed towards political correspondents, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. These past few days I have noticed some pol corrs get almost as much abuse as the politicians they’ve been reporting on. We’ve been through how little sleep these guys and gals get, but despite the fact they probably get about five hours kip a night if they’re lucky, they are not lizards. They are human beings, and it is sometimes difficult to be both human and a journalist at the same time. The same goes for using Twitter, but that is another story for another day. It is natural for pol corrs, who have more insight into the lives of politicians than you or I, to sympathise with the plight of a disgraced politician. Expressing compassion for someone who falls asleep in the Dáil is not a hanging offence, as many would have it. It is simply a tired journalist expressing their valid view that sometimes politicians do dumb things. Take it from someone who has seen it all.

They have seen it all.

Senior pol corrs work very closely with government ministers, and lots of them have direct lines to people working in government. Don’t freak out; this is how news gets reported. But while they are close to politicians, pol corrs can never be too friendly as it is their job to hold politicians to account. This must be very strange for both the pol corrs and the politicians, but it’s a relationship that has evolved to work, however (dys)functionally over decades. A lot of the things pol corrs know to be true cannot be reported or released into the public domain for legal reasons. Ireland has very strict defamation laws, for instance. Pol corrs know the difference between rumour and journalism, and they are always very careful never to confuse the two. This cannot be said about some so-called civilian journalists who think they can do the job better than the pol corrs. Leave it to the professionals. They’re not biased; they just appreciate that good reporting takes time and deserves nuance.

They know stuff.

Do you remember the by-election of 1962 in West Clare when two sheep with a surfboard tried to get into the polling station causing national outrage? No? Well, there’s a good reason for that which I’m sure you can discern, dear reader, but humour me. I’m trying to make a point here. Pol corrs would remember that; they could tell you who was running, what number SPF sunscreen the sheep were wearing, how the people voted, what President de Valera said about the whole ordeal. (He said nothing about the sheep by the way, what a prude…) Pol corrs have an encyclopaedic knowledge of our political system. Not only do they understand the very intricate workings of the system, but they also understand the reasons why it is the way it is – ie complicated – and the psychology of the Irish electorate. Next time you are at a party with a pol corr, ask them to explain PR-STV to you and your guests. Hours of entertainment will be had. You’ll be nodding off into your vino faster than Éamon Ryan was a couple of days ago. Maybe then you’ll understand, which is exactly what the pol corr wanted all along…

That’s politics baby: politicians are human too.

Stop the presses. It may come as a surprise, but our elected representatives are only human. They mightn’t always show it, but every single one of our politicians – whether liked or loathed – has a soul, a family, feelings, and a reputation.

And politics is a profession that can seriously hurt all these. When Oscar Wilde said “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about,” he was not thinking of an Irish politician.

The first rule of Irish Backbenchers Club is you’re in deep doo-doo if your name is all over the news. Even the Taoiseach is probably happiest when ignored – although Micheál Martin does seem like an exceptionally sociable chap.

No, Irish politics, no matter what level you’re at, is a difficult system to work through. No matter how cynical one may be, we have all seen talented public representatives at work; they are usually in it to try and make the country a better place. Theirs is often a thankless job, and yet they persist.

They persist even as they see their fellow politicians, who may only be in it for the money, the glory (hah!), the prestige, progress on through party ranks to ascend right to the top. That’s not to say, however, that all senior politicians are money-grabbing envelope pushers. It depends on the person.

Some are in it for the power and the salary and some aren’t. I would hazard a guess that 50% are in it because they genuinely want to represent their chosen cohort of the Irish population – whether that’s anti-vaxxers or pro-higher-taxes, every voter’s interests need representing.

Not every politician’s policies are going to appeal to everybody. There are so many politicians I would never vote for because their positions on important issues are completely different from the stances I’d take. For instance, Jack Chambers, Fianna Fáil’s Chief Whip and Minister for Sport and the Gaeltacht. I’m mystified as to why a young man his age would be so vocally anti-choice; he campaigned against the repeal of the 8th amendment and he got quite an amount of hate online for doing so.

Well, he’s in government now and seems to be popular among conservative FF backbenchers – who are arguably a little suspicious of more liberal Micheál Martin, so people like myself who wouldn’t vote for him just have to suck it up. That’s how democracy works.

From other quarters, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill were criticised heavily over their attendance at IRA member Bobby Storey’s funeral. On one level, they shouldn’t have been there because of the pandemic travel restrictions; on the other, they made people feel uncomfortable because they attended a terrorist’s funeral.

Mary Lou McDonald said she would have attended even if she was Taoiseach, which was a rare piece of honesty from a Shinner if you ask me. I see no problem in her attending Storey’s funeral; the two were good friends and it is normal to go to a friend’s funeral. (Whether it is normal to be friends with a terrorist is a question for another day and one which Sinn Féin seems intent on evading… not that most young people care, which is a bit worrying.)

Bobby Storey might have been a criminal to me and those who think as I do, but he was a person and a friend, and his death was sad for his family and friends. They deserve to mourn his loss with dignity.

