THE Fine Gael guru who invented the ‘Hollywood Hustings’ – the attempt at replicating in this country an American-style presidential election campaign to decide the next Blueshirt leader – deserves an immediate seat in Seanad Éireann and a bag full of shares in Independent News and Media.
It was brilliant wheeze, if for no other reason than for creating the illusion that the two contesting caballeros, Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney, had deeply reflected on anxieties that perturbed the common man (and woman). In a very clever stroke, Vlad’s role in the charade was to present himself as the person who would ‘deliver real change,’ while Coveney’s election persona was that of a respectable Cork gent ‘in touch with ordinary people.’
Brazenly, their message was the following: even when two apparently inconsequential politicos squabbled for leadership of the most right wing party in Europe, the plain people of Éire were privileged to have two deep thinking stalwarts reflecting on the future of our great little country and how ‘to take the nation forward.’
RTÉ and TV3 announced the debates were in the public interest and wanted to broadcast them live, but the party’s head honchos, fearing ‘hostile coverage by political rivals,’ said no. What a pity!
Embarrassing blushes aside, the Blueshirts nevertheless managed to convey successfully the idea that the election of either Coveney or Varadkar would lead to advantageous repercussions for most of the population.
However, the subtext to the contest was the suggestion that once ‘ordinary people’ understood the way in which long lost principles of public life – such as selflessness, accountability, objectivity, integrity, honesty, and leadership – were embodied in Coveney and Varadkar, the probability of Fine Gael remaining in power indefinitely would be enhanced. Strange but true!
Sadly, the reality was different. The more the debates drove home Fine Gael’s crusading message the more we citizens fell around the kitchen laughing, or rushed to the jacks to get sick! Blueshirt political propaganda, you see, has never cut much ice in this country and, indeed, is often perceived as a serious health risk!
The argument also can be made that the absence of televised debates didn’t do Vlad any harm. He already enjoyed the support of a sycophantic Indo/Sindo (INM) that depicted him as an amiable 38-year-old articulate chap whose multi-cultural origins and sexual orientation struck a chord with trendy, ‘new’ Ireland.
On the other hand, INM portrayed the 45-year-old Coveney as a typical dynastic politician and a sort of Varadkar mirror image, impressively smiley and friendly but not as spectacular.
Safe pairs of hands
Also emphasised by the newspaper group and cleverly delivered to the people of Ireland was the point that the buckos were a safe pair of hands: two sides of the same archly-conservative coin, one a well-heeled Tweedle Dee and the other a well-heeled Tweedle Dum.
As for expressing opinions in favour of altering social structures or wanting to change value systems, well, forget it! That sort of stuff gave off an odour of political radicalism –which was as much anathema to Vlad and Coveney as a silver bullet to a werewolf, or garlic to a vampire.
Nonetheless, we have to admit that the lively ‘young’ fellas, in true US presidential style (excluding Trump, of course), were outstanding in the way they articulated ‘their vision for change.’ Confidently and in well-rehearsed disputations, they exhorted the nation to agree with their respective viewpoints for settling long-term social crises: Coveney by providing houses for the poor and Varadkar by offering the poor social status and rights (Gawd help us).
Amazingly and despite its unpredictability, the FG media stunt did not fall off the rails. Holding it together was the recognition that whatever about ‘debates’ (televised or otherwise), the top priority was to secure the support of a representative section of the FG parliamentary party, councillors and common gardener foot soldiers.
In other words, remnants of the parish pump survived from the days when leadership contenders traipsed around the country, attending selection conventions in draughty halls where shoulder-rubbing with the riff-raff and the consumption of vast amounts of chicken wings and chips were obligatory.
And, it must also be acknowledged that even without TV coverage the Varadkar-Coveney debates were a win-win situation for Fine Gael. Political propaganda reached new heights and so slickly presented were the discussions that they became a form of popular entertainment superior to RTE’s Fair City.
As the public relations boffins transformed Coveney and Varadkar into superb performing fleas, even in Dinty’s the topic of conversation was ‘Do ya think yer man will make it?
For many it was a joy to listen to the ráiméis spouted by Varadkar and Coveney. Better still, people appreciated the way the meeja interpreted meaningless utterances as positive emotions, youthful enthusiasm and an aspiration to a success that everyone could share!
But, despite iron-like control, gaffes were made, such as Varadkar’s unscripted proposal (soon to be official Fine Gael policy) to ban workers from striking in certain circumstances. It was a pure-lunacy comment and certain to trigger worker-government confrontation.
Coveney’s reaction to the totalitarian diktat also was a revelation. He dredged up the observation that Vlad’s timing of the strike ban was ‘unfortunate,’ but he did not condemn it.
Indeed the threat to workers’ rights, clearly designed to pander to extremist elements in Fine Gael, was the most significant outcome of the debating process, and proclaimed the commencement of a right-wing assault on working people. Ominously, the nefarious plan coincides with talks that the trade unions have just opened with the government on a new pay deal.
Maybe, the phony debates were not such a good idea, after all!
Interesting the comment of Cork Airport’s managing director, Niall MacCarthy, at a recent conference to discuss Brexit and the implications for regional airports throughout Europe. He was confident an airline (unspecified) would use Cork to fly to New York and that the service would begin ‘sooner rather than later.’ He offered no further details.
Presumably at the back of his mind was the debacle occasioned by Norwegian Airlines whose plan to provide a Cork-New York service turned out a dud. To make matters worse, Dublin Airport (DAA) became the beneficiary of the high-profile Cork campaign that involved prominent business types and leading Fine Gael politicos. Dublin got 12 new Norwegian services, plus daily flights to the Big Apple.
Interesting too the criticism of the DAA by the chief exec of Limerick Chamber of Commerce, James Ring. He claimed that ‘domination’ by Dublin Airport was not in the national interest: ‘Right now,’ he said, ‘the DAA monopoly is mopping up growth, with 86% of the market. In the meantime, Cork’s market share has dropped alarmingly and Shannon to a lesser degree.’