Monday, December 28, 2009

Scoop? Brian Lenihan's cancer diagnosis

Link to the YouTube video of the TV3 broadcast:

It might be Christmas, a time when regional journos like me are sitting at home drowning our sorrows (or toasting our joys, whichever). But for the "vultures" in the national media, Christmas is a time like any other, a time when stories are made and broken, and can sometimes have the same effect on people.
I say "vultures" because I was rather torn this week when the story of Brian Lenihan's cancer diagnosis broke, on St Stephen's Day.
And I do call it a story, something which may offend non-media people reading this.
A number of conversations I've had with different people in the two days since the story broke have served only to show me that we in the media think completely differently from 'civilians'.
Before I go into this further I will just say, for the record, that I wish Brian Lenihan the best with his illness. It must be an absolutely awful time for him and for his family and friends. My own family has been through this and I know how difficult it is. On a human level this news is among the worst you can get and I hope that he can get through it with the support of his loved ones. The media coverage, particularly when all his family had not been informed, must have been a further blow.
Going back to the story, there has been a huge amount of criticism of the manner in which it was broken. There have even been a number of Facebook groups set up a) in support of Mr Lenihan and b) to protest at TV3's handling of the story.
The general reaction seems to be one of disgust at the way TV3 broke the story over the Christmas break, after seemingly issuing Mr Lenihan with an ultimatum - he was forced to inform people on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day whom he may otherwise not have informed for quite a while. According to the Irish Independent (link above) a number of his family members were not aware of the nature of his illness before the broadcast, at 5.30pm on St Stephen's Day.
As one friend put it, 'That used to be the difference between the English press and the Irish press' - the fact that the Irish press respected personal privacy and 'open secrets'. Like that of the affair between Charles J Haughey and Terry Keane, or the fact that Bertie Ahern was living with Celia Larkin, or the drink problems that are consistently whispered about in relation to senior politicians in this country, or a million other aspects of politicians'  and other public figures' personal lives, .
Of course, the serious illness of a Cabinet Minister does not reflect on his character in the way that, say, an extra-marital affair or a drug problem might. But I agree with TV3 on one thing - that it will have implications for the country.
Brian Lenihan is arguably the best Minister serving in the current Cabinet. He is constantly mooted as Brian Cowen's successor, and he is generally considered intelligent, educated, and remarkably free from the insane level of populism that has tainted so many of his colleagues.
The fact that he is so seriously ill and may have to step down in 2010 is nothing short of a disaster for a Government that has weathered some major storms in 2008 and 2009, against all the odds. That would prompt a Cabinet reshuffle, bickering among backbenchers, junior ministers and senior ministers who will all want a sweetener (especially after taking fairly hefty pay cuts), and will throw Cowen's Government right back into the mire it has just, miraculously, climbed out of. Public support for Lenihan is far in excess of that for Cowen (even before the diagnosis), and he has been an asset to the Government. Without him, it's possible that the public will completely turn away from the Government, and the 'buy-in' it has been so anxious to achieve, will be lost.
Having said all of that, it's hard to see why TV3 couldn't have waited just one more day. I understand the urgency of wanting to be first with a story. During last year's Galway Water Crisis ('the one with the lead'),
I was hopping out of my skin to be first, but was defeated by working for a weekly paper - the local radio station scooped me by a day, although I'd known of the story for two days before them.
What my friend said about the Irish media is true - there are still some standards that do not apply in Britain. The issue of Lenihan's diagnosis appears to have been subject to some kind of Gentleman's Agreement - rumours had been circulating within a very small media and political circle for over a week. And obviously a decision was taken to wait until after Christmas, for which TV3 deserve some credit. A gentleman's agreement, however, is just like those old-fashioned pistol duels, where you are trusting the other person not to draw before you do. Somebody is always going to cheat, and you might as well be first.
And TV3 would have been afraid, with the might of RTE and that of Denis O'Brien's twin channels, Newstalk and Today FM, that they'd be scooped. Unlikely, because most of the current affairs heavy hitters in both places - the likes of Matt Cooper, Mark Little, Pat Kenny - are all on Christmas holidays. And it's unlikely that a story of that magnitude would be left to the fill-in journos to break - that decision would be made further up the line. RTE would've been unlikely to break it, because they know on which side their bread is buttered - so it was left to an independent newsroom to do so.
Ursula Halligan has been building a very strong reputation in recent years, and it remains to be seen whether this story will make or break her. It could give her the serious news credentials she is looking for, or it could make her a pariah. She can certainly forget about landing a plum job in Government Information Services - ever. Even Fine Gael wouldn't hire her after this!
Whatever their reasoning, this appears to have been a serious error of judgment by the TV3 editorial staff. We've all made them, but, to judge by the level of public condemnation, this one might stick.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Best site ever for media nerds

This site is fun, tremendous fun as my mother would say!

For those of you not in the media, keep an eye out for the little 'Corrections & Clarifications' box in your local paper. The Times' one is rarely entertaining but as this site shows, some of them can be downright hilarious.

Abuse and the Irish

The Listowel sex assailant is to appeal his conviction.

Speaking to a friend who is from Listowel over the weekend, some of my suspicions about this case were confirmed.

Without wishing to compromise her anonymity, the girl is from what would be considered a 'rough' area in the town.

Foley is from a GAA family and his brother (I think) played for Kerry.

This is not just small-town. This is a clear and simple class issue, made starker by being played out on a very small stage.

This case stinks.

In other news the revelation that Gerry Adams' brother is a paedophile and his father allegedly abused also is quite shocking. Between this, Listowel and the church scandals that finally seem to be hitting the Church where it hurts - captains resigning rather than footsoldiers - perhaps this is a watershed in this country's relationship with abuse and sexuality and where they intersect.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The sinister side of rural Ireland

Rural Ireland is a sinister place. On the surface, small villages are fantastic. A sense of community, everyone knowing everyone else, and sometimes, if you're lucky, a real pride of place and a sense of shared history that binds people together.

But there is a sinister side to village life.

The very 'shared history' that binds people can tear them apart, and 'community' can quickly turn to pure parochialism when something goes wrong. Our own village has a 200 year old feud between neighbouring families - one of whose ancestors shopped the other to the local squire for republican activities in the 1700s, causing his execution. Every time there is drink taken the feud reappears.

There are three Irish writers who have illustrated this dichotomy beautifully; Martin McDonagh, in his brilliant Leenane trilogy; Pat McCabe, in the Butcher Boy and other work; and John B. Keane, the legendary playwright and raconteur whose epic work The Field showed off rural Ireland at its darkest; a village divided by greed, power, corruption and parochialism.

Keane's home town of Listowel, Co Kerry, this week became the epicentre of a scandal involving a sexual assault and a town divided between victim and accused. While everyone is innocent until proven guilty - especially in such a serious case, where a man's reputation will be destroyed if wrongly accused - the accused in this case, Danny Foley, has been convicted of a serious and violent sexual assault. But his conviction, with a unanimous jury and a hefty sentence (for this type of offence) did not convince his supporters.

50 of them, mostly middle aged and older men, queued up to shake his hand after he was convicted. They included his local parish priest.

This procession of shame took place in the courtroom where the victim was sitting, appalled and humiliated. Although her anonymity has been respected by the media, as is their legal obligation, Listowel is a small place, and the whole town knows her identity.

The town is reportedly split between her family and that of the convicted sex offender, whose parish priest said he "doesn't have an abusive bone in his body". Well, I'm sorry, Fr Sheehy, but he does. A court of law has found that he does. And by claiming otherwise, you are accusing the victim of wasting police time, perjury, and slander.

