Archive for February 11, 2011

No Regrets? You Must Be Kidding

The overwhelming feeling as the second week of campaigning draws to a close is one of regret on all sides.

For starters, the electorate regrets giving the property lunatics the keys to the asylum. If Ireland is to have a Tahir Square it shouldn’t be outside Kildare Street, but further out towards the airport. To be precise, it should be right outside Fagan’s pub in Drumcondra, home of Bertie and the lads who discovered a foolproof way of making money- by selling property for more than you paid for it. Sure how could we lose?

For Fine Gael, it is Enda Kenny. They had their chance to remove him last year and they didn’t take it, and man are they regretting it now. He has become the political equivalent of Brian Keenan, much talked-about but essentially chained to a radiator and not allowed out when it comes to the debates which are the meat and drink of politics.

He is in a no-win situation when he finally takes the podium, whether it be a five-way or three-way debate. He is now seen as a bottler, a man who can’t debate at all, a man running scared and not in control of his own party. His critics will be merciless and it’s almost a foregone conclusion that he will be slated at the debates. Not a good impression to create if you have aspirations to lead the country.

Fianna Fáil regret everything, but they won’t be telling you that. For too long, the parliamentary party allowed the power to be funnelled straight to the top, creating a meritocracy whereby your position was determined by how popular you were. Popularity was measured in terms of silent acquiescence and defending the leadership, and backbenchers queued up at the Baghdad Bob School of Political Commentary to study the fine art of empty platitudes. Pat Carey topped the class year after year, but to no avail; he, like many others, will soon be surplus to requirements in Leinster House.

For Sinn Féin, it is Gerry Adams. The more Pearse Doherty finds his feet, the more the decision to run Adams seems a colossal misjudgement. In the south, Adams represents the past, and whatever about the talked-of (and generally non-existent) spirit of conciliation in the north, he is forever linked to the likes of Jean McConville in the minds of the southern electorate.

Sinn Féin had the chance to cut the ties with the dark days, but like Fianna Fáil they didn’t take it and in doing so they may have curtailed what could have been a spectacular breakthrough in electoral politics in the south.

For Labour, it is tax. For once they thought the other parties would be a pushover on the economic front, sharing as they do a grá for the kind of unfettered capitalism that destroyed the nation. In Joan Burton they have an extremely capable (if very annoying) spokesperson, but somehow they have taken their eye off the ball and allowed the others to paint them as a high-tax party again. In an election where economics is the only show in town, this is an unforgiveable mistake.

Even for the postitive force that the independents are becoming, there is one overriding regret- that they didn’t do this sooner. I wrote last week about the biggest lie of all, about the misconception that some guy or girl in a suit on a party poster actually has any idea how to run the country when in fact they haven’t a clue. The independents have realised this, and the campaign trail is rich with the smell of the blood of established politicians – such as Michael Lowry in North Tipp - as they go in for the kill.

Still, better late than never, and their regret at coming late to the party will soon be tempered by the knowledge that they have sidelined some of the country’s most notorious political shysters for good.

Finally this week, a plea to your better judgement. Last week the “Irish” Mail revealed its true colours using some of the tactics that have made it one of the most hated publications in the English gutter press- an area with some stiff competition, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

The spivs that run this “Irish” paper chose to exploit the difficulties being experienced by their fellow journalists at the Sunday Tribune by wrapping their paper in a false masthead; at a stroke, they sought to fool the good readers of the Tribune and exploit the appalling circumstances the journalists found themselves in, all to sell a few thousand extra copies to people who would probably never buy their paper again anyway.

This Sunday, it is probably not enough to simply not buy the “Irish” Mail on Sunday or the “Irish” Daily Mail if you want to make a stand. Instead, go to your newsagent and tell them that until such time as he or she removes the “Irish” Mail from sale, you’ll get your papers elsewhere. By doing this you can ensure that the only place such a despicable rag can be found in Ireland is in a bin- and next week, hopefully it won’t be found at all.

