Author Archives: Dan Boyle

 

From top: O’Connell Street, Dublin on Tuesday night following the deaths of protestors in Gaza; Dan Boyle

I have come to the conclusion that I must be something of an anti-Semite. It is a difficult thing to define. Most dictionaries describe Semite as a grouping of languages from the Middle East, spoken by now long disappeared peoples such as the Phoenicians and the Canaanites. In the present day largely only Hebrew and Arabic survive.

While I have no animus against these historic cultures, it seems that the evolution of anti-semitism has become directed solely at one linguistic group and their faith/belief system.

There can be no doubt that, despite having contributed positively, and hugely out of proportion to their numbers, to global culture and history, the Jewish people have seen their fate to have become the most demonised, prejudiced against, and persecuted of people.

In the period of World history that has been dominated by adherents of Christianity, Jewdom has been horribly discriminated against. Culminating in the unforgivable and unforgiving Holocaust of the Second World War.

A level of Christian guilt saw the making of The Balfour Declaration of 1917. This was a well-intentioned initiative in recognising the need for a Jewish State. Once put in place after the Second World War, its application to address a colossal, horrendous wrong, created a whole new series of further wrongs, now against the existing inhabitants of Palestine. The British brilliance with borders reached new heights here.

The basis of any religion is that its adherents are a chosen/special people. The fervency of such beliefs when linked to a national identity is a particularly potent mix.

That said the emerging State of Israel came through its beleaguered beginnings, when all around it sought to prevent its establishment, with additional strength. The new State sought to be more democratic and somewhat more diverse than its neighbouring countries. Credit should also given to the level of innovation that was created in the new State, in the least auspicious of circumstances.

However, somewhere along the line the justified sense of siege felt by Israelis has been transformed in hubris. Going beyond thinking themselves as ‘God’s Chosen People’, they began to see other people, with whom they shared the same space, as a sub species. Creatures to be corralled, caged, interned, interred, kicked and spat upon. All in the name of National Security.

This term has replaced patriotism as the last refuge of scoundrels. Any angry waving of arms, or throwing of sticks and stones, provokes a ‘justified’ shoot to kill response from those with the superior technology and weaponry. When the opposing arsenal includes Swiss Army knives and Molotov cocktails, an even more vicious response is evoked.

Any criticism of this is refuted not as being an expression of revulsion, but as an extension of an age old sectarianism, irrationally and hatefully aimed towards Jews and Jewishness.

Questioning the actions of the Israeli State through its government, now apparently, constitutes the height of prejudice.

This redefinition has passed many of us by. Nonetheless some of us must now redefine ourselves, through our audacity in calling out murder is as murder does, as being anti-Semites.

We inhabit the same space as the Ku Klux Klan and the most crazed of Islamic fundamentalists. In the Middle East there can be no nuance. Only the righteous can prevail.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Rollingnews

From top: From January 2010, then Minister of Health Mary Harney (left) and then CEO of the National Cancer Screening Service, Tony O’Brien, announcing  plans to establish a national colorectal screening service; Dan Boyle

A secondary issue of concern that seems to have arisen, and has gone on to be sidelined, from the CervicalCheck scandal, has been the extent that the career progression of the HSE’s Tony O’Brien is being facilitated by the government on behalf of the State.

In more progressive jurisdictions legislation exists that insists on cooling off periods (of at least two year’s duration) that should apply to retiring government ministers, senior civil servants, and higher executives of State agencies, before taking up private sector employment in areas that were parallel to their decision making roles.

The prestigious appointments that often follows these public sector departures are usually spun as the head hunting of people of unique ability. Sometimes a nod is made towards the unique experience that these sage public servants hold.

While it would be churlish not to admit that for many in this situation, who find themselves in demand, some degree of experience and ability does exist; it would be equally churlish not to accept that many are being chosen for who rather than what they know.

The recent to do surrounding Communications Minister, Denis Naughton, saw very little media analysis of the lobbyist who had compromised the Minister.

As a previous head of the Government Information Service, under two Taoisigh – Brian Cowen and Enda Kenny, Eoin O’Neachtáin had established an access network few could lay claim to.

The most recent Chief Executive of the National Treasury Management agency, John Corrigan, took up a position as Chair of Davy Stockbrokers, eight months after his public sector retirement.

In January 2011, Mary Harney resigned as Minister for Health and Children. By the end of 2012 she had joined the boards of one healthcare start-up and and a multi-national pharmaceutical concern in India.