She is being shunned; refused service in pubs and shops as if she were the criminal.

While there are other issues here about treatment of women and our attitudes towards sexual crime, the clear implication of this case is that our history over the past few years - Magdalen laundries, clerical and other sexual abuse, domestic violence and terrorism all kept secret to look after 'our own' - have taught us absolutely nothing about what it means to be a society.

The shock and disgust apparent at the revelations of the Murphy and Cloyne investigations into religious institutions can be no more than posturing, if we have not taken the lessons of the reports to heart; there can be no more turning a blind eye, no more defence of the indefensible and no more defiance of the rule of law where it happens to apply to somebody we know. Bishop Donal Murray has (finally) acknowledged this last rule and resigned, but only after a fight.

The banking and political scandals that have been rocking this country - 'Seanie' Fitz, 'Fingers' Fingleton and their blatant disregard for the law, and a number of corrupt politicians who continue to get elected despite defrauding their constituents and everybody else - are a less emotive but just as fundamental symptom of our appalling lack of perspective when it comes to application of the law, and of basic moral standards.

This is a small country; everyone knows everyone. That's what makes Ireland a welcoming and warm country, but it's also what made it corrupt, immoral and backward when Keane wrote The Field.

Whatever our developments over the past few years, cases like this one in Listowel show that this Ireland has not disappeared.

UPDATE: The priest has resigned

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Children and animals...

This video was doing the rounds of the office this morning. I'm not feeling the Mae West after a night out courtesy of Fuzion Communications (thanks guys... I think!) but this definitely lifted my spirits!

They say never work with children or animals but this unfortunate presenter has both real children and fake animals to deal with, never an easy task. I love the way he tries to hold it altogether at first but just gives in after a while.

And as for poor Kevin... he will never, ever forget that day! (Or maybe he will, considering he "is a sheep"!)

Here's a link to the video...

It's a Wonderful Life

It may be cheesy, but It’s a Wonderful Life is the perfect Christmas film for all of us this year.

I scoffed at the person who told me to bring tissues to the screening. I am a cynical journalist, I told them, and I do not cry at soppy movies! By the end, both I and the (equally cynical) politician I went to the movie with were bawling. The teacher sitting between us was dry-eyed. What this says about our respective professions I don’t know.

But I digress. For those of you who don’t know the story, George Bailey is a dreamer saddled with mundane responsibilities. His local town, Bedford Falls, is run as a fiefdom by the malicious millionaire Potter, and George’s family has been the only one to stand up to him, founding a Building & Loan society that is helping to pull people out of slums and poverty.

It’s the usual David & Goliath, good versus evil story you see in Christmas films. But what’s particularly resonant about it today, in Ireland, is the fact that it’s all about banks. Banks, building, and small businesses.

George’s business is more like a charity. He runs it for the good of the community, and has forgone the opportunity to get rich to do so. Potter, on the other hand, is a rich, miserable, control freak who thrives on the unhappiness of others – he profits massively from the Wall Street Crash of 1929, which increases his hold over the town.

Under these circumstances, small businesses like George’s can barely survive. But George, through a combination of adroitness and kindness, manages to keep a roof over his head and those of his customers.

Without ruining the ending for you, the fact that George’s business continues to grow is no thanks to the bank, which is owned by big, bad Potter. It’s thanks to the small-timers.

The comparisons between Depression-era Bedford Falls and modern Ireland are stark.

Every day we are seeing small businesses go to the wall while our taxes bail out banks whose greed during the good times now holds the country to ransom. In our case, however, the ‘small-timers’ – taxpayers and social welfare recipients – are cushioning banks, while small businesses like the Bailey Building & Loan have nowhere to go for help.

With the City Council this week deciding not to hike rates for 2010, it’s clear the powers that be recognise businesses are facing a tough year. But it’s not enough.

Businesses suffering from the recession, lack of consumer confidence and of course the floods need more from Government than a constant assurance that prices are dropping. They need practical help – an onus on the banks to be more flexible would help.

For businesses like Plugd Records, which this week announced its closure, it’s all been too much. They need more than is being given.

To that end the Cork Independent hopes to play a very small part in helping flood-affected businesses get back on their feet, by offering free coverage to those re-opening in January (see p46 for details).

It’s a small thing, but, like the community of Bedford Falls, the community of Cork has rallied. The Raising Cork quiz and the various charity collections going on at the moment show that people are generous even in adversity Individual charity donations are up; staff in our office donated to the Saint Vincent de Paul rather than do our customary Kris Kindle this year.

There is an understanding now, more than there ever was in the Celtic Tiger years, that there but for the grace of God go we. Together, we can take whatever is thrown at us; it might be hard, but it’s a wonderful life.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Catholic Church in Ireland: the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end?

After reading Theo Dorgan's thought-provoking piece in today's Irish Times, something struck me.

The horror and sorrow of those who trusted the Church at these latest revelations, and the bishops' sadly inadequate reactions to them, is not present among my generation.

To those of us who grew up in the 1990s, this is completely normal.

We do not know a Church that engenders fear. We do not even know a Church that engenders respect. We know only a Church that engenders disgust, anger and the desire for retribution and the toppling from pedestals of idols who have been falsely worshipped for too long.

My childhood was full of the Church. Small rural villages were still built around the GAA and the Church in the early 1990s. These days my cousins go to Ju Jitsu instead of camogie, and the Crescent Shopping Centre instead of Mass. And why wouldn't they?

I was the most dedicated member of our parish choir from 8 to about 15, when I got too cool. At about 9, I pleaded with my mother to let me be an altar server. The boys in my class had served Mass for years, and it was opened to girls later. She said no. Now, I know why. Not because she had any suspicions about our local priest,  a genuinely nice man, and one of the good guys. Because she wasn't going to let me serve at an altar I could never preside over. She didn't raise me to be anybody's handmaiden.

By the time my Confirmation came about, I'd decided I was an atheist. Or maybe an agnostic. I didn't really know the difference and I didn't really care. I knew I didn't believe in all the smoke and mirror, incense-scented hokum that had entranced me just a year or two previously. I have a bit more respect for the Catholic religion these days, but my views on the Church have steadily deteriorated.

Since my Confirmation, fallen idols like Eamonn Casey and paedophiles like Brendan Smith have become almost the norm. Throughout my teenage years there were reports upon reports, revelatory television shows and tell-all books that opened up the dreadful wounds of a country in its infancy where the price of freedom had been a new, more evil tyranny.

On a visit to the Vatican a couple of years ago, I found myself crying with rage. I was so angry I had to leave. The wealth and ostentation, and above all, cheek,  of a small group of Western men who are still telling the rest of the world how to live was like a ball of rage in the pit of my stomach. Comparing the splendours of St Peter's Basilica with the misery of people in, in particular, Africa, who continue to spread and contract HIV/AIDS because the Vatican prohibits contraception was eye-opening. The fact, too, that this was the biggest club in the world, and as a woman I couldn't fully join it, angered me. 

Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes and the legion of books like it made the miserable Irish Catholic childhood almost fashionable, and most people my age have by now found out whether their parents experienced it or not. But it's almost a given, now, that they did. To some degree.

The shocked reactions of people their age - fifties and older - to the latest series of revelations, first from Cloyne and now from Dublin, is to us, disingenuous at best. We've all known this was about to burst for quite a while now. So why the shock?

Theo Dorgan's assertion that this is the beginning of the end for the Church in Ireland is interesting, because he is still in the mindset of somebody who grew up with an infallible Church. Find me somebody under forty who thinks like this. As far as we are concerned, the beginning of the end took place a long time ago.