The Language of Fianna Failure

In one of the great political coincidences of our time, Alistair Campbell has been wandering around the radio and TV studios of Ireland for the last week or so, giving his two cents on anything and everything to anyone who’ll listen. Famed as the Godfather of Spin, Campbell worked closely with Fianna Fáil as Blair and Bertie delivered the goods on Northern Ireland. Both men would manage to eclipse this achievement; unfortunately, it would be for all the wrong reasons.

Campbell is a master of language, and how he must have loved the last Fianna Fáil government and their ability to pulverise and morph language to suit their needs. Because when the last government spoke they may not have been lying- but they sure weren’t telling the truth.

Take the shining example of the EU/IMF bailout. Reuters journalist Jan Strupczewski broke the story on a Friday afternoon, citing sources that had informed him that Ireland was in talks with the European Commission and the ECB about a bailout package. The response Strupczewski got from the Irish Ministry for Finance was very telling- “there is no application for emergency funding from the European Union”. Now, essentially what the spokesman said was true- no application had been made at that point – but inside the meeting room, Ireland was desperately begging for a financial lifeline.

We may not have agreed to go to bed with the ECB at that point, but their hand was up our skirt and there was only ever one way it was going to end.

Lenihan is seemingly addicted to misleading the nation, and tonight he was at it again. Challenged by Michael Noonan as to whether he had “permission” from the IMF and the ECB to the postponement of a €10 billion tranch of recapitalisation for our busted banks, Lenihan said he believed he had an “understanding” with them. Which is not the same thing. Once again, Lenihan may not have been lying, but he sure wasn’t telling the truth.

Of course, what Lenihan was trying to do was post-date a bad news story until such time as the next government is formed, when he will have long since joined the ranks of the unemployed and is far removed from the madding crowd. It’s not enough that they should have to publish the GDP and unemployment figures destroyed by his ineptitude – he had to give them a €10 billion welcoming turd as well.

Like his current and former party leaders, Lenihan seems to believe that the Irish people will somehow forget who was at the wheel when the Irish economy was driven off a cliff, that he will somehow, in the fullness of time, be recognised for his wonderful management of our economy. For this fantasy alone, he and his ilk must be banished from the corridors of power for good.

And for their inability to talk the straight talk when the country demands it most, they should be hammered on the doorsteps, as well as the ballot boxes.

Crisis Management After Cork Crash

Rescue workers at Cork Airport following the crash this morning.

At the time of writing news is coming through of an airplane crash at Cork airport; I’m not going to add to the speculation here, suffice to say that thoughts and prayers are with those affected.

Our politicians on the hustings are now faced with their first curve ball in this curious election, and how they handle this one will say a lot about their communications and leadership skills.

The Invisible Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, has a responsibility to take the lead, however much Fianna Fail would prefer to keep him locked in the shed until the election is over. Cork native Mícheál Martin will have to resist the urge to grandstand in his own back yard, and anyone who has seen his narcissistic party election video will understand how hard he will find it to keep himself in check.

Unconsciously, the media will graduate towards comments from those they perceive to be the leaders-in-waiting of the country, so expect the competition for face time to be between Enda Kenny and Martin, and very little from the left or the independents, whose campaign launches will now fade away as the accident story takes over.

Enda Kenny has started well, calling for a minute’s silence at his press conference this morning, and for once his stilted public persona might be of benefit to him, especially if Martin tries to make political capital of the whole thing.

Crisis management is a communications art in itself, as evidenced by the Twitter reaction to news of the tragedy; at one point there were more dead and injured than there were people on the plane, which emphasizes the need for information to be both timely and correct.

Elections regularly throw up events like this that, whilst not political in themselves, have an enormous effect on the political discourse. In Sweden, a general election and referendum was thrown completely out of kilter when Foreign Minister Anna Lindh was stabbed to death in a Stockholm department store.

Some more cynical commentators have suggested that had campaigning continued as normal, her party may well have suffered at the polls; instead, political activity was suspended and her Social Democratic party were able to postpone their demise for another four years.

Either way, today will be a day for treading carefully, and as ever it is Fianna Fáil who have the most to lose. How Martin negotiates the ego minefield that such a tragedy presents us with will  set the tone for the survival- or otherwise- of Dev’s party.