The acceptance of such positions is not illegal and for the most part should be not be taken as being automatically ethically suspect. However they are compromising. They should not be seen as being seamless or easy.

The indifference towards producing binding legislation on cooling off periods, is now being more contemptuous that post public sector career opportunities should be directly facilitated.

Tony O’Brien seems to have been allowed by An Taoiseach and the Minister for Health, to begin a lucratively paid internship with a US pharmaceutical company, while continuing his role it what is meant to be one of the most important, and absorbing, public sector positions in Ireland.

Aside from bringing in the idea that such an important role can be undertaken on a part time basis, the direct conflict of running a health service which exists to promote lower costing and more generic drugs, with company which exists to bring about an opposite set of circumstances, is surely a tolerance too far.

This is happening because of the political choices being made by An Taoiseach and the Minister for Health. Choices that are taking us very much in the wrong direction on the wrong road in this area of policy.

Given their relative youth, they couldn’t possibly be thinking of their own future career prospects. Could they?

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Rollingnews

From top: Minister for Health Simon Harris and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar; Director General of the HSE Tony O’Brien; Dan Boyle

I’ve long been a fan of RTÉ’s ‘Reeling In The Years’ (and the earlier BBC programme ‘Rock and Roll Years’ from which it got its inspiration). The marrying of songs of the time linked with stories and issues of an era, proves to be an excellent memory trigger.

Soundtracks can be even more effective when conveying mood rather than chronology. A somewhat obscure song that has been playing in my head is ‘Only Women Bleed‘. The version I remember is that by English actress Julie Covington. It was years later that I learned that the surprising writer of the song was Alice Cooper of ‘School’s Out‘ and ‘Poison‘ fame.

The song seems apposite as we deal with yet another women’s health crisis in Ireland. A sadly repetitive tale where no memory triggers seem to work.

The litany of crises from Anti D, Hepatitis C to the current CervicalCheck scandal, with many, many controversies in between, has created a culture where women have been condemned as second class citizens in our health system.

If the State had contrived to create a health service that treated a sector of society with callous indifference, it could not have done better.

Except in Ireland, in relation to our health service, we don’t do contrivance. We do balls up followed by cover up. Few are ever responsible or accountable.

Perhaps this a carry over from the Catholic Church influence in managing our hospitals. Events of this type have been culturally treated as ‘God’s Will’. Better to have the lack of divine intervention than human negligence or incompetence, as an explanation for these scandals.

No Minister for Health has ever resigned over a health scandal. Political responsibility should certainly be accepted where policy has led directly to negligence. Even a prevailing political philosophy, such as putting fiscal prudence ahead of public safety, puts culpability firmly at the feet of the political decision maker.

As absent as political accountability has been in relation to public health, there has been a greater absence of administrative accountability.

We have seen the stepping down of the director of CervicalCheck (ironically a woman), in a rare resignation within the health service. Is that in itself enough or has the person or people responsible stepped up and accepted their responsibility?

I have listened incensed, as many have I suspect, to several recent radio interviews given by the Director General of the Health Service Executive, Tony O’Brien.

Mr. O’Brien is due to step down from his position, in a matter of months. A retirement brought about by natural events. While his resignation for the direct involvement he has had with CervicalCheck, would seem pyrrhic, responsibility should be taken whether failure has occurred on the first day in a job or in the final weeks of employment.

His resignation, while doing nothing to reduce or eliminate the damage that has been caused, would at least address the flawed culture of lack of accountability in our administrative systems.

It may even help produce a health service where women aren’t treated as second class citizens.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Rollingnews

From top; Dublin city centre; Dan Boyle

I have never really had a lot of time for opinion polls. This hasn’t been because I have often found myself on the wrong side of their prognostications. Rather I have come to form the belief that opinion polls can be used to lead, rather than reflect public opinion.

A requirement exists in some European countries that opinion polls cannot be publicly published within a set time of an election date. An attempt several years ago to introduce such a provision into Irish law, was defeated in Seanad Éireann, which then was displaying a rare display of independence.

As former member of the Seanad I would like to see the independence of the Upper House being asserted more frequently. However, in this instance I believe the view of the Seanad was wrong.

The influence of opinion polls is not in persuading voters favouring one candidate or proposition over another. They don’t telegraph an assumption that voters should get in line with a trending ‘winning’ candidate or proposition.

What they can do, and do do, is create an impact on likely turnout. Polls which show large margins, induce complacency and make it less likely that supporters of a candidate/proposition deemed to be ‘winning’ will come out to vote.