Christmas spirit

Despite the Budget doom and gloom, there seems to be a surfeit of Christmas spirit around at the moment. This is the first year I've ever seen mulled wine for sale in Ireland, and it's definitely a welcome development!
Cork Marketing Partnership's Christmas Celebration on Grand Parade is an inspired idea. Having received both pictures and press releases over the past few weeks, I was still a bit unclear as to what was actually happening there. I blame my own lack of attention for this and not a deficiency in the press releasing skills of Steve from the Partnership!
Wandering past on Friday at lunchtime I was all agog at the mulled wine, pig on a spit and even sausages in a bun (no CMOT Dibbler, Pratchett fans). I went back on Saturday for a look - twice - because the Peace Park wasn't open during the day. On Saturday evening I went back to see it in all its winter wonderland glory, and the boyfriend and I agreed that it most reminded us of the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, probably the most Christmassy place on earth. Little kids squealing with excitement at photo points with Rudolph, Santa and various Christmassy characters (although I'm not sure about the giant squirrel), elderly couples walking around holding hands, Christmas music playing and lights in every tree and bush in the park. Not to mention the best bit - the fake snow! I've always been a sucker for all things Christmassy and the Christmas Celebration on Grand Parade is up there with the best of them in providing a lovely, free activity for families and couples in search of some Christmas cheer. A hot port in Mutton Lane on the way, and home to make and write the Christmas cards. You might not live in a Disney movie but this sure is a good way of pretending to...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Desserts... but not "just" desserts

No room to Budge(t)

Sorry for the terrible pun... but I couldn't resist it.

This week's editorial, written in post-Budget craziness!

Waiting for yesterday’s Budget, one thing was clear. From radio, television, Twitter, Facebook and carrier pigeon the message was coming across loud and clear that people were terrified and angry.
I learned at about 11am that protesters had already assembled outside Leinster House to protest against ‘potential’ cuts to be made in the Budget. While much of the document’s content had been gradually leaked over the past number of weeks, it was clear that whatever Brian Lenihan came up with, there were going to be protests against it.
Fair enough – measures announced yesterday will have a serious impact on a lot of people. But protesting before you even know what you’re protesting against is something else.
The Government press office are masters of spin, and there’s no doubt that this Budget was spun like candy floss, until whatever substance there was in it was hidden in a cloud of speculation and worry.
Over the past couple of weeks, the idea that public sector pay would be cut and a carbon tax would be imposed became pretty certain. But most people were expecting larger cuts to social welfare and a bigger impact on income in the private sector, so understandably breathed a sigh of relief when these did not materialise.
The response, which began before the speech concluded, is a predictable mixture of both justified and unjustified protests, complaints and sectional interests protecting their patch.
While Brian Lenihan was at pains to suggest that this would be the hardest Budget of this recession, it’s almost certain that it won’t be. The country’s structural deficit will be somewhat addressed by cuts to public sector pay, but the drastic restructuring needed did not materialise.
The major step of cutting public sector pay, which has been the most controversial aspect of the financial situation over the past year, has been taken. This is going to create serious unrest. Elsewhere on this page, read about GRA members in Cork who are soon to be ballotted about industrial action. Taking a cut of between five and eight per cent under yesterday’s Budget, there is little doubt that they will vote to strike. And with one SIPTU official calling this “the harshest Budget since the 1930s”, they will not be alone. The public service has been hit hard and will strike back.
But they are not alone – the student maintenance grant, carers’ payments, child benefit and dole payments have all been cut.
Business organisations and many private sector workers have been seeking such cuts, but their introduction may change the minds of many on their relative benefits; how many private sector workers have children in college, elderly parents being cared for, or public sector spouses?
While the Government had no room to budge – whatever they cut would hurt somebody – it will become apparent in the days and weeks ahead whether they have made the right choices.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Florence and the Machine

Florence and the Machine are playing in Cork this weekend. Check out Brian's feature on Florence and the fantastic acts supporting her in this week's paper.

I absolutely love Florence. I have never played a CD so often, on repeat, nor so loud. She has the most amazing voice, with depth and pain and soul, and her songs speak to me like none ever have. I have the same passion for that album that I had for the Chronicles of Narnia as a kid, and I can't help thinking there are more parallels there than just my feelings for them. Both Florence's album and the Narnia books speak of epic journeys, pain, and the ultimate triumph of goodness and glory.

So I should be delighted she is playing in Cork. I couldn't get tickets for her in Dublin, as they sold out within minutes. And, even more, this gig is actually free. Free! And, doing the job I do, in Cork, I am able to get on the guest list. Thank God for pull.

Not only is there Florence, but the Magic Numbers and Lisa Hannigan, two more of my favourite acts, are supporting. In the Opera House. Five minutes from where I live.

It's like it was fated. Except for one thing... I can't go.

I have a prior commitment.

To put some perspective on it, when I told my boyfriend Florence was playing in Cork, he said he would break up with me if I didn't get us tickets. And I duly did.

Before I realised it was on the same night as that prior commitment; his granny's birthday.

There are some things worth the sacrifice. I suppose.

Compromise will hurt services

Compromise will hurt services

Conflicting statements from the Government and the unions over the last few days have left most of us in a state of some confusion. The fact that they are talking again, rather than issuing tit-for-tat hollow threats, is to be welcomed, but the subject and focus of these talks are something to be wondered at.

A number of weeks ago I wrote about a campaign run by the public service unions that was disingenuous at best, and at worst cynical and dishonest. I won’t go over old ground, but the campaign in question featured stock images of a fictitious sick baby (‘Laura’) and the claim that the child needed services more than the Government needed to cut them.

And what has happened since? One public service strike, which caused a lot of hassle (for non-public service parents in particular, many of whom lost a day’s pay in order to stay at home and mind their kids). Widespread flooding across the country, throughout which public service workers have been admirably diligent and dedicated. And now, talks which have seemingly resulted in a decision not to cut their pay, but to cut the amount of time they work.

I may be getting something wrong here, but will this not impact directly on the level of services being offered to ‘Laura’ and others like her?

It’s not fair to blame public sector workers for the disaster the country is in. And if you follow this line of reasoning, it’s not fair to cut their pay either. But companies across the country have already done this, and private sector workers, most of whom did not get any great benefit from the boom, have already taken the pain.

I have great admiration for most public servants. I could never be a nurse, or a teacher – I simply don’t have those skills. But the unions are doing their members a disservice by talking out of both sides of their mouths.

Unions represent their members. They do not represent anyone else – sick babies, old people or flood victims. This is evidenced by the proposal to cut days worked, which will have a clear and major impact on services provided, especially those in key front line areas, where staff are already stretched.

The Government and unions have been uniquely short-sighted in seeing this as a solution. As one private sector friend of mine suggested yesterday, why not reduce public sector sick pay to the statutory level that private sector workers have? This would decrease the amount of absenteeism and make a hug saving. Some imagination would not go amiss.

Another public sector strike would merely have served to deepen the divide between public and private sector workers, when we really are in this together. Let’s just hope a more imaginative and equitable solution can be found.

Friday, November 20, 2009


It seems our front page story was unusually prescient - things are crazy in Cork this morning. Very sad reason for the flooding; the dam at the Inniscarra reservoir was kept shut in order to search for missing student Brian O Tuama in the river, but they had to free the water or risk the dam bursting.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fail to prepare...

This week we learned that Cork could be submerged under water if flood defences are not adequately prepared in time for the real onset of climate change. According to a new report by the Irish Academy of Engineers, Ireland's major cities, all built on the coast and also on river estuaries, could be submerged within the next century as a result of climate change.

The report – 'Ireland at Risk' – also claims that the traditional one-in-a-century flood could happen every five years if measures are not taken to combat climate change and to prepare flood defences. And many areas of Cork are at serious risk.

