05 August 2011

A thundering disgrace

Way back in the midst of time, as more regular readers may remember, the pages of Booming Back were filled to the brim with almost daily musings on, and diatribes against, the shenanigans, tom-foolerery and other nefarious deeds-most-foul of our political lords and masters. No election was too small, no campaign too insignificant to draw down my ill-informed wrath and ire; Lisbon I, local elections, European elections, Lisbon II, national elections, US elections and more were all the grist for my venomous mill.

However all of this came crashing to an unforeseen halt sometime in March as I, somewhat unfortunately, took ill mere days after the general election drew to a close our long national nightmare and ushered in an era of equality, social justice, rainbows and unicorns. The pain of losing my gall-bladder forever was lessened by the knowledge that its bile-production capacities would no longer be needed in this brave new Ireland of ours.

Imagine my shock and disappointment therefore when I emerged '28 Days Later'-like from the isolation of the hospital ward and discovered that not only had all our national troubles failed to be packed up in a succesion of old kit bags, if anything the economic situation had spiraled even further out of control with even less public outrage than before.

"At least", I said to console myself, "we have witnessed the dawn of a new political age, where it is no longer, as they say, 'business as usual'. The people have spoken and those elected to represent them at all levels know that the old feudal games of hereditary and dynastic politics will be tolerated no more. Sure all you have to do is look at the latest opinion polls where it appears that the favoured candidate for President is a highly educated, articulate and openly gay man, with a strong record of human rights campaigning and no ties to any political party or organization."

I found myself thinking that if one sliver of a silver lining could emerge from the miasma of the Celtic Tiger years it would be that we as a nation had finally put our clerical, tribal and conservative past behind us and were ready to stand up proud and bold as a progressive nation of the 21st century, and that the election of David Norris would encompass all this and more.

*sigh*

I am not going to rehash the whys and wherefores of Senator Norris' downfall, the details have been splashed across the internets and beyond in lurid sensationalized colour quite enough already. I do, however, find it worrying in the extreme that the hand of a foreign government is looming large behind the leaking of these final revelations, the same government whose agents so readily carry forged Irish passports as they go about their sordid trade.

Of greater concern to me though are the flaws in the very bedrock of our Presidential system that have been exposed by this sorry morality play. The farcical pantomime of favour-currying and forelock-tugging that an individual must go through with County Councils, or what few members of the Oireachtas remain that are not bound by the Whip system, simply to get their name placed before the citizenry of the country is, to borrow an aptly Presidential phrase, a thundering disgrace.

While at its worst it is nothing more than a hollow ceremonial role parceled out to aged party apparatchiks as a retirement gift, at its best the Presidency can capture the imagination of the entire nation and define the age it spans. Think of Mary Robinson's candle in the window heralding a new decade of optimism or Mary McAleese symbolically bringing to a close centuries of Anglo-Irish tension, both women who despite the backing of major political parties were themselves fairly apolitical in their previous careers.

The simple fact of all this is that the citizenry themselves should have been afforded the opportunity to judge the suitability of Senator Norris, or any other prospective candidate, to hold the highest office in the land. But with the parties closing ranks behind deeply internal candidates and actively sabotaging attempts by independent candidates to simply get on the ballot paper, the citizenry have been sent the clearest signal yet that it is most definitely 'business as usual' in this brave new Ireland of ours.

And we are all the lesser for it.

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