It’s Not Just The Parties That Set The Agenda

Fine Gael functionaries in Leitrim deal with Bobby's questions

In the end, there was no empty chair. Plenty of empty rhetoric and a bunch of hollow threats and empty promises, but no empty chair. So who were the real winners last night?

At a stretch, bearded Bobby in Leitrim made the best case- if he had been slightly more eloquent and cut short his rant a little, the man who called Kenny out before being thrown out himself would have been the major winner in last night’s debates. As it was, they threw up nothing, apart from another chance for the parties to repeat their messages again.

There is a truism in communication that the listener cannot be told what to think, but they can be told what to think about. People are most influenced by others around them – family members, friends, co-workers, team-mates etc., and it is by discussing the issues of the day with them that we come to our own conclusions.

By focussing on what you are good at – or indeed what the other crowd are bad at – you control what people talk about in the pubs and factories around the country, and that is what ultimately gives you a chance to change their minds.

No election poster or canvasser in the world ever convinced someone to change their vote; we don’t trust them the way we trust our friends and family, and rightly so. They are in it for them, not us.

Seen in the context of this election, Mícheál Martin is hoping to look forward and to conveniently ignore the fact that the banks stole the country on his watch. There will be no more “sorry”, no more excuses, for a good reason – there is simply no chance that they can convince us that what anything they did in government was of any benefit whatsoever. Their legacy is tarnished beyond repair.

Instead, he and the rest of Fianna Fail would have us suspend our better judgement, ignore the past and give them another crack of the whip, as if everything that happened was beyond their control. Frighteningly, about 16% of voters have already bought this line of reasoning.

For Labour, the balancing act is more difficult. Irish people have a pathological aversion to paying tax, and any mention of raising them will cause voters to run a mile. But without taxes there can be no stimulus, and besides, the burden of the ECB/IMF debt cannot be serviced without money coming in to the state’s coffers. It is easier for Labour to concentrate on attacking the opposition than pushing their own agenda.

Meanwhile, Enda Kenny and Fine Gael are in pole position and the election is theirs to throw away- and with the defensive tactics they are employing, they could yet do so.

Kenny’s charisma deficit is a major flaw, but not fatal; what could prove fatal is his mealy-mouthed excuses for not engaging with the other leaders, and his clumsy efforts to avoid the arena in which he is least comfortable.

If he were straight with the electorate, they’d probably forgive him. No-one likes a chicken, but for once the public is well-prepared to accept a leader who doesn’t pretend to have all the answers- having been fooled into believing that Bertie Ahern, Charlie McCreevy and Brian Cowen had somehow become economic geniuses because they could engineer a property boom, it’ll be a long time before they trust anyone again.

Kenny would do well to study the steady hand at the tiller that is displayed by Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeld – since taking over the Moderate party, Reinfeldt has reinvented himself as a statesman, carefully delegating responsibility but always seeming in control.

He, like Kenny, is charismatic in person but it doesn’t transfer well to the medium of TV, and the first step to solving this problem is to acknowledge it and not try to force it – we’re trying to elect a leader here, not a host for the Late Late Show. Instead, Kenny has in turn tried to run away from it, and then tightly control it by broadcasting his own public meeting on the internet. In doing so, he has made himself a laughing stock.

SInn Féin have been a bit schizophrenic, mixing some excellent contributions with some seriously shoddy ones, especially on economic issues. The opposition has managed to create the impression that they can’t do detail, and that is likely to stick unless they either buck up on the homework or shift the focus entirely.

The outcome of this election depends on who manages to dictate not what we think, but what we think about. The revelations this morning that Anglo may need another €15 billion would, in any other country, have buried Fianna Fail forever.

The no-show by Enda Kenny and his subsequent kicking by bearded Bobby would have put paid to Enda’s chance of being Taoiseach, had there been a credible alternative. Eamon Gilmore had the chance to show that he was that alternative on the TV3 debate, but didn’t – or couldn’t – take it.

And that is essentially what we should be thinking about – the lack of a credible alternative to the politicians that have repeatedly failed us. There are still no big ideas, there is still a yawning chasm in the credibility of all the leading politicians, who in effect allowed this to happen.