Speaking of dignity, let us move not so swiftly, but definitely soberly, on to the case of Barry Cowen. Taoiseach Micheál Martin was shocked to discover his newly appointed Minister for Agriculture was banned for drink-driving a few years ago. Cowen, understandably eager to keep his job, was a bit slow to furnish the Taoiseach with the full details so, Martin sacked him.

Political journalists were having a field day on Twitter at Cowen’s expense to the extent that I kind of felt bad for him. I mean, I relate to a man who had a few pints but never bothered to get his proper drivers licence far more than I relate to some of the holier-than-thou Greens who like lecturing us about compost heaps and eating beef.

I mean, feck off!

There are some relatable Greens though, not least, Éamon Ryan, the party leader who is hanging on to that title by a hair. Rather hilariously, Ryan fell asleep during a voting call on a bill proposed by the Soc Dems on increasing the living wage.

A piece of video footage, which was like something written by the writers of The Thick of It, showed Éamon being called by Jack Chambers several times, before he eventually woke with a big sheepish grin on him.

Ryan, like Cowen, was widely condemned by everyone. It seems no voter in this country has ever made a mistake, and poor Éamon must be wrecked what with the new ministerial portfolio and his leadership of the Greens being contested by Catherine Martin – who was wide awake by the way.

The thing is Ryan voted against the motion to increase the living wage, which was ironic because he was asleep on the job himself. Irate tweeters were quick to point out the hypocrisy of him earning €100,000 while the workers he was supposed to be representing might be lucky to earn a quarter of that.

The lesson there for Éamon is if you’re going to have an accidental nap, at least have the decency to vote for a wage increase, man.

The lesson for Jack Chambers is to let sleeping Éamons lie for jaysus’s sake.

In the scheme of things, dodgy friends, bad driving, and sleeping on the job are sins a lot of people are guilty of. Is it right that we hold our politicians to such impossibly high standards? They can’t maintain them as we have learned time and time again. It isn’t doing anybody any good getting outraged every time one of them fucks up so why don’t we give them a break?

Yes, holding our elected representatives to account is important, but why can’t we do that on polling day instead of bitching about it after the fact? Politicians themselves are also the biggest mud-slingers of us all; the lefties hate the centrists and the Shinners hate the Blueshirts and on and on it goes.

Perhaps it’s futile for me to wonder why we can’t all just agree to disagree. It’s just not in our nature. As Dwight Schrute from the US Office said: “That’s politics, baby!”

Going Viral: The difference a century makes

So far, 2020 is terrifying. 

Amid the near-constant talk of coronavirus since the year marking a new decade began, it is perhaps a small comfort to know that our ancestors endured another pandemic in 1918-1919 – and in much more difficult circumstances.  

In May 1918, shortly after the end of World War One, the ‘Spanish Flu’ hit Ireland and devastated us. By then it was already devastating other countries; to say nobody was prepared is an understatement – many of these countries were only beginning to recover from a major war.  

Ireland, while neutral during the war, was perhaps even less prepared for such a public emergency. We were a backward country still trying desperately to be fully rid of British rule – albeit with little success. Our location in the middle of the Atlantic – right beside the UK – left us vulnerable and isolated away from our European friends on the continent.  

Unsurprisingly, the 1918 pandemic killed over 20,000 people in Ireland alone. Worldwide, the figure was closer to 100 million.  

One of my grandfathers was born in 1919. He died just after the new millennium in 2000 aged 81, having lived through what was arguably Ireland’s greatest period of transformation.  

He was a toddler when the Irish Civil War began; a young man during World War Two; a middle-aged man with a large family to support when Ireland finally began to modernise during the 50s and 60s; and an old man by the time the tech boom arrived here in the 1990s.  

His wife – my grandmother – lives in a nursing home not far from the house they spent their lives in. She is in a high-risk category for coronavirus; residents of nursing homes and over-70s account for something like 90% of all coronavirus-related deaths in Ireland.  

‘Nanny’ – for that is her name to me and all her many other grandchildren – has had no visitors for weeks on end now.  

My aunties bought her a very basic mobile phone so they could call her and talk to her remotely. Nanny is almost 90, and while she is as smart and sharp as she was when she was younger, she will never be one of these ‘tech’ people.  

The internet came too late for my grandparents; they didn’t and they don’t understand it. Nor do they wish to. “Everyone has one of them phone-ens,” Nanny often says if she catches one of us furtively checking it in her company. Although she has been forced to admit our phones are useful when we Google the time her favourite programme is on TV.  

Her children all have smartphones; my Dad is in his early 60s and would not be without his. He uses it for work emails, Facebook, and WhatsApp. He’s a demon for funny videos, which he watches on full volume without earphones.  

I have had a smartphone since the age of about 15, but the age parents are willing to give children internet access is getting younger and younger.  

Most parents of small children will probably think nothing of their little ones playing on i-Pads or playing other console games to keep them quiet during the lockdown.  

It is remarkable the difference a generation makes. 

Compare the present lockdown to the response of Irish people over one-hundred years ago. Not many people knew about viruses in 1918; hygiene standards were poor and medics didn’t have any of the resources we have today.  

It is a testament to our ancestors and their strength and forbearance that they managed to survive the 1918 pandemic and have children that continue to live through this pandemic. Their children will survive it, too, if we treat our elderly with the respect they deserve.