Wednesday 12 December 2018

Con Houlihan: Playing politics with our lives

Brian Cowen was born perhaps a little too soon. He attended a good rugby-playing school and if he had come into this world about 25 years later, he might now be a prop on the Irish team and making bigger money than he could ever make out of politics.

It wasn't to be and so now following his farewell speech in the Dail yesterday, he is in retirement but I wouldn't write him off. He will go to live in Clara but possibly will return to Dublin as an advanced student of law and politics. In his spare moments he could indulge himself in his old hobby -- sailing around the waters of Walsh Island. I believe that every human has a counterpart in the animal kingdom -- Brian's is a badger, the bravest and most persistent of all animals.

Brian was born to be a man of the people: he was a good singer of good ballads; a good drinker of good pints; he played good football -- you could hardly be more of a man of the people. He remained a man of the people but a different kind: he got the name of being associated with developers and other people who build dodgy houses and who do not pay their taxes. This may have been only a rumour but it harmed him infinitely.

Though our prime public representative has stepped down, there remain others who will carry on. Micheal Martin was the man born to be a king. And if he becomes Taoiseach he will be Cork's fourth prime minister, counting in Michael Collins, in the history of the State. To achieve his eminence he followed a rural rule: don't ever go out of your way to make an enemy because you will make plenty without trying. It may be unfair to say that he has been all things to all men, not to mention all women, but it wouldn't be untrue. He can go into the deep waters now without any breath of scandal. For some people he may be almost too good.

That other much-maligned Brian -- Lenihan -- is a member of a powerful political family but he has achieved distinction in his own right: he was a brilliant academic and excelled in law. Whether this fitted him for the job of being Minister of Finance is another story but it is common in business to appoint a chairman to a company even though he has no experience. Thus we saw a big man in the dairy industry made chairman of Aer Lingus. And we saw a chairman from the motor industry made chairman of Waterford Glass. Shell made an even bolder decision some years ago when they appointed as their Irish chairman a scholar who had excelled at Latin and Greek.

Eamon O Cuiv has at least one famous grandfather. This may be an advantage and it may not. He did himself no good when he tried to force the people of Dingle to change their name into Daingean Ui Chuis. It would surprise me if he is in contention when the bell rings for the last lap.

Michael D Higgins will be favoured by many for that role. He has excellent credentials; he is highly educated; he was a highly respected teacher; his hands are clean of corruption. Some people may not be aware that he came up the hard way. Michael made his way by scholarships. We were well acquainted but since the Irish Press closed down, I am rarely in Dublin city and miss his company.

Joan Burton and I used to meet fairly often when we were members of the Dublin North-West constituency. She was as she is now, very honest and very articulate and very hardworking. She could be our first woman prime minister and she would be a good one.

Incidentally, it would be wrong to rule out Mary Hanafin -- I remember her since she was a very small girl. She was always cute and always knew where she was going.

Eamon Gilmore is a more shadowy figure: I know little about him except that he is doing well to hold together an irascible bunch. My many years with the Labour Party in Kerry taught me that logic was rare in politicians, no matter of what hue. It isn't too long since Labour gained a great many seats in a General Election and then threw their victory away by coalescing with Fianna Fail.

The names of those who dissented in that meeting in the Concert Hall should be chiselled in big letters in front of Liberty Hall. I remember the night with incredulity: after it ended I was having a quiet drink in Bambrick's in Portobello when a frenzy of the Kerry delegates arrived. They were celebrating as if they had won the Golden Fleece. Eamon has done well to bring the party back into contention.

Fine Gael have two contenders: Richard Bruton has distinguished himself by a lack of loyalty to his democratically appointed leader. Enda Kenny has taken it with dignity but . . .

Fine Gael of course are the real kamikaze party. The leaders they have ditched include Peter Barry and Alan Dukes and Michael Noonan "possibly". Not since John A Costelloe have they given the impression of being a solid party. Garrett FitzGerald could have been a good Taoiseach if only he had some common sense.

It is remarkable that in this generation we have seen so many Taoisigh quit the highest office but not of their own volition. They include Charlie Haughey and Albert Reynolds and Bertie Ahern. Charlie lasted a very long time. The media chose to cover up that he was not as good as he should have been. Albert Reynolds was unlucky. Bertie Ahern was unlucky, too. He was brought down by his failure to regulate his financial affairs. Man United's success kept him going mentally but he couldn't survive the catastrophic failures of Dublin's Gaelic football team.

Fogra: The best of Kerry wishes go to Pat Falvey, adventurer supreme, on his new quest

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