A broad in Belgium

They called it an Innovation Council Summit, but it was more like a sort of Eurovision for business people.

Except instead of latex leotards and Lordi, there was pinstripes and pencil skirts. In the end, it all seemed little more than a song and a dance.

For two days in late November 2021, several hundred of Europe’s smartest, most productive and most capable people gathered in a motoring museum (yeah, random right?) in Brussels.

And who was in the thick of it all but myself!

I wheeled up outside the rather unorthodox venue having been escorted by my aunt (more on her later, as she said she reads this blog occasionally) – I’m nothing if not well connected.

This being continental Europe, the people here were well organised, multi-lingual, mostly tall, slender and beautifully dressed. The seniors weren’t dinosaur crocks either; they had grey hair and gravitas. The youth weren’t callow and track suited – they were dressed for success. Everyone meant business moving around the area with intimidating efficiency, ignoring the cars which looked to me like glitches in the Matrix.

I didn’t know where to go. A nice man took my temperature at the door. “You’re a bit hot,” he said, concerned. “But go ahead.”

I proceeded through the main arena like Kate Moss at a cattle mart. After a stare at all the vintage cars and an unsuccessful eavesdrop for Irish accents I made my way upstairs to the stage where a beautiful man was raving about innovation.

He held a microphone and walked back and forth, commanding the stage. I’ll have whatever he’s having I thought. After some panel discussions about innovation and tech, I plucked up the courage to get a drink of water. The only problem was the damn machine was automated, and I couldn’t get the water to stop. I must have looked like Father Ted when he got lost in the bra shop. Luckily the water stopped before there was a noticeable flood.

At lunchtime I went outside to a park bench and ate the sandwich I had made that morning at the hotel. I had made it in full view of the dining room as I ate my breakfast. Over the course of my two day trip, I pilfered shamelessly from my hotel’s breakfast buffet. Sandwiches and pastries wrapped up in a napkin did me for lunch and dinner. I was determined to make the ‘all expenses paid’ thing stretch as far as humanly possible. Was this how it felt like being from Cavan?

As a rule, when the Irish go abroad they always meet other Irish. I was no different. Right before I was due to arrive at Business Eurovision I phoned my aunt after successfully ordering a decaff americano – served in a glass!! – and told her I was a short walk away from her house. Would I call in? An offer she couldn’t refuse… (or an offer she couldn’t turn down). This was my first time in her house as an adult, a beautiful townhouse typical of the Europeans. Not Irish Europeans, the Continental ones. The stylish ones, which I was seeing everywhere on the Brussels streets with their muted palettes and sharp tailoring. My aunt gave me a lift to the venue (after we bade adieu to my uncle, a retired journalist) during which she had to dodge several e-scooter riders. “These things are everywhere. People just pick them up, use them and leave them in the middle of the street,” she gestured around. Us Irish people are more for your analogue pleasures – a bike, or a simple walk. It doesn’t matter how assimilated an Irish person becomes in Europe; nothing beats a brisk walk up the Booster hill. (That’s a reference for my aunt who says she reads this blog sometimes when she’s putting off doing the hoovering.)

In the evening, I dodged the hoardes of speedy e-scooters to go back to my hotel and file some copy. Ideally, the byline would have said “by our girl in Brussels” but that might have been over-egging it. Me getting free stuff was not the story here. I made a cup of tea and went to sleep ready for an earlier start the next day.

The following morning I checked myself out of the hotel and legged it back to Business Eurovision where I was informed I would be meeting with a real-life Irish MEP. OMG! When I eventually got face to face with the MEP I tried not to stare at her like she was a sea lion doing a very impressive trick with a ball on her nose. Getting starstruck by politicians isn’t a good quality in a journalist but I can’t seem to not stare at them whenever I meet them in the flesh. I spent most of the interview internally shitting a brick, which is as uncomfortable as it sounds.

I can’t remember whether or not I shat the brick in the end, but I did decide to venture further into the city centre of Bruxelles in the hope of finding a quality waffle. My bosses said I should try a waffle and as they’d never steered me wrong before I added it to the list of ‘must dos’ – after the actual Business Eurovision which I was being paid to cover.