Somebody tell that to the people in Passage West and Glenbrook who saw wholesale destruction of their property last week. Serious flooding occurred in Glenbrook, Monkstown, Rochestown, Carrigaline, Shanbally and Minane Bridge, and residents in Glenbrook in particular were devastated at the destruction of homes and vehicles. However, the crucial part of this tale of woe is that local people had been seeking flood defence works for years. Not huge ones; merely the unblocking of gullies. And why didn't they happen? Not urgent, according to Cork County Council.

In fairness to Cork County Council, they're not operating in a vacuum. Irish attitudes to preparation are at best optimistic and at worst apocalyptic. Make hay while the sun shines… it might never happen… sure we'll manage.

Nothing is urgent until the worst happens. That's how disaster strikes. And climate change, as this report shows, is coming at us at full speed. I'm not an expert on the environment. But I believe in what I can see, and even I can see that the weather is changing.

At the moment, the country is like one of those cartoon characters whose eyes are following the prize, while the anvil plummets towards them at speed. We are focussing on the finer points of bankers' salaries and tax rates and even on Jedward, and the Breffmeister. Some of these things are merely much-needed entertainment, while others may be directly relevant to our daily lives and wellbeing.

But issues like last week's flooding in Passage West and Glenbrook show us that we cannot afford to put climate change on the back burner. Waiting until we've dealt with the economic crisis is simply not good enough; the economic crisis could continue for the next twenty years.
While real long-term change needs to happen from the bottom up, the Government must lead on this, and introduce a flood defence programme immediately. We cannot stop climate change. But, while it might take a sea-change in mentality, we can do our best to prepare for and cope with it.

- For pics see or

*UPDATE: Cork is practically underwater today, one day after writing... wasn't aware I was psychic!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Seanad vacancies

Interesting to see the choices of Seanad nomination to fill two vacant seats (the third will come in due course).

I must say I'm glad to see the Greens' Niall O Brolchain nominated for a seat - he is more suited to national politics than local and I think the current activity level in the Seanad will suit him. (Declaration of interest: I know Niall but only professionally, and I am quite sorry not to be in Galway to cover this story!)

He lost his seat in Galway City West in July, and it seems to have been quite the rollercoaster ride for him to this point - from being the Greens 'next big thing' as their first mayor in 2006, to being the face of the Galway Water Crisis in 2007, to missing out on a Dail seat later in 2007, losing his council seat in July and now getting that long-sought Seanad nomination. I wish him the best of luck.

By 'level of activity', I mean that the Seanad appears to be quite a hotbed of intelligent debate these days. Since abolition became a running topic it seems some Senators have really pulled the finger out and are out there doing the business.

The sad thing about the Seanad is that some of the best brains in Irish politics are stuck in it due to their 'unelectability' as TDs or general bad luck. I have great time for celebrity Senators Shane Ross and David Norris but I've also come across some very intelligent, lower profile Senators who are wasted in the 'talking shop' of the Oireachtas.

The Seanad is a lot more diverse than the Dail and seems to have real debates, rather than the sham ones that usually involve an FF backbencher mumbling over his notes to the 'rhubarb'ing coming from the Opposition benches. The Seanad can be quite entertaining, but is often the only place a lot of legislation gets discussed.

But back to the nominations. It's interesting to note that Labour's candidate (token, I presume, since they are unlikely to win the poll among sitting Oireachtas members) is James Heffernan of Labour. Another declaration of interest: James is the local councillor where my parents live and I knew him growing up. He is a first time councillor and ran a surprisingly strong campaign for the Dail in 2007. Labour have clearly earmarked him for greatness and it says a lot that he has been chosen as a Seanad nominee, token or not.

Now, I haven't heard of FF's James Carroll, but a quick google reveals him to be easy on the eye, at least. That's not everything but it helps; just ask Eamon Ryan!

*Update - Sen David Norris emailed me after seeing this post:
"Do you know the entire electorate numbers 226. Its confined to members of the Seanad and Dail. That lot castigated the University Seats with constituency numbering 55,000 in the case of Trinity and over 100,000 in the case of NUI for being undemocratic. What a laugh."

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Emperor has no clothes

I've already written here about how supportive I am of the arts in general - particularly writing, theatre and music. I can appreciate other types of art generally, but don't have such an engagement with them.

But I am always willing to be educated, and with that in mind I went to the opening event of Art Trail last night at the Savoy Theatre in Cork. A lovely event, not your usual launch, very few of the launch-heads around. The free cocktails and nibbles went down a treat with the arty types, many of whom fulfilled the starving-in-a-garret stereotype perfectly.

The opening speech was mercifully brief, and in a very sweet attempt to get people to participate, a copy was handed to everyone in the audience to read aloud simultaneously. A friend and I started to join in but soon realised nobody else was, and as someone else pointed out, it did feel a bit like Mass. I respected the effort though - if people had bought in, it would have made the speech relevant and inclusive, something very few speeches are. So far, I get it.

A drink or two later we were wondering what, if anything, was coming next, when everybody started moving towards the screening room. So we, naturally, followed. This was the video installation mentioned on the press release.

But it wasn't. I think. At least, if it was, there's a serious case for a charge of false advertising.

What we were treated/subjected to was a 25-minute long chant by a woman in a white CSI-type boiler suit, standing in front of a screen on which the words of her chant were projected. But they weren't words, I think. Well, maybe they were words in Finnish or something - a lot of umlauts and a lot of strange constructions. Every time there was an ebb or a flow in the chant, there was an audible intake of breath and posture change as people got ready to applaud and run.
But no... about seven times this false dawn appeared. There were no chairs... after about ten minutes most people were sitting on the floor.

Discussing the thing at work this morning, one of our graphic designers explained to me that in conceptual art (apparently that's what this is) there are three roles: the artist installs, the critic gives it meaning, and the collector gives it value.
(Graphic designers do go to art college, so I'll presume he knows what he is talking about).

People questioned the validity of Tracy Emin's 'My Bed' which was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1999. And in one sense they were right to - after all, everyone has a bed. But in another, that's exactly the reason it was art - everyone could relate to it, everyone would interpret it differently, it spoke to people and it raised questions (even if they were just questions about the artist's personal hygiene). So, although I'm not a huge lover of modern art, I see the point of that.

Likewise, on a visit to the Tate Modern a couple of years ago, I was disgusted by an installation involving childlike outlines of industrial buildings painted on a white wall, with two (real) dead crows pinned above them with arrows. I thought it was a) disgusting and b) not very imaginative. It was easy to interpret though - industrialism, destruction, modernity v nature, etc.

But this? What the hell was this about? Call me a philistine, but... the Emperor had no clothes on. Under the boiler suit. Obviously.

The Road

As part of the Corona Cork Film Festival, the movie version of Cormac McCarthy's apocalyptic novel, The Road, was shown at Cork Opera House on Sunday evening. The movie followed the festival's closing reception at the Pavilion, and an after party took place at the same venue.
I hate to say it, but they probably couldn't have chosen a worse movie to close the festival.
Not that The Road is a bad film. It's an incredibly good film, actually. It's beautifully shot, well edited, and features deep, involved performances by Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, and the young Kodi Smit-McPhee, who is surely cursed with that name.
But boy is this film miserable. It's an unrelenting 119 minutes of absolute, gut-wrenching fear and misery.
I read the book. It's one of my favourite books, the type that leaves an impact on you for a long time afterwards, and leaves you thinking, questioning and slightly afraid of the dark. And also of not recycling - there is no reason given for the state of the world in this book, but you do get a feeling that it was the fault of humankind.
Whatever the impact of the book, the film certainly has punch. It leaves you reeling, gasping for air at times, and in need of a stiff drink!
There is a level of humanity in it that was most reminiscent, for me, of the scene in the Grapes of Wrath where Rose of Sharon breastfeeds the dying man - absolutely human and primal and somehow alien to modern sensibilities.