Polls on the upcoming referendum seeking to rescind the Eight Amendment to the Constitution, should be looked at in this light.

It is highly unlikely that the final results of the May 25 vote will be anything like what is currently being portrayed. The suggested Yes vote should be looked at as being particularly suspect. In no respect should a successful Yes vote be taken for granted.

Part of this would be because of the established trends over the past 35 years of constitutional debates in this country, debates that have taken place between liberal and conservative viewpoints. Experience shows that invariably conservative opinion strengthens and solidifies during the course of a referendum campaign.

The different criteria used by polling companies to weight the don’t know/don’t care responses received, often fail to catch the nuances of these responses. Follow through questions on whether those polled are very likely, less likely or not likely to vote do little to catch these nuances.

Allocating don’t know opinions in the proportion of those who have expressed an opinion, even with weightings on who is and who isn’t likely to vote, distorts rather than confirms the prevailing opinion.

These misgivings aside the declared intentions seem, at this remove, to favour the Yes side. Support, while receding, seems closer to the 50%+ level needed. The receding Yes vote does not seem to be translating into new No support. Indeed No support also seems to be receding, albeit at a slower rate than that of Yes.

What is being recorded is a growing number of don’t know voters. This doesn’t represent good news for the Yes campaign. That campaign has to produce the reasons for positive change. The more uncertainty that is created the less likely voters will be to vote Yes.

Turnout will be key. The higher the turnout the more likely a Yes vote will prevail. It can be done. I’m hopeful it still will be done. None of us can or should assume that it will happen.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Rollingnews

From top: cycling in Copenhagen, Denmark; Dan Boyle

Maybe the Little Englanders are right and Brexit does represent an opportunity. For us not them.  With John Bull’s Island shamefully obsessed with a don’t darken our shores attitude to migrants (or just others in general), and with the man-child firmly ensconced in the Oval Office, maybe the real opportunity is ours in Ireland, to distangle our involvement with the Anglo American economic model.

It is only an economic model and a very poor one at that. A model that seeks to pump prime an economy for short term benefit and often to a very shallow extent. It is a model that we have convinced ourselves no longer needs to make things, just as long we can provide appropriate ‘services’.

There are other economic models, better economic models. Models that portray an economy, and its effective management, as a tool of a wider society, and doesn’t see society as an unfortunate adjunct that distracts from the more important entity of the economy.

The Anglo American model needs and encourages inequality to thrive. It’s mantra is low costs/high profits. It produces jobs but many of these jobs are low paying and have little security. It cares little for social protection and not at all for social infrastructure.

As the UK and the US indulge in their mutual insanity, if Ireland were now to take a different turn, it could be of real and lasting value.

If we need an obvious example on how Irish society has become tainted by the Anglo American model, our housing crisis is surely it. Since 2011 our government has stuck limpet like to a belief that you can’t buck the market; that the State should play no role in controlling housing supply or demand.

Perhaps we could begin to adopt a more humane philosophy that is as approximate to us. We should go Nordic.

The naysayers and the knee jerkers will have arguments at their ready. Ireland doesn’t have the oil or the gas reserves of Norway, they will say. That is true, but then neither do the five other Nordic countries.

We no longer have control over our monetary policy, as many Nordic still do, they will counter. That is also true although Finland is also a member of the Eurozone.

The main misgiving is that the Irish, unlike their Nordic counterparts, are less disposed towards paying high levels of personal taxation. This is to distort the effect of the various systems of taxation in these countries.

In Ireland our tax burden is disproportionately shared. In Nordic countries the principle of earn more pay more is not only more readily accepted, the transparency necessary to show how the social dividend is distributed is far more obvious.

The Nordic model is not perfect and is far from idyllic. But it better, so much better than the Anglo American model. In education, health care, crime prevention, immigration and integration, child care and care for the environment, we lag so far behind our Nordic cousins.

If we could marry the Swedish ability of establishing international companies from within its borders; the Norwegian commitment to re-investment; the Danish attachment to renewable energy; the Finnish standards of education; and the Icelandic stoicism to maximising its economy, how much better we could be.

Certainly better than relying on the arrogance and shamelessness of the Anglo American model. It’s time methinks to engage again in our Viking heritage.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

From top: traffic at O’Connell Bridge, Dublin 1; Dan Boyle

The most recent statistics released by the Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI) show a 10.5% year on year decrease in the registrations of new passenger cars. This has got some who claim to be able to read economic tea leaves worried.

