Sob at the hell of American life this Blackened Friday

TOMORROW is Black Friday.

It used to just infect the dead souls of Americans. Now the malice has spread to Irish zombies, reducing thousands to the intellectual capacity of an I’m A Celebrity contestant.

Losing reason to purchase some cut-price junk you don’t need is the shopping equivalent of eating a kangaroo’s gonads.

We gave them Heaney, Joyce and Yeats. They gave us cheese so inedible