A brilliant film but have the brandy out for when you get home!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The winner takes it all

The winner takes it all

While it has been a perception of the civil service for years (largely thanks to the TV show Yes, Minister) that mediocrity is to be rewarded and cultivated, the celebration of mediocrity in wider society is something that hasn't really been noted, except by a small coterie of academics who bemoan the quality of university entrants each year.

This week Brian Cowen and Gordon Brown were drawn into a debate on the 'reality' television show X Factor, and the relative merits of different contestants. Showing off a particularly parochial attitude, An Taoiseach was minded to defend Irish twins John and Edward Grimes against the jibes of his UK counterpart.

"I hope they go all the way," the Taoiseach is quoting as telling a national newspaper. He was speaking from Berlin, where celebrations were ongoing for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall (surely nothing compared to the twins beating Welsh contestant Lucie Jones in this week's X Factor).

Cowen, a man who has been known to hold a note himself, is certainly listening to whichever PR adviser is telling him to 'get down with the kids' and show his fun side. And, true to his Fianna Fail roots, patriotism is his priority in this case. John and Edward were not alone in being discussed on the airwaves or in the Cork Independent offices this week.

Breffny Morgan, Cork's foremost Harvard graduate, is still in the running for Bill Cullen's Apprentice despite his bumbling manner and perceived slowness. Many people are now seeing Breffny as the danger in the long grass, a typical cute Corkman who is playing the rest of them for fools. And maybe that's the case.

I don't always agree with my colleague Neil Prendeville (page 12 of this week's Cork Independent), but I'm certainly of one mind with him in preferring 'the Breffmeister' over Jedward and the Cowell-directed circus that surrounds them.

The sad thing about all of it is that both Jedward and the Breffmeister have garnered huge public support simply because they both seem so… stupid.

When did idiocy become a qualification?
The example of Jade Goody is always trotted out in these cases but it doesn't apply – Jade Goody did not enter a talent competition. She entered Big Brother, a show that, of its nature, promoted those with a comic level of stupidity.

However, both Jedward and Breffny are contestants in competitions in which the other participants are a lot more deserving of the eventual prize. Jedward are taking part in a singing competition, and clearly can't sing. Breffny is taking part in a business competition, and clearly knows nothing about business.

And both are being supported massively by the voting public.

It does make one wonder whether the culture of 'it's the taking part that matters' has damaged the very definition of achievement. If every participant in a Sports Day egg and spoon race gets a medal, what is the point?
In any kind of competition, for most people, it is not the taking part that matters. You don't do a job interview 'to take part' – you do it to get a job.

It's winning that matters in both X Factor and the Apprentice - the contestants know that winning is the difference between being set on the path to success in their chosen careers, or being left on the scrapheap.

And the justice of giving Jedward a recording contract (my ears hurt already) or Breffny a €100,000 job (I'm probably jealous) is questionable. The winner takes it all, after all.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Arts attack

Over the past number of years, we in Cork have learned to expect the very best. A city of jazz, film and midsummer madness, City of Culture in 2005, and now one of the world’s Top Ten Cities to visit, Cork has never had it so good in many ways. But we learned yesterday that Ireland as a whole must get used to a lower standard of living. According to the OECD, a lower standard of living will become the norm over time due to the huge imbalance in the public finances. Even those who are still in work are finding cutbacks affecting them in small ways – grumpy staff in shops (pay cuts), nobody answering the phone in call centres (lay offs) and longer queues almost everywhere.
On Tuesday night I went to see the classic Ibsen play ‘A Doll’s House’, directed by Alan Stanford (that’s George from Glenroe to most of us) at the Everyman Palace. The play is a literary classic and features on the Leaving Certificate syllabus. The Everyman was, I would estimate, about one-quarter full. The play was fantastic. Beautifully produced and directed, fantastic actors and a thought-provoking storyline. But so few people were there to see it that I wondered how the theatre and company could afford to tour.
We are accustomed now to hearing that practically everything (farming, the public sector, the Catholic Church, schools, newspapers, the health service etc) is ‘in crisis’. And the arts are no different. With cutbacks threatening practically everything, supposedly unprofitable lines of spending like the arts – like ‘A Doll’s House’ - are first in line for the chop.
A new group, the National Campaign for the Arts, is gathering momentum in its campaign to retain funding for key parts of cultural infrastructure such as the Irish Film Institute, which supports about 6,000 film industry jobs, and Culture Ireland, which promotes Irish drama, music, art and writing abroad.
The group held a meeting in Cork recently which was strongly attended, and artists and arts workers across all regions have come out to voice their concerns. While much of their concern is of course for their own employment prospects, part of what understanding art is about is seeing the bigger picture.
The bigger picture is that, while you can’t do a straightforward cost-benefit analysis of our investment in the arts, it sows economic seeds from which the country reaps enormous dividends.
Ireland is known internationally for its writers, theatre, music, poetry and even film, and our reputation abroad as a cultural Mecca is well established. Cork’s stint as European City of Culture 2005 contributed massively to the city’s arts scene, not least by giving a confidence boost, which was noted in the Lonely Planet guide.
Being able to see a literary classic done by a top notch company, at a reasonable cost and just five minutes’ walk from home is just one of the reasons I love living in Cork. Dublin does not offer the same proximity, and none of the other regional cities offer such variety.
And how was I able to do it? Because of the support given by the Arts Council to venues like the Everyman, and to artists like those in Second Age Theatre Company.
Protecting and nurturing our domestic arts scene is the only way that the money-spinning international artists of the future can learn their craft. The arts provide the only international platform on which Ireland is genuinely respected and influential. They bring a huge volume of high-spending tourists here (€5 billion annually), although our cultural exports are more difficult to quantify, with Irish artists having won Grammys, Tonys, Oscars, and the Man Booker.
As the only Irish city in the Top Ten, and the only Irish City of Culture, Cork has an obligation to support what has made it great.
So get online, to, write to your politicians, and make sure that the near-bankruptcy of the public purse does not leave us culturally bankrupt as well.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Modern messages

I'm not a Mass goer. I eschew all things Catholic and have been known to sneer inadvertently at the very mention of religion - until I realised what a personal insult that was to millions of people, not least my own other half, who is religious.

A trip to the Vatican a couple of years ago left me crying with rage at the exclusivity and arrogance of the Catholic Church - one of the world's biggest clubs still to treat women as second-class members. St Peter's Basilica is cleaned by nuns, and the gift shop in the Dome is (wo)manned by them. Have you ever seen a priest clean anything, apart from the chalice the communion wine comes in?
Having worked in Development I also object to the ostentatious wealth of the Church, particularly when it is preaching against condom use in AIDS-afflicted communities.
I digress, but the scene is set: I'm not into religion, for a whole host of reasons.

Yesterday, I found myself at Mass in Ennis Cathedral, with my Granny, who is 86. I went because she'd have been upset if I didn't go. And I would rather feel like a hypocrite than upset my Granny.

Ennis is located in the Diocese of Killaloe, of which the Bishop is Dr Willie Walsh, who was a close friend of my late Grandad. I have positive feelings towards Dr Walsh, some of which come from this personal link, but many of which are related to his position as the only maverick bishop in this country.