But it works both ways – we can’t tell our leaders what to think, but on the doorsteps and in the media we should be telling them what to think about, such as burying the bad banks and providing a future for the country that is not overshadowed by debt and death on hospital trolleys.

By communicating our own agenda loud and clear, we can at least get them to talk about it among themselves, and maybe even change their minds as we go along.

Reform, but still no representation

Ah, the grand themes of life. Love. Death. And, during this election campaign, reform. Shame all the parties missed the boat on the latter yesterday.

As they launched their manifestos to an audience already suffering from guff fatigue, the parties outdid themselves in terms of how they would reform the political system. The Seanad is, according to all sides, the root of all evil and to be abolished, its inhabitants taken out, flogged and crucified for their part in creating the current catastrophic situation (the fact that they had little or nothing to do with it won’t be enough to save them).

Most will reduce the number of TDs, increase the number of days they sit and make them account for every last cent of taxpayers money, down to the last bus ticket- we can expect to see plenty more politicians on the busses now, as most of them will remove ministerial cars as well.

But all parties seemed to have missed the essence of why Irish politics fails, and why a dysfunctional band of shysters and gombeen men were allowed to bankrupt the country to protect their friends. In Ireland it doesn’t matter who you elect; as soon as they step into that chamber, their voice has no chance of being heard.

From the posters blowing around in the gale force winds, Irish people would be forgiven for thinking that when they give their vote to the poster boy or girl of one of the parties, that person would actually go to Dáil Eireann and represent them. What actually happens is that the elected representative turns up and gets told how to vote by the party whip- it doesn’t matter who they are, they either toe the line or the next gombeen in the queue will be occupying the poster space in the next election.

Your elected representatives are thus turned into talking heads- interchangeable, disposable, there to fill a quorum and nothing more.

Not only does this have the direct effect of neutering the voter and silencing them instantly, it forces the politicians to find another way of making it up to them; hence they fire medical cards around like drunken blackjack dealers before hiring a Bangalore call centre to make representations on behalf of every constituent plagued by a pothole. It’s wrong, and it doesn’t work.

Michael Martin laughably said yesterday that there were no sound bytes in the FF manifesto, before spending a good half-hour churning them out. Among them was “there is too much localisation in Irish politics”, but in fact the opposite is true; a politician is virtually helpless to assist his or her constituents with all but the most mundane issues.

And as far as expenses goes, it’s another red herring. What ministers earn is probably too much, and judging by the mess Cowen and Lenihan made of the economy, they should owe us something in the region of €86 billion rather than getting paid for their incompetence. Personally, I don’t care what car they are driven around in or what they get paid, as long as they do an excellent job in a clear, transparent and accountable manner. A job worthy of the people of this country, not Germany.

I don’t want to be paying a Finance minister to go over his expenses in minute detail, checking every €20 taxi receipt to see if it was business or personal- he has far more important things to be doing, and I’d rather he spend his time finding a way for us to thumb our noses at the IMF. But should it be the case that he is claiming a few to many taxi receipts, I want him to be able to account for them.

This goes for anyone paid from the public purse, such as Stephen Kearon, who was paid over €3000 for web hosting and IT services; even though a Twitter experiment has shown that registering a domain name, building, hosting and maintaining a web site shouldn’t cost more than about €50, he doesn’t see the need to explain where the money went. Maybe his former mentor, Dick Roche, can be held accountable for that by his party whip.

In a well-functioning representative democracy, there is no need to go around abolishing things and slashing budgets- simply allow the elected representatives to do what they are paid to do. And for the voter, that means voting with their conscience and behalf of their constituency instead of being a nodding donkey that toes the party line.

When he says nothing at all

The TV-shy Enda in happier times.

Trying to gauge the election from afar is like trying to guess the weather in Cork by looking out the window in Dublin. Despite access to Irish media and the general chatter on Twitter and suchlike, there’s a very big chance I’m getting the wrong end of the stick on at least some of the issues.

In all but one issue, that is to say. All weekend, I haven’t heard a single voice that has said that Enda Kenny is right not to go on TV3 for the leader’s debate hosted by Vincent Browne. Now Kenny is many things, but a good debater is not one of them.  So instead of going on the telly and suffering his way through what would inevitably be a thoroughly good kicking like a man, he has made up excuse after excuse, each more outlandish and insulting than the last.

