herald

Tuesday 21 August 2018

Con Houlihan: Brian’s Brain Trust blunders

In all my days and nights as a teacher, there was a word I never used. That was the word "stupid." In my own time as a pupil I had heard it applied often enough to myself. There are times, however, when that word is necessary. Otherwise it would have died out.

After showing patience for a long time I now apply it to the Brian Cowen-led Government that is departing. They have earned that word over and over again. One obvious example was in the context of electronic voting. In an article in Eircom magazine I gave my objections to it. There were several, any one of which should have convinced our Brains Trust that they were going astray. A copy should have been posted to every member of the Oireachtas. It would hardly have mattered. They chose to ignore a whole battery of experts who had behind them working experience as well as scientific knowledge.

The whole crazy scheme went ahead and there are still people who believe that it is feasible. The idea behind the adoption was familiar: some people think that because something is new, it is better. The decision to go ahead with the novel system deserved only a yellow card compared to Nama. At my first mention I referred to it as "Vietnama". Of course it turned out to be a disaster. And it didn't need experts to explain why.

The very word "Nama" was proof of the stupid thinking behind it. And it isn't even logical because it refers to a nation when it should refer only to a State. Then there was the proliferation of cuts. The Budget should have been called "An Gearrsceal". All most of the cuts have achieved is to harm the retail trade. Here is an example: if a man's wages hadn't been cut, he would have bought a few more books and a few more bottles of wine every week. Where did the money taken from him go? Like that of thousands of other people, it went to bail out the banks. And thus we have the Robin Hood legend inverted -- rob from the poor and give to the rich.

In the run-up to the election we have hardly heard a word about the Gaelic language, nor will we. All parties seem to have abandoned it. I loved the language and still do. One piece of proof is that I got 93pc in Irish in my Leaving Certificate. Then when I went on to Cork University, it became one of my five subjects in first year. The teaching was so conventional and the course so dull that it was a regret that I hadn't chosen some other subject but as I had come to college so late, owing to a difficult harvest, it wasn't possible to change over. Otherwise French, German, Spanish or Italian would have been my choice.

After about a fortnight, I more or less abandoned Irish and depended on my knowledge from secondary school to get me through first year.

There were several bad memories of Irish teaching in the national school. In extreme cases it was a story of blood and sweat and tears. The teachers feared the inspectors and they feared the Department of Education. It was fear all down the way. And thus a great many boys and girls emigrated to Britain with a dislike of their own language in their hearts.

The battle for the language still goes on mainly through the brave souls who publish such magazines as Saol and Foinse. They are like guerrilla fighters, sustained by their love of the language and hoping that some day there will be a change all over the country. There was real goodwill for the language in the early part of the past century but in that terrible year of 1922 all spiritual values went underground. The language suffered most of all.

All our governments have contributed to the present mess but Fianna Fail must take most of the blame. They were by far and away the most dominant party for the past 80 years. They can hardly look back on their legacy with pride. There was vast emigration and there still is.

A rail system that was envied by most of Europe was almost totally destroyed. Our waters, whether in streams or in lakes or in rivers, are seriously polluted. The dirt in some of our towns and cities and in the countryside is appalling and nobody seems to care much about it. The level of education, despite Donogh O'Malley putting the yellow buses on the mountain roads, is not high. There is an amazing level of illiteracy, mainly because classes are overcrowded.

No doubt we will hear great promises over the next few weeks but issued mainly by people who have made similar promises before. Our sympathy goes to whomever has the task of bringing back shape to our lives: he will need intelligence and courage and a fair amount of luck.

fOGRA: Heartiest congratulations go to my friend Jerry Kiernan: one of his students won the six-mile road race in Raheny last weekend. Joe Sweeney came home victorious from a field of more than 1,600.

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