It being continental Europe, I was expecting sustainable, efficient public transport networks with stops all laid out in such a manner that even I, an eejit, could understand and follow. My experience with the electric buses of Brussels was… mixed. I hopped on one going right to the centre, which took around 30 minutes from where I was stationed in the thick of European society. My stop was the last one and I must have been doing a bit of gawking out the window because I was rather unceremoniously told to get off the bus by an invisible Brusseler bus driver (busseler?) who roared “Zhe Ter-min-oo!” for my benefit. That was me told. I was too shocked to say anything other than “Sorry, shite, I’m sorry,” as I poured myself and all belonging to me on the street.

Abrupt bus drivers aside, I spent a very nice few hours walking around the cobblestone streets behind the Big Palace with the Lion head statues on the pillars. I think a king lives there but I couldn’t be sure. He didn’t come out to receive one in any case. Fine by me. I declined to put my snout to the gates as there was some guards standing around waiting for something. (Anti lockdown or mask protestors I guessed). I got took some photos of funny statues and got a waffle from a man of Maghrebi extraction who offered me a choice of toppings: Nutella or caramel. Oh, the dilemma! It was Hamletian! To be or not to be… I went for caramel. For a change. It was delicious; I ate it in the street and I normally consider myself too delicate and too Patrician for such indignities. (I’m much more comfortable using automated water machines around dignitaries.)

Later on, it was touch and go getting the bloody bus to the airport to check-in for my return flight. Buses don’t all arrive on time, even on the continent. A valuable lesson learned there. As I folded myself into the plasticy seat on the Ryanair flight home I thought of all the highlights of my brief little journalist’s sojourn: my name was misspelt; I met interesting people; I ate bread; I drank coffee; I had a waffle in the winter air; I was continental; I saw my aunt; I didn’t put my hand in my pocket; everyone and everything was nice to look at.

All in all? Douze points.

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.

Country roads, take me home

Another dawn, another day waiting for whatever emails I sent the day before to bear fruit. Somewhere between 2 pm and 3 pm I decided I wasn’t going to hear back from The Guardian about the pitch I’d sent them so I checked my emails again – only to find this time a rejection from the HR department of a shoe-shop I’d applied to.

“Well, feck them!” I said to myself in that good-natured way people who are used to such rejection emails do in order to conserve their sanity. Some of us don’t have a lot to spare in the first place. In case you’re wondering why I, an entry-level nobody, pitch to such illustrious outlets like The Guardian, it is because that’s what I do instead of playing the lotto. I like to write and I don’t have much shame – ergo, I pitch to lots of editors routinely (BUT NEVER AT THE SAME TIME because they don’t like that). Most have been very constructive and kind in their “thanks but I’ll pass on this” emails which gives me heart that someday my pitch will land.

While I wait for my pitch to land/prince to come, I’ve been trying to get a regular retail job to keep me going until something else comes along, but that’s not going so hot either. On the day I got the rejection from the shoe-shop I didn’t react like I sometimes do – take to the bed – instead, I didn’t let it faze me and I went for a long walk through the country-side accompanied by the dog, who wouldn’t reject a wretch like me.

I’d made the mistake of taking what my phone’s forecast app said verbatim and I went out dressed in long-sleeves and a rain-jacket. Despite it being 14 degrees and sunny out, my phone said it would rain soon, and sure enough, the sky was boiling for showers, as they say. By the time I’d reached the end of one road still dry I insisted to the dog we’d go down the next one. She was having none of it. She froze on the spot and wouldn’t respond to my pleas; I felt like the husband of a sherry-drunk wife making a scene at an English dinner party. I picked her up and hefted her a metre or two across the road. She got the message; “There, I’m stubborner than you,” I panted.

We walked on until we met a man we’d seen before on another day when he’d glared at us from his garden after one of us made his dog bark. On this occasion he was on neutral territory, walking on the lane-way. In my best diplomatic tone I stated: “Howya doin'” as we passed him – this has become my standard countryside greeting over the past few months. It’s obviously inspired by Joey Tribbiani, and a smather of Miley from the Riordans. The man clearly didn’t appreciate that because he just grunted “uh” at me for having the temerity to walk past his farmland. I knew then looking at him that he’d be the type that wouldn’t think twice about putting a bullet in my head or the dog’s head, either, for that matter. (And she didn’t even say anything to him.)