"Maverick" may be too strong a word - he still made it to Bishop, so he couldn't be that liberal. But he is pretty out of the ordinary, and one of the few figures of religious authority to put his money where his mouth is - he is well known for offering his lawn to local Traveller families when the council refused to provide a halting site, something far closer to the message of Jesus than most of the Church's actions these days.

And his Diocese shows it in spades. It was the most interactive Mass I've ever been at (although I don't go these days, I was in a church choir as a kid and went every week for years).

There are banners around the Church that say things like "A good deed is worth a thousand prayers", and "Dream of tomorrow, live for today, and learn from yesterday". All very cheerful, positive, practical and pragmatic.

And the parish newsletter that I picked up had some very interesting reading: a meeting for anyone affected by the recession; charity fundraising initiatives, and calls for volunteers.

The congregation was invited to sing along with all the hymns - I could hear plenty of tuneless warbling, but it somehow made the whole experience a lot more interesting. Likewise, there was a call for a few more Eucharistic ministers, and up popped three or four people just out of nowhere. At one point those listening in at home on the parish radio were mentioned. And at the end, the priest had a chat about the weather, before telling a joke and wishing everyone safe home.

While many people in Ireland never really bought into religion 100%, almost all of us used the Church as a linchpin of the community. In fact, I don't think I heard the word 'community' until I was an adult - it was all about the 'parish'.

And, while a lot of the Church's message has been lost in scandal, indifference and irrelevance, my experience in Ennis yesterday showed me that the Church can be relevant, and it can still provide an outlet and a network for people who are struggling.

The Cathedral was almost full. A cynic would relate this to the recession, and maybe that's part of it. But the Diocese of Killaloe has managed to keep up with events and with people's lives, and to stay relevant.

I wouldn't say I'm converted - my issues around religion run deeper than that. But I'm impressed.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Campaigning on the real issues

The scale and variety of what comes through my letterbox every day is astonishing. From free newspapers like ours and genuine correspondence, right down the scale to charity scams, there is always something on the doormat when I get home in the evening. But I’ve been noticing some new additions to the pile recently; leaflets from trade union groups urging me to ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ (ICTU) and outlining 7 Steps to Transform (IMPACT).
The IMPACT leaflet has a picture of a sick baby – named Laura – on the front, and says ‘Laura needs Ireland’s public services much more than Ireland needs to cut them’. When I contacted IMPACT to ask about Laura, I was told that she is a stock image , “an image that would illustrate where the campaign was coming from, very much from the point of view of a service user”.
Whether Laura is real or simply an illustration is not the core issue here. If she was real (like, for example, Jake Cloake, the 14-month-old from Enniscorthy, who is really awaiting a vital heart operation), it wouldn’t lessen the cynicism of a trade union, representing public sector workers, using the emotional hook of a sick child to persuade other workers to back what is essentially a campaign to retain pay and conditions for the union’s members.
I have no grudge against public sector workers. Like everyone else, the majority are hardworking, decent people who have worked hard to get where they are, and are dismayed to find themselves out of pocket compared to this time last year through a combination of levies and increased taxes.
However, by and large, public sector workers are reasonably well paid and have entitlements the rest of us can only dream about. Calling a pension levy ‘a pay cut’, when it still does not add up to the amount required to pay out that same pension is disingenuous at best. Public servants pay ‘towards’ their pensions; they do not pay for them.
The use of this emotional imagery – ‘think of the children’, if you will – does not say much for the integrity of IMPACT’s message. If they thought people would support calls to retain pay and conditions of public sector workers, that’s what they’d have asked for. Instead, they’ve used emotive imagery to imply that cuts in their wages will affect your children’s future.
In this week’s Cork Independent, we’ve brought you a special report (pages 10 – 12) on the front-line workers who say their livelihood is being threatened by the proposals in the McCarthy report and the upcoming Budget.
Our reporter Eoin Weldon spoke to three public servants – a nurse, a Garda and a fireman – who provide essential services for the running of the country. They are angry because they believe they’re being scapegoated for the mistakes of politicians and bankers (true) and they are afraid of what could happen to them following the Budget.
The IMPACT campaign does these workers a disservice by using shock tactics instead of explaining their reasons. Here, we do that for you, so that you can make up your own mind.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cork Jazz Festival

As you can read in last week's Cork Independent, the Cork Jazz Festival came about when then hotel manager Bernard Casey panicked after a conference cancelled on him and needed something to fill his hotel for a weekend. Necessity is the mother of invention!
Hard to believe that such a major institution of Cork life started off as a stop-gap commercial decision, but when you think about it, perhaps not.
Commercial decisions are usually made with one thing in mind - the marketplace. Supply and demand make the world go around.
At the time Cork did not have a festival, and one thing every city needs is a landmark event to draw people in who will spend money, and perhaps draw local people out to do the same. Galway has excelled at this, and, having lived there, I know it's like a merry-go-round of festivals and calendar dates that keep what is essentially a big town ticking over, and keeping it at the economic level of a city.
A lot of socially-minded Irish people - former Arts students and the like (I include myself in this, by the way) - tend to think of business as 'a bad thing', by definition of the fact that it's designed to make a profit.
For many, calling someone 'a PD' was for years the biggest insult you could give, because it was meant to imply that you would privatise your own big toe and sell your granny, while leaving the little people to starve.
Now, I'm not making an out-and-out argument for pure capitalism - obviously, there are flaws to every system and capitalism has shown us in the past year that its flaws are many and, sometimes, insurmountable.
But when pure capitalism creates something as enjoyable and as atmospheric as the Cork Jazz Festival - enabling musicians to play music not for profit, but because they love it, and enabling the public to hear free live music of all standards (and none) in a legion of venues across one city.
Granted, there were some pubs you couldn't get Beamish or Murphy's in, because it's the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival. Which is annoying, I suppose. I don't drink either of those (or Guinness, for that matter), so personally I wasn't bothered. And, working for a commercial business has taught me the importance of branding, so I was willing to trade-off the omnipresent branding for the buzz and atmosphere of live music and good company.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Imaginarium of Terry Gilliam

I went to see the Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus last night. Am still trying to figure out what the deal is with one of the strangest films I've ever seen!

Great performances and fantastic special effects but the narrative is rather weak, truth be told. While Heath Ledger is excellent in it (RIP), I thought Johnny Depp would have been better cast in that part. He brought the same edginess to it that Ledger brought to the Joker.

Lily Cole is excellent as the daughter of Dr Parnassus, but I thought the character was sloppily drawn, or else heavily edited. She is a totally one-dimensional, sweet teenage girl until the point where she screams "I'm a woman now! A selfish bitch!" which is a little odd as she's really shown no signs of any selfishness, apart from wanting to get off with Colin Farrell, which is just natural really.

A few Python-esque sequences stuck out a bit although the trips through the mirror were done beautifully on the whole, very trippy.

I love fantasy, I love comedy, and I love almost all the constituent parts of this film - cast, director, concept. But it just doesn't come together.

A tale of two role models

A tale of two role models

Just over a week ago – last Sunday – we heard that Boyzone star Stephen Gately had died while on holiday with his civil partner Andrew Cowles in Majorca. A sad and untimely death for the young man of only 33 years old, who had brightened up the adolescences of so many teenage girls (including this one) with his sweet face and sweeter voice.

While most of the Irish media were at pains to tell the story sensitively, with respect for Gately's family and friends, some of the tabloids took the tacky approach. Finding that he died of natural causes should have been case closed, but I stopped reading after one journalist repeatedly, insistently, questioned whether Gately had vomited in his sleep. There are certain things the public needs to know, but that is not one of them.