For some perverse reason the increase in car sales has been taken as an indicator of improving economic wellbeing.

The theory goes that people purchasing more of these vehicles is a sign that greater amounts of disposable income are swirling about, and that consumers are more prepared to buy the type of good they otherwise would avoid purchasing during a recession.

I’ve always treated this particular statistic with a huge amount of disdain.

Even the acronym SIMI is loaded with ironic deceit. Ireland does not have a motor industry. We do not make cars.

What we have is a motor retail sector. Each car purchased here impacts negatively on the country’s balance of payments. The obsession with this statistic tell us very little about our economic health.

This preoccupation with the motor car has seeped into too much of our official thinking and approach to strategic planning.

In the past number of decades any attempt to more fairly distribute land use, such as by pedestrianising streets, introducing bus lanes and cycle lanes, or providing planning for new apartment units without parking, has evoked knee jerk reactions that the car owner, and by extension the car itself, is being inconvenienced by these changes.

These are end days for the fossil fuel propelled vehicle. It can be argued that the development of the motor car has been the most significant, and most liberating, means of social change in the 20th century. Now we need to move on.

A more honest cost benefit will reveal a price has been paid for this greatly enhanced freedom to travel. That price has come in the form of ever deteriorating air quality, and millions of deaths and horrific injuries from motor vehicle accidents.

The use of cars has had, and continues to have, an enormous value. However, we have tended to over celebrate that value.

In elevating car travel as our primary, and often our sole means of travel, we have produced a lop sided transport infrastructure that has relegated those who choose to walk, cycle and/or use public transport, to the status of second class citizens.

Share the space should be our motto in developing future infrastructure. That means that a collective realisation needs to be accepted that door to door transport, by a single means of transport, will soon become impossible.

With that the very concept of car usage will change. Already growing numbers of people are becoming less interested with the idea of owning cars. Some are renting more, leasing more, sometimes for periods of a little more than an hour.

We should be incentivising and investing in transport alternatives. We need to make those alternatives more convenient, more reliable and less expensive. We must make the cultural shift away from the belief that insists that the car is the epicentre of our need to be.

What it is, is the thing that is holding us back. It’s time to let go.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Rollingnews

From top: Taffina Flood with her daughter Sadie O’ Nolan with protestors on O’Connell Street in Dublin last week; Dan Boyle

Whenever a new paramour entered my life (it doesn’t amount to a very long list) my Mother would ask me:

“I hope you have respected her?

The word ‘respect’ was laced with nuance but never hinted of innuendo. There are some things a child and parent should never speak about, particularly a son and his mother.

Hers was an ongoing piece of parental moral advice. She had been telling me not to mess the other person around, not to let them down, not to make them feel uncomfortable; God forbid – never to hurt them.

For the most part it has been sound advice, advice I have sought to keep, but on occasion I missed. When added to my natural physical shyness it has meant that I rarely, if ever, initiated anything. In that I don’t think myself that unusual.

Through a whole range of misconceptions, misapprehensions and the weirdest of hang ups the general Irish approach to sex, sexuality and relationships has been pretty fecked up.

After generations of avoiding the priest with his blackthorn stick randomly waved through the ditches and the hedgerows, it seemed possible to express in a new Ireland, more open ways to enjoy our collective sexuality. In ways where pleasure won out over shame. But someone had to go out and spoil it for everybody else.

For some Ireland has stepped out of its sexual darkness to turn itself into a 21st century Sodom or Gomorrah. For those who long for a return to the times of sexual backwardness, we are re-living the last days of the Roman Empire.

The truth is we are neither. We do, however, have a problem. The sect of shamed sex Irish has become mirrored with a new sect of shameless sex Irish.

Those who are brash and uninhibited have their qualities, but when they are used to supersede intimacy, by erasing any thoughts or actions of caring for someone, being affectionate towards them, or even moving towards the possibility of loving them, then we have a real problem. And that problem is a problem of men, or at least a problem caused by men.

Much of the talk surrounding the recent Belfast Rape Trial centred around the quality of the evidence, the burden of proof required or the meeting of certain legal niceties. The verdict is what it is, so the legal system has determined.

But being legally not guilty, in this case, certainly does not mean being innocent. Innocence in its widest sense. Innocence in being free from shame. Innocence in being able to maintain character and honour.

Unfortunately, no legal system can attest for these failings. They are character failings profoundly shown in the words of the exonerated towards each other.