First, it was the “suicide” jibe (Browne famously suggested that, during a turbulent time in Fine Gael, he should consider going into a locked room with a bottle of whiskey and a gun), and when it was pointed out that Browne had apologised more or less immediately for that one, Kenny pompously stated that his chair should be left empty as a symbol of those forced to emigrate.

I suggested that instead of leaving it empty, a bag of chips should be placed on it, in memory of those who died in the famine. I haven’t heard back from the Kenny camp on that one yet.

Now, he says he has to be in Leitrim instead- possibly the most insulting excuse of them all. Does he seriously think that, as party leader and prospective Taoiseach, his interests are best served by going to Leitrim instead of appearing on what would be the most-anticipated debate of the whole election campaign?

Somewhere in the Fine Gael bunker, the spinning has gotten out of control. Politicians and PR people seldom set out to deliberately mislead people- though it does happen- but it seems that what started out as an excercise in containment to keep Kenny out of a situation he is no good in has morphed into serious questions about his judgement and leadership, as well as that of the party which elected him leader.

What is worse still is that it is quite pointless. Even a politician with limited debating skills like Kenny can play to his strengths and refuse to be drawn into making a show of himself – it is often the arrogant know-alls that fall into the traps laid by the wily Browne, rather than those wise enough to keep their own counsel.

Nowhere in the constitution does it say that the Taoiseach has to be an orator of Shakespearean class; a competent, controlled performance is all that is required of him. Brilliance is not needed; the country needs leadership, not lyricism, and the place to show leadership for Enda Kenny is on live TV, not in a Leitrim parish hall.

Hold Your Hour And Have Another

William Petzäll- far-right Member of Swedish Parliament who can't hold his drink

William Petzäll is an odd young man, not least because his skin has the orange hue of someone who spends too much time on a sunbed. An intelligent and articluate young man, he would be a likeable eccentric  - if he wasn’t a Member of Parliament for the far-right, anti-Muslim Sweden Democrats.

For how long more remains to be seen. Petzäll recently spent a night in the drunk tank after police were called to his apartment, and a press release from his party states that he is taking a time-out from politics because of it. Quick, some would say ruthless action, to save the party from embarrassment. The Sweden Democrats didn’t get elected because of a penchant for drunkenness or violence, despite their skinhead roots.

Contrast that with the Irish attitude. Our dear leader Brian Cowen made what can charitably be called an “underwhelming” appearance on the radio following a night on the piss with journalists and lackeys. It subsequently turned out that he had spent the night singing, joking and doing impressions of public figures, including a particularly cruel one of golfer Philip Walton.

In the first instance, the hacks stayed silent – the Taoiseach’s performance was “informal” and “off the record”, and he even wagged his finger as he told them he didn’t want to see any of this in print. Despite the whole sad episode taking place in the public domain, they complied. But when the story of his cruel mimicking of Walton came out, they fell over themselves to condemn him, conveniently ignoring their own complicity in the culture of silence.

Then there is the issue of the Taoiseach’s drinking itself. Here was the leader of the country who, during the biggest crisis since the foundation of the state, was partying on down with the fourth estate and taking pot-shots at public figures. Whether or not Brian Cowen has a drink problem is beside the point – whatever it was, it was far from appropriate behaviour for a man in his position. And yet, somehow, he survived. Again.

The man who would be king, slightly the worse for wear

It seems that there is a massive discrepancy in attitudes between Sweden and Ireland- what appears to have been a minor indiscretion in his own home has more or less cost Petzäll his political career, whereas Cowen’s tremendous insensitivity and appalling judgement went entirely unpunished. A drunken politician who behaved in a threatening manner, albeit in his own home,  is forced – by his own party – to take the walk in sackcloth and ashes, whereas Biffo’s bodyguards gathereed around and spun a line about the pressure he was under.

Maybe this will change on February 25, but I doubt it. Because of our own attitude to drink, we are quick to forgive others their indiscretions when on the sauce, but we might well have cause to be a bit more discerning.