However, the Irish media can hold its head up high in comparison to the vitriolic, bile-filled column of the Daily Mail's Jan Moir which caused outrage over the weekend in Britain, and engendered the largest amount of complaints ever to the Press Complaints Commission there. Moir's article insinuated that Gately died because of his homosexual 'lifestyle', and further hinted that there was something sinister about his death; something police have absolutely refuted, backed by the post-mortem results. Of course Moir has the right to free expression of her opinions, but facts are facts, and Gately died of natural causes.

It's against this background – one in which there still exists hateful, disgusting views about homosexuality and homosexuals – that Cork hurler Donal Og Cusack has come out as gay.

It's purely a coincidence that Cusack's revelatory autobiography is to be released this Friday, just in the wake of the death of one of Ireland's gay icons. But the timing isn't important.

What's important is that Cusack feels secure enough as a GAA player to do what would have been unthinkable just ten years ago, when Gately came out. The GAA is highly traditional in its ethos, and sport as a whole is notoriously homophobic – there are very few openly gay players in any men's sport.

In a sign that even this most traditional of Irish institutions is moving with the times, there has been no negativity since Cusack's declaration. Far from it. His team-mates and GAA officials have been quick to come out in support of his decision, and the Cork public has backed him too.

I always think it's unfair to suggest that somebody famous is a role model solely by virtue of their fame. A talent for sport, or music, or singing, does not mean a person wishes to be looked up to, or seen as some kind of example. However, in coming out publicly and facing down the homophobes, Cusack has become a role model. He is a shining example of the marriage of old Ireland with post-Celtic Tiger Ireland – of one of our greatest institutions and of our new openness.

Cusack's move will be especially important to many young people throughout Ireland, especially rural Ireland. Rural villages are the hardest places to be gay; 'the only gay in the village' is not just a TV character. Now that rural Ireland has its own gay role model, perhaps it will make life easier for those who have yet to take the step out of the closet.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Some gold amid the gloom

Every day, as I sift through hundreds of emails, I marvel at the variety of events happening in Cork every week. The doom and gloom of the recession has convinced many of us that the country is dead; that there is no money; nothing happening; and that everyone is miserable. This gloom isn't exclusive to Ireland. Twenty-three workers at France Telecom have taken their own lives since the beginning of 2008; the trend is blamed on cost-cutting at the company.

In America, just 39 per cent of workers professed loyalty to their employers in December 2008, compared with 95 per cent in June 2007. And the number who trusted their employers fell from 79 per cent to 22 per cent over the same period.

It looks like the cynicism currently being directed at Irish politicians is not an Irish phenomenon, or even a political phenomenon. Right now, the entire Western world is experiencing a comparable mood swing. John O'Donoghue's resignation comes just months after the Speaker of the English Parliament was forced to resign. Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi is probably facing fraud charges. However, we seem to be forgetting something pretty important. To go back to my emails, there are hundreds of them a day. Many of them are from PR companies, pushing products and services. More are from politicians, trying to highlight issues (or get their names in the paper). But the vast majority are related to charities, community groups, choirs, sports clubs, retired groups, and the like.

The 'third sector', which is made up of community, development and voluntary groups, has long been and remains absolutely essential in Irish life. From the early days of the GAA as the nineteenth century faded, to the Special Olympics in the infancy of the twenty-first, we have always excelled at giving up our time and effort, and giving 100 per cent, to help someone, somewhere. This week alone there are so many voluntary events – maybe not earth-shattering, but important to somebody – on in Cork that it is hard to even record all of them and notify a depressed public that there is life, Jim, but maybe not as we know it.

This life is not centred around flash cars and penthouse apartments, but ordinary people and their extraordinary contributions to others. Here are a few examples: - This week is Positive Ageing week, run by Age Action, a charity that provides help, support and advice to older people. See our piece on p12.

- The Irish Red Cross – a voluntary organisation – is teaching people in Cork to become first aid instructors. They will save lives. See our piece on p18. - Cork Simon Community volunteers will collect money for the homeless at church gates this weekend. See our piece on p15.

- A fundraising event will take place in aid of Enable Ireland and the Cloghroe Aspergers Support Group this evening. See our piece on p15. This is just a tiny sample of events around Cork City and County this week. But they are enough to remind us of what makes Irish society. Cork can get through the recession; some will lose hope, many will lose jobs, but all of us have something to gain from giving. There is some gold amid the gloom, just not the kind we're used to.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Obama

Fair play to Barack Obama. At the age of 48, he is President of the most powerful country on earth, has written his autobiography, and has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Where the hell does one go from there?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bull scapegoated

Bull scapegoated

Tuesday night’s Six One news had it all; personalities, drama, intrigue, and embarrassment. Eamon Gilmore’s Dáil performance was, as usual, very measured, but unusually, very nervous. I’ve always been impressed by Gilmore, having interviewed him a number of times since he became Labour party leader, and there was no doubt he was nervous about the magnitude of the task before him; calling on an Irish politician to resign on grounds of honour.
It could be my youth, but I can’t remember a moment like it as long as I’ve been following politics. Not in Ireland, at any rate. In Britain there is a culture of resignation and rising from the ashes – Peter Mandelson has made more resignations than most, but now occupies a position of great authority over Brown’s government as it struggles to stay in power.
Many of our politicians are fine people. Contrary to popular belief, many of them actually got into the job to help other people. However, they do not operate in a vacuum and cannot ignore prevailing moods in Irish culture; they reflect the people they represent.
We have known for a long time that our politicians were enjoying the high life. The infamous Galway Races tent is the most common example of this, and greed has been a theme, particularly over the last ten years or so, roughly matching the period in which Fianna Fáil have been in Government.
However, politicians are not the only ones who were greedy over the past few years; bankers are the best example of this, with inflated salaries to match their oversized cars; property developers bit off more than they could chew, and the list goes on. However, there’s a sense in which every sector of society reflected the pattern – at a very basic level, people got greedy. One house was not enough. Cars were not enough – it had to be SUVs. One holiday a year? Pah. We deserved more.
In fairness, this was not just an Irish trend. TV shows like MTV Cribs and My Super Sweet 16 displayed a growth in greed during the noughties that was almost obscene.
In that context, what John O’Donoghue did wrong was merely reflective of the prevailing culture; the problem for him was, he had more resources at his disposal, and those resources just happened to belong to us, the taxpayers.
I am glad Eamon Gilmore made the leap and forced O’Donoghue’s hand. The prevailing climate has changed; ostentation is no longer in vogue, and the Government has been terribly slow to acknowledge that.
But the reluctance with which the Opposition – and indeed the Government – took in the seriousness of the revelations made by the Sunday Tribune was telling.
O’Donoghue’s former role as Minister of Arts, Sport and Tourism meant he was an obvious target for the Tribune’s persistence – he was bound to have a lot of air miles mounted up. Freedom of Information requests are not cheap or easy to carry out, and the Trib was forced to choose who it would go after, to an extent.
What if it had chosen another politician? Or what if the paper had had the resources to go after the whole Cabinet? Or indeed one of the Opposition front benches? Something tells me O’Donoghue would not be the only one resigning then.
Something had to give – the country is in crisis, and this may only, hopefully, be the first step in a real series of changes.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Friends with benefits