The macho language of delight, as Kavanagh probably wouldn’t have called it. The Lord of the Flies glee of boasting where few ‘men’ have sexually gone before.

The law has declared them innocent, although the innocence they each would have had seems to have deserted them so early into what are still very young lives.

And all that was needed was a little respect

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Top pic: Rollingnews

From top: Grainne Carruth, former secretary to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, arriving at the Mahon Tribunal at Dublin Castle on March 20, 2008; Bertie Ahern announces his intention to resign on April 2, 2008; Dan Boyle

In March 2008 Gráinne Carruth, the constituency secretary of then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, appeared before the Mahon Tribunal, to face a difficult cross examination.

Her isolation and lack of support from her employer shocked the watching public. Among other elected representatives this cruel indifference caused even greater concern.

The relationship between a member of the Oireachtas and their constituency secretary is a vital one. I was blessed to have had an excellent secretary. We still remain friends.

Despite a very good working relationship I learned far too late how much she sought to protect me, shielding me from much of the volume and intensity of the abuse that subsequently came through my office.

Ahern’s treatment of Carruth was a very public betrayal, seen as far worse than any other political sin he was perceived to be associated with. It was what ultimately led to his resignation from office. That resignation wasn’t immediate but it came about relatively quickly afterwards.

On entering government the Greens were aware that Ahern had stated he would be stepping down as Taoiseach during the course of the term of government.

The tone and tenor of what was likely to emerge from the Mahon Tribunal had begun to come out before the 2007 general election.

Some 42% of the electorate chose to disregard these concerns and seemed to happy for Bertie Ahern and Fianna Fáil to continue in government.

The Greens had decided that the party would not react to every subsequent revelation made at the Tribunal, waiting until the final findings had been made, expecting those in Fianna Fáil who had been compromised to act accordingly.

We wanted to avoid the PD/Michael McDowell/Grand Old Duke of York routine of making every revelation a crisis. As a strategy it seemed be working fine until the Carruth evidence.

Before she gave that evidence I found myself being interviewed by Eamon Keane on his lunchtime Newstalk programme.

It seemed to cause surprise when I stated, what I thought was obvious, that the Taoiseach would resign in the early part of the life of the government, and that he would tells us when.

Directly after the Carruth evidence Fiona O’Malley of the PDs, found herself being interviewed by the same presenter. She let Ahern have it have it with both barrels.

It was thought she, like me a Senator, would be easily dismissed. By afternoon she was being backed up her party leader, Mary Harney. By evening John Gormley was falling in line saying that Ahern had questions to answer.

Even then it was thought some formula would be agreed for Bertie to stay put. A no confidence in government motion almost achieved its desired effect.

Fianna Fáil sought an amendment that criticised the Tribunal and its chief member. As the line Minister responsible, John Gormley refused. The Green insistence that no such criticism be made prevailed.

On the morning of April 2nd, 2008, the members of the Green parliamentary party received a group text. It told us that Bertie Ahern would be making a televised statement at 9.30am. Members of the cabinet were being informed but the rest of us remained unknowing of what was to be said.

When Bertie announced his resignation it didn’t come as much of a surprise. Being in government the Greens response to the resignation was somewhat dithering. Eamon Ryan wasn’t present on the plinth. John Gormley stood to the back of the ministerial scrum, although television angles showed him quite close to Bertie.

It was the first real crisis of being in government. Things couldn’t get any worse we thought.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

From top: Counting during the last General Election in Citywest; Dan Boyle

I was elected at my first election to what was then Cork Corporation, now Cork City Council. I was active in my local community, and was strongly associated with a campaign to improve the management of, and seek the earliest closure of the nearby city dump.

These were the reasons for most of my support. I did these things because I believed them to be worth doing, and I hoped that in the context of an election that some voters might think that was worth the consideration of their vote.

I wouldn’t have had the inclination nor the capacity to have engaged in market research, to test for issues that might play best with voters.

In subsequent elections I never acquired that inclination. It seemed to me to be a fairly hollow choice; either you contested elections on the basis of who you were and what you had done, or you moulded yourself into something you were told the voters wanted.

That second choice ran against everything I wanted to be in public life for. I suppose a refusal to play that game would prove a constant electoral negative for me.

In those subsequent elections I thought, naively now I know, that I should seek the support of those who didn’t participate in elections. Four out of every ten voters didn’t. To convince even some of them should help put me in the running, I thought.