Maybe the old saying “In Vino Veritas” (in wine, the truth), holds true; maybe Cowen was just a boorish,drink-sodden incompetent not fit to lead the country. But if that was the truth, why didn’t we act on it when given the chance? Why didn’t his party send him out to pasture? And what will happen next time one of our leaders gets too fond of the sherry?

The Biggest Lie of Them All

As the first week of campaigning comes to a close, the hacks are sharpening their pencils. In the coming hours, as we sink a few Friday pints or settle down in front of the Late Late, the Saturday editions of the newspapers- fatter than normal because we have more time to read at the weekend- will be put to bed.

The Sundays will have been working hard all week to reverse the spin, to find the new angle or an interesting voice to present to you. These are few and far between, not least at election time when the flow of communication is strictly controlled.

But one thing is for sure- the spin doctors and the campaign managers won’t be taking any breaks this weekend. They will be working around the clock, watching, listening, poking and probing in the ether, trying to make sure that it’s their version of the truth that is on the front pages, and no-one else’s.

In short, they will dedicate their weekend- and every waking hour until all the votes are cast- perpetuating the biggest lie of all; that those running for election are in some way better or more qualified than you or I to run the country. Except in very limited circumstances, they aren’t. Indeed, some of them are downright dangerous.

The proof of this should be fairly obvious- a country on its knees, that would still be up to its neck in debt even if it was standing on a stepladder. A health service that is a laughing stock. A whip system that neuters the voter the moment the polling station closes. An opposition and a Seanad so toothless as to have rendered themselves irrelevant. A political class in a class all its own- career politicians concerned not with the good of the country, but in their own survival. No matter what it says on the poster on the lamp-post in front of your house, they are all running for Mé Féin.

They know shockingly little about economics. They know less about about the culture of addiction and abuse of both substances and people that causes so much social misery and petty crime. They know next to nothing about education, and just because they have been children themselves doesn’t mean that they know anything about how to teach them or care for them. These are the people to which we are entrusting the future of our country.

But they and their spin doctors won’t let that stop them- this weekend, they will try to put meat on their scrawny bones, using interviews and features to portray themselves as statesmanlike and knowledgeable and competent. Some will try to convince you that what happened in government occurred when they were out of the room, or that they were powerless to stop it. To a greater or lesser extent, they will be lying.

It’s said that the bigger the lie, the more people will believe it, but Irish people don’t- or shouldn’t- believe the biggest lie of them all anymore. We know our leaders have feet of clay. We know there are no quick fixes. We know that the road back will be long, hard, and hopefully littered with the political corpses of those who led us here.

We know that “I don’t know” is a valid response, and that no-one has all the answers. But those telling you the biggest lie of all still too busy trying to dictate the questions to realise that.

What’s The Big Idea?

The key to success in PR (you can take that to mean public relations or proportional representation in this context, if it’s not too early in the morning) is to stick out- to say or do or create something original, something that sets you apart form the rest. Something that shows your customers or voters that YOURS is the camp to be in.

Something that showcases your ability to be cutting edge as you face into the future. Something that shows that YOU are the guy or the girl with the Big Idea.

Forty-eight hours into the election campaign and as yet, there are no Big Ideas.

There is predictable waffle about the old reliables- Fine Gael’s pathological fear of taxation means the usual bleating about not raising them in the coming mandate period (a promise they will find it very hard to keep), whilst Labour will look to spread the burden more fairly (ditto).

With a manifesto that perfectly echoes their name, Sinn Féin will tell everyone to get stuffed as they go it alone through our crisis. Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil and the Greens are so utterly discredited that it’s not even worth paying attention to what they are saying just yet, but can be summed up as “we got everyone into this mess, ergo we know best how to get us out of it”. Which, of course, is rubbish.

So from all sides there is nothing new, but even if no fully-formed Big Idea has taken hold, the seeds are there, just waiting to be watered.

This is the most switched-on election in our history- people are more politically and economically aware than ever before, and the dormant power of the internet and social media hangs over Old Irish Politics like the sword of Damocles. The politician or party that is first to learn to harness that power will sweep away Old Ireland forever. Think Twitter. Think being able to sum up your ideas in 140 characters or less. And if you can’t, think again, because your long-winded ideas won’t wash with this electorate.

