Jody Corcoran: ‘No post-ironic twist here – but what exactly makes Leo modern?’
In a world gone mad, it is comforting to luxuriate in the traditions of our political and public life. The never-ending demands for “change” can be exhausting.
Beware of change, I say. Let us rise in the morning to know what lies in wait: Fine Gael and Fianna Fail going at each other with gusto; the DUP unblinking on the Union.
It has become fashionable to criticise these traditions, to look down our collective millennial nose at what has gone before but which is fighting the good fight to be with us still. Not from me. There will be no – what is the phrase? – post-ironic twist to this article. I mean what I say.
In the era of Trump and Brexit, the far right and far left and all of the rest of it, we should find comfort where we can.
As Leo Varadkar reaches into his future, he seeks to present the likeness and image of a modern leader.
What is modern about him, though? That he wears a sharp suit? Mohair was once modern. That he is youthful and fit? As Operation Transformation revealed, outward show can be least itself. That he is gay? How very Noughties of him. That he is Indian? He is not, he is Irish. That he is adept at social media? Perhaps, but as Groucho Marx said, run out and find me a four-year-old child.
No, what is comforting about Leo is that he is the leader of Fine Gael, more comforting still, that he is conflicted conservative/liberal leader of Fine Gael; a conservative presenting himself as a liberal, or possibly who has become a liberal because that is the way the wind is blowing.
His recent clashes with Micheal Martin are, well, no more than were the clashes between each leader of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, save that they are now laced with the new language of the age.
So, Varadkar accuses Martin of being a “conspiracy theorist”, itself a conspiracy theory, and Martin accuses Varadkar of being “Trumpian” who, during the Brexit negotiations, has shown “messianic self-regard” to boot. Ouch. It is new wine into old wineskins, all the same. It is, we feel, appropriate in this day and age that both have taken to being so upset at the charges and insults of the other, in a manner that were also, say Garret FitzGerald and Charles Haughey back in the day. That is as it should be, and long may it continue.
The DUP, too, has been criticised quite ferociously of late, particularly by sections of the commentariat here, with barely concealed contempt, not to mention naked hatred of everything that our Northern brethren have and admirably, in my view, continue to stand for.
However, it may turn out that their so-called intransigence on Brexit will end up for the good of the island of Ireland should it ultimately deliver a soft or even no Brexit as many now expect. And who will thank Arlene Foster then?
The criticism of the DUP down here is no more than ill-thought-out united Ireland nationalist rhetoric let loose. As Charlie McCreevy once said, scratch us down here and we all bleed green. Well, most do anyway, or many.
The UK government and, indeed the EU have learned the hard way the truth in that DUP statement of old: “This is a battle of who blinks first, and we’ve cut off our eyelids.”
When you think about it, there is honour in that – a certainty, a truth even.
I hope it is that most of us have come to understand the DUP a little more as a result of this Brexit process. I certainly have. And so has Angela Merkel, I’d say, as she prepares to come to Dublin next week. But has Leo Varadkar? Doubtful.
As for a united Ireland, I will take my lead from the majority in Northern Ireland whenever it gives, or withholds its consent, as the Good Friday Agreement has agreed. Let us seek the unification of hearts and minds first and foremost, and no more than that, as we consider how to properly rid ourselves of the last vestiges of our border mindset.
Aside from these comforts and certainties, two other events in recent days give the impression of modernity but are not really, and are something about which I would urge some caution: one is the proposed referendum related to marital divorce about which I have some knowledge, and the other is the age-old conflict between rights and freedoms.
On divorce, the Government, at least partly motivated to buff up its liberal credentials at election time, proposes to remove the four-year minimum living apart period and allow a reduced term to be defined by legislation, two years being what is talked about.
From recollection – divorce was introduced almost 25 years ago – the four-year period came about to take account of possible reconciliation between couples, of which no doubt there have been some, but not that many. That said, divorce is not necessarily about the couple, but first and always about the children.
Now, I am certain there are a great many people who will welcome the Government proposal as progressive, and am equally certain that there are many cases where a reduced waiting time would be better suited, indeed necessary for the couple concerned – mostly for the wife, I would imagine, and perhaps also the children. But can I throw in a caveat here?
Divorce can be, mostly is, the most traumatic life event that those affected will go through. You will never truly know unless you have gone through it, so bear with me.
The first year is a blur, the second the start of a psychological settlement, the third a coming up for air and the fourth the findings of a new beginning. For others, it can take even longer than that.
Aside from property and financial resources – I would urge all men to be giving in this regard, and then more generous still – the issue of the care of children, in a word ‘access’, is that which bedevils many divorces. It is, however, the most important issue.
In my case, it was open-ended, but in a great many – the majority – it is the source of continuous rancour.
Can I suggest that in all of the trauma and upheaval attached to divorce, nothing in this regard should be written in stone for the first year or two after marital breakdown – indeed, not until after the findings of a new beginning have taken root four years on?
Too often, I would say, access arrangements, and other agreements, are arrived at early in the process which do not suit a year or more later; too frequently, I would say, are such arrangements chopped and changed and amended as the warring couple talk of getting on with their lives, but try to get one over the other in the process.
I would urge caution in voting to remove the delay. Hasten slowly. Most times, time helps.
An issue has arisen at Trinity College Dublin which, ordinarily, would not trouble too many readers, but from a perspective could be said to neatly encapsulate two fundamental but competing rights – freedom of association and freedom of speech.
To summarise, a newspaper at the college is accused of surreptitiously attempting to record the initiation ceremony of a college society that aims to further sporting and, shall we say, entertainment and hospitality activities at the college.
The surreptitious attempt having been rumbled, the society concerned is now said to be attempting to raise wider support that may have the effect of challenging the continued publication of the newspaper concerned.
Freedom of association is an individual right and a collective right, indeed a human right, guaranteed by all democratic legal systems – including the European Union. Freedom of speech is the power or right to express one’s opinions without censorship, restraint, or legal penalty.
Necessarily, there are arguable, but generally accepted limitations to either rights or freedoms. The society concerned, therefore, should be free to associate and to act as it wishes subject to public order and morality; however, the exercise of this right may be regulated by law “in the public interest”.
Similarly subject to public order and morality, the qualified right of freedom of speech is guaranteed.
Might I suggest that the society concerned is perfectly entitled to associate when, with whom and as it wishes, within the confines of the law and also that the newspaper concerned should be defended in this case, and in any other such instances, even when it is wrong; indeed, particularly when it is wrong.
Any threat to the future of the publication should be withdrawn.