In the mid nineties this seemed to have something of an effect. In a by-election then (when I came close to stopping Hugh Coveney winning the seat) I canvassed everywhere and anywhere I could. Canvassing the Deanrock Flats in Togher (since thankfully re-developed) was a huge political education for me.

I won 17% of the vote in that election. I was the obvious protest candidate. Even I realised that it would be difficult to maintain that vote in future elections, although I did maintain about three quarters of that vote.

As a candidate for a smaller party resources and manpower are always less than adequate. The temptation to cut through with less is ever present. The irony is that those short cuts tend only to be available to those with the resources to buy them.

The short cuts devised were quite legal, if unsatisfactory. The concentration in canvassing was made in areas where we had already done well, seeking to improve our votes there. This meant canvassing less in areas where people were less likely to vote, or support for a Green candidate was less likely to happen.

One canvassing tool that I tended not to use, was available from the local authority. This was the marked register. This shows which voters had cast a vote in a previous election (but not how they voted).

That would have been stored in the collective memory banks of the traditional parties. Until recent elections this analogue data would have proven quite accurate.

Then came the enlightenment. This short period where people have pondered more deeply on their political choices, being rightly more indiscriminate in making those choices.

We should value more our political system that still requires pen and paper to cast votes, demands of candidates to interact directly and personally with the voting public, a public that itself is at its most fickle in our country’s history.

The alternative of the electronic mining of personal data, with the creating of algorithms on how people tend to think, is taking the democratic political World to very dark places.

Ireland was an antidote in a previous dark age. We should be so again.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Top pic: Rollingnews


From top: Met Eireann’s Evelyn Cusack and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar after a meeting of the National Emergency Coordination Group during Storm Emma; Dan Boyle

The politics of the Beast from the East seem to have worked quite well for the government. Politics is a small component of responding effectively to an emergency.

The actual heroes were front–line workers who ironically enough are often further away from the public eye.

I found myself snowed in, pleasantly and enjoyably, at a hotel in Tallaght. Most of the other guests were ambulance workers, most civil defence volunteers. Whether as paramedics, or in running a radio centre, I found their presence there comforting and decidedly pride evoking.

Emergency plans get tweaked from time to time, benefitting from the appropriate finessing of long term planning along with lessons learned.

The political element of emergency response is quite properly small and narrow. It largely revolves around communication, giving information, offering reassurance, bolstering public confidence.

In this 24 hour multi media World, the metaphorical political holding of the baby fills most politicians with dread. The odds on becoming the face of any public information campaign, and not getting associated with negative news become extraordinarily low.

The protection of the Gulf Stream has really only deserted us on four occasions over the last seventy years or so – 1947, 1982, 2010 and now the year of the Beast of the East 2018.

We should remember that Ireland is on the same latitude as Hudson Bay in Canada, The Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia and the southern reaches of Alaska. Without the Gulf Stream, the more extreme wintery conditions we experienced last week would be far more typical.

The folk memory of 1947, with the number of waterways which ended up frozen, would seem to rate the Irish Winter Olympics winner, although each of the four climate lapses carry with them unhappy, uncomfortable memories.

The political consequences of 1947 were probably negligible. The then excitement of a new party breakthrough of Clann na Poblachta, combined with a public lethargy with a Fianna Fáil government in power since 1932 (with a cabinet of Civil War participants), meant that a lousy winter would have been the last thing on most voters minds.

The media created the sobriquet ‘The Minister for Snow’ for the then Tánaiste and leader of the Labour Party, Michael O’Leary, in 1982, for which he never forgave them. As the country went into a ten day lockdown, O’Leary struggled to receive political support especially from his own political party. It would probably was a contributing factor that led to his resignation as Labour leader, followed perversely by his joining with Fine Gael.

John Gormley inherited the Minister for Snow in 2010. He too found himself sidelined by cabinet colleagues, particularly his Fianna Fáil colleagues. The cabinet sub committee dealing with national emergencies was meant to be jointly chaired by Gormley and FF Transport Minister, Noel Dempsey, who lingered too longingly on a foreign sun holiday.

The current Minister, Eoghan Murphy, has not been seen to be affected. For that he should be grateful. Any real gratitude should go the front line people I had the privilege of meeting in Tallaght.

For politicians no pain is gain. The irony for this government is that in trying so hard in overselling its own achievements, while using considerable public funds, will probably see no real benefit from having had a good freeze.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Top pic: Rollingnews

Meanwhile…

Dan Boyle’s ‘Making Up The Numbers – Smaller Parties and Independents in Irish Politics‘ published by the History Press is available at all good bookstores now.