But no- so far, our politicians persist in putting up posters and knocking on doors, as if we walk the streets giving them marks out of ten for their wan smiles and cheap suits and vote accordingly.

They come to us on the doorsteps, ascertaining in a split second if there’s any chance we’ll vote for them or not before moving on to brave the next irate pensioner or unemployed stoner with a half-finished degree in revolutionary philosophy.

In a country where resources are getting more limited by the day, it’s a criminal waste of time, doorsteps and lamp-posts. Even the stoners have better things to be doing.

The only really big idea- the Democracy Now project- has been more or less stillborn, but it might yet provide the spark for the kind of change the country needs. David McWilliams has pulled together a posse of volunteers to provide economic advice to candidates who otherwise couldn’t afford it, which could prove invaluable in the war of waffle that will continue for the next three weeks. The idea of doing something for your country for nothing is a revolution in itself, and if nothing else comes out of this election, I hope this one takes hold.

And if David and the Independents he is assisting can formulate their Big Ideas and communicate them to the electorate for next to nothing, Old Irish Politics will be left counting the cost as they stuff their failed election posters into Gormley’s green bin.

If you want to learn how to use PR to get your message across, I strongly recommend doing the Mediacontact.ie course “PR on a shoestring”, which I did myself back in January- more details here: http://goo.gl/I9Zwf

It could never happen here

It all seems so quaint.

Caught short of cash, the minister used her government-issue bank card to buy a few things- mostly benign items like chocolate bars. As she looked a shoo-in to take over as party leader and the next prime minister of her country, the press got hold of the story. She resigned, and despite having paid back every cent, plus interest, was forced to wander the political wilderness for years- though she did go on to lead her party (if not her country), most would agree that “the Toblerone Affair” destroyed Mona Sahlin’s political career in Sweden.

As the runners and riders for the Irish general election line up at the post, I notice the miracle of political science that is Michael Lowry is once more limbering up to give Irish democracy another undeserved puck in the eye. Lowry, described in print by Fintan O’Toole as “a cheat and a liar”, is no stranger to a tribunal or a spot of tax avoidance- having allowed Ben Dunne do up his home to the tune of several hundred thousand euro, Lowry spent years trying to avoid the taxman, all the while legislating that others should do the opposite.

And his reward for his lying and cheating? A well-deserved prison sentence and a banishment from politics? A date with the Criminal Assets Bureau? Far from it. This is Ireland, and that is not the way we do things here.

Rather than banishing Lowry to the ‘Joy, the good people of Tipperary North instead gave him so many votes that he has since topped the poll in every election- a resounding endorsement of a crook if ever there was one. Instead of being behind bars for his lax attitude to tax, Lowry finds himself in the Dáil, making the very laws he seems so fond of flouting. If we want to know why the banks were allowed to get away with their actions, we’d do well to look at what our politicians have been allowed to get away with first.

Of course, there is the “good on ya, Michael!” crowd, who say they would have done the same themselves. WIth their help, Michael sees no shame in the fact that he allowed a businessman to build a west wing on his mansion- why should he, when neither the authorities or the electorate have forced him to see the error of his ways? In the meantime, Mona Sahlin reflects on the space left in the Swedish history books for the first female prime minister and silently curses her penchant for Toblerones.

Though their haste towards the exit has been unseemly, it’s actually a good thing that many in Fianna Fáil recognise that it’s the end of the road and are not standing for re-election. It means that, even in the cradle of crony capitalism, their behaviour over the last few years is neither justified nor condoned, least of all by themselves.

But as the campaign gathers pace, there are some who still believe that they had no part in our downfall, even though they served in government or cabinet. Let’s call them the “We All Partied” Party. There are some who actually believe that they acted honorably in selling out their country and their voters (if in doubt, check out the tweets of a particular loudmouth Green TD from Dublin)- first to the developers, then to the bondholders and finally to the IMF and the ECB. There are some who still operate from the standpoint that “sure everyone was doing it, so why not me?”.

In short, there are still a lot of Lowrys out there, and it’s time to show them the door if we are serious about building not just a new Ireland, but a better Ireland. Just ask Mona.