We walked on, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit dejected, like I’d been rejected by HR all over again – only this time HR was one contrary ‘aul lad wearing filthy clothes and the disgruntled expression (and huge swollen stomach) of someone with a seriously advanced case of GERD. Either that or he was in the final days of trying to beat the record set by the Malian woman who’d given birth to nine kids in one go.

My fruitless encounter with the unfriendly farmer got me thinking about the importance of first impressions. Clearly he was impervious to the standard “Howya doin” which works on everyone else I meet when I’m out walking. The trick is, I think, to state it rather than say it; country people have no respect for a pushover or a mumbler. You have to say your chosen greeting out loud and proud and then move on quickly lest you make a fool of yourself. If it’s your neighbour you might stop and have a word about the weather, a subject of endless fascination.

I haven’t fully gotten the hang of first impressions in a professional interview setting yet. When the dog and I eventually reached home, I pondered that as I tucked ice under my armpits and checked my hide for bullets. Maybe it’s my glasses, I thought to myself; maybe they think I’m an intellectual who’s hopelessly unsuited to customer service. (Only the second part of that sentence is true). If they gave me a job I’d be able to save for laser eye surgery, or at least a less pretentious pair of specs. I like the ones I have but they do make me look as if I’m about to define postmodernism at any second. I swear to god I barely even know what postmodernism is and I wrote a thesis on it; I just want to make a living wage. Ironically, when I apply to customer service jobs I lie about my education, because having two Master’s degrees and no job makes you seem like a mad scientist on paper. At my lowest I’ve thought of leaning in to the way my face looks and doing a PhD, but I’ve decided it’s slightly less mad endeavouring to get work in my area while also trying to make a quick buck or two working for people who think my lack of enthusiasm for serving customers means I’m secretly fantasising about postmodernism. I’m not, I’m thinking about a holiday in France just like everyone else. At this stage though, I’d settle for a by-line or even a howya from the peevish country-man with the quintuplets in his belly.

Gwyneth Paltrow: Bread & Circuses

Yesterday was a great news day for the subset of the population that likes to comment “HOW IS THIS NEWS?” underneath lifestyle articles on everything from endometriosis to what Mariah Carey wore to the toilet on a cold night. (There’s definitely a gendered slant to their sneers. I never see them doing complaining about the new-worthiness of whatever it is MMA fighters do to justify their existence).

I can’t be sure how this social grouping of discerning, angry news junkies came into being, but I think it might have been around the time The Guardian joined Facebook. They are happiest, after all, in the Guardian’s Facebook comments section playing games of whataboutery and excoriating the news media in the vain hope that someday they’ll be listened to.

Yesterday was not that day, however. The Guardian gamely posted a puff piece about celebrities documenting their personal pandemic rockbottoms, and, it’s safe to say the HOW IS THIS NEWS? people’s generally fairly prominent forehead veins were busting out of their brows by noon.

Spare a thought for Gwyneth Paltrow, though. The offending article’s lede told of Gwyneth’s terrible admission she ate bread during lockdown, which, she said was her personal low-point. Understandable. I eat two pieces of bread for breakfast every day and look how deviantly disgusting I am. (In an interview, Margaret Thatcher famously admitted to denying herself her favourite ‘guilty’ pleasure: marmalade, toast and butter; and look how wonderful she was.)

Like most of the HOW IS THIS NEWS? people, I didn’t read the article and I’m not letting that stop me from commenting. I might also point out (like my HOW IS THIS NEWS? friends would do) that the violence taking place in Palestine should take precedence over literally anything former actress and current businesswoman Paltrow says, but I’d be missing the point. It might be possible that Gwyneth was joking or being ironic; people do that, still. And it might be possible that The Guardian, knowing what sells, and wanting people to pay for journalism, simply report what they think we want to read. Poorly informed outrage is the best kind of outrage – and that ain’t news, baby.

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

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…