Friends with benefits

Friends with benefits – the term came into my consciousness first as a lyric in an Alanis Morissette song (oh, the early 90s!). At the time, I wasn’t quite sure what it meant, maybe that the friend might do a French plait for you the odd time, or let you borrow their Boyzone album.
Much older, and slightly wiser, the phrase came to mind recently upon hearing a tale of unrequited… something… that had been going on for quite a while between two old friends.
He’s typically male; not always the brightest when feelings are involved, and not awfully tuned in to any type of vibes. A bit of a metrosexual himself, my friend – let’s call him John – is into the type of girl other girls hate. Glossy hair, fake tan, a face full of makeup and the latest fashion and John is falling over himself.
She – let’s call her Mary – doesn’t quite fit the image I’ve created just now of John’s ideal woman. A lovely looking girl but not cast in the Cheryl Cole mould, Mary is fun, kind, funny and warm, and has been lusting after John for about two years now.
An abandoned attempt at a kiss under the mistletoe last year seemed to be the end of something that never began, but, like a one-winged phoenix rising, wonkily, from the ashes, their relationship assumed fledgling status at the start of the summer and is still limply hovering.
A frank conversation with John last year revealed that he “definitely” didn’t fancy Mary. “She’s just not my type, like, I don’t find her attractive at all to be honest. She’s a nice girl but I really don’t fancy her.” She clearly isn’t his type; but it hasn’t stopped him getting in there while the going was good, and he shows no sign of getting out again.
A group holiday with other friends was complicated as the two of them began their ‘no we’re just friends that sometimes sleep in each other’s rooms’ carry-on, and over three months later not much has changed.
Just friends… who spend most evenings together, many nights together and who visit each others’ families together. Hmmm.
Generally, what people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms doesn’t bother me – not my problem.
But my fear in this situation is that John – as I mentioned, not the most intuitive – will take everything Mary says about them being just friends completely literally, and, one Saturday night in their favourite haunt, introduce her to Cheryl, who is “really hot”. And proceed to chat up Cheryl, bring her home, and maybe even ring Mary for a chat about it the next morning… as if she were one of the lads. Because she has let him believe she is.
Poor Mary. In fairness to her, sticking to her guns has won him over, to a point. It’s not like she hasn’t gotten some of what she wanted – company and a cheap hot water bottle. But as for an actual relationship, always something she’s wanted, not a hope. Hopefully, she’ll realise that before John does his usual bull in a china shop act, but I won’t hold my breath.

Manchester madness

Manchester: hop, skip and jump with BMI Baby

Fancy a shopping trip? A good night out? A premier league football match? Or even some culture away from Cork?

I visited Cork recently as the guest of BMI Baby and Marketing Manchester

Manchester is one of the UK’s biggest cities, with over twice the population of Dublin, and is well known for both its sporting glory and shopping potential. It’s ideal for a short break, and with BMI Baby flying regularly from Cork Airport, is quicker and probably cheaper than going to Dublin for a girls’ weekend.
With my knowledge of Manchester stretching about as far as the cobbles of Coronation Street and t’mills, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in a vibrant, modern city that retains aspects of its industrial past but is clearly striving to become a cultural and retail destination.
Manchester is ideal for a shopping holiday. Weak sterling and the difference in prices at UK retail outlets mean that any avid shopper will bag a bargain. Now that Cork has many of the same stores, it’s interesting, and rather frustrating, to see the rip-off price differences in many of the bigger chainstores. With some of the UK’s biggest shopping centres including the city centre-based Arndale Centre and of course the Trafford Centre, there’s plenty of scope to shop ‘til you drop and naturally, we did. While many people think immediately of London, Manchester benefits from a cheaper cost of living – so food, drink and accommodation are all far cheaper than they would be in the English capital.
A trip on the Manchester Wheel (similar to the London Eye) provides a great birds eye view over the city, and is one of few traditionally ‘touristy’ experiences available. Corrie fans will be disappointed to learn that you can no longer tread the hallowed cobbles, and the lack of any Coronation Street attraction was our one complaint about the city!
The city has plenty to offer when it comes to eating out and socialising. We lunched at the delightfully quaint Mr Thomas’ Chophouse, which is located conveniently near the Arndale Centre, and serves a lot more than chops, much to my relief. Friendly service and excellent, hearty food (I had the fish and chips with mushy peas, which was fantastic) make this a must, and the old-fashioned décor is atmospheric. It’s always good to see a big lunch crowd and the mix of office workers and at least one couple on a date was encouraging.
For dinner, Manchester has a great range of options. The city’s size and diverse ethnic mix means it has something for everyone, and we visited Ning, a Malaysian restaurant in the city’s Northern Quarter. The food was among the best Asian cuisine I’ve ever tasted, and a perfectly chosen wine list complemented it well. Friendly staff and excellent service completed the experience.
As Manchester continues to be a massive centre of industry and commerce, it has a great range of accommodation to choose from. Business travellers demand a high standard, so the city is well equipped for these. We stayed at the Palace Hotel in central Oxford Street, which is well located across the street from Oxford Road Train Station, just 20 minutes from the airport. The hotel is imposing and really brings home to you just how much history Manchester has. It takes up almost a full city block and is situated in the former headquarters of Refuge Assurance, which was clearly a major player in the industry. A gothic red-brick façade, stained glass windows and a huge, pillared reception area with a glass dome in the ceiling must have made for some very intimidated life insurance customers back in its days as a financial institution. Nowadays it is a premium conference hotel and has recently been refurbished to a very high standard, with comfortable, spacious rooms and a modern, appealing décor within the rooms.
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Disillusionment 101

This was intended to be this week's editorial, but John O'Donoghue's resignation put paid to it! Nonetheless I think elements of it are still relevant...

Disillusionment 101

Well, that’s that. All done. And dusted. We voted yes, now where’s our prize? I seem to remember being promised more jobs. I’m happy enough with the one but at a time like this, if you’re offered more, you take them, right? And I think I was promised closer ties with Europe as well. And wasn’t there something about a Ryanair seat sale? I definitely remember Michael O’Leary giving out about something and doesn’t that usually presage a sale of some kind?
Of all the promises we’ve been made recently the only one I can think of that seems to have come true is the one about closer ties with Europe; that new H&M is lovely you know. H&M are Swedish and God knows it took a lot to get them to Cork but the Yes to Lisbon must have been the final straw. Yes to Sweden!
Forgive my cynicism but I have never felt an anti-climax like the one that followed the Yes to Lisbon vote. When two-thirds of the electorate votes for something very few understood and quite a lot didn’t really want to vote for, but felt they had no choice, it does take the ‘resounding’ out of the whole equation.
As a Yes voter from the beginning, and a supporter of the referendum re-run, I expected to feel happy about the result but somehow, the way in which it happened left a sour taste. Having beaten down all the Opposition (such as they were) and run a campaign based purely on the economy, the Government let itself down, despite the eventual victory. Although I did feel a glimmer of gladness for Brian Cowen when I saw the overwhelming look of relief on his face at the post-referendum press conference. There’s a weight off.
This Government and its term has been a lesson in disillusionment. Perhaps my feeling of being let down post-Yes is more related to the continuing disgrace of Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue, or the scandals of FÁS, or the unremitting cutbacks. Perhaps it is because I’ve just realised the frightening percentage of my friends who’ve already emigrated. Perhaps it is in relation to the unrelenting economic misery and the fact that suddenly there is conflict everywhere in Irish society; I’m afraid to talk to my own mother, a teacher, in case I’ve picked up the Pick on the Public Sector bug and she disowns me.
Irish society is in crisis. During the years of the Celtic Tiger, when all the chickens that are currently coming home to roost were but fledglings, a few people had the courage to shout ‘stop’ and were themselves shouted down. The greed, cynicism and cronyism of those years and the decades since the foundation of the State (The New Gill History of Ireland is instructive) have made this country what it is today: a wonderful country in many ways, most of them down to EU membership and a few visionaries, but also a corrupt and selfish country now facing a very uncertain future.
This week’s torrential rain would put anyone in a bad mood, but I can’t help thinking it reflects the national mood perfectly. A storm is coming, and hopefully, there will be some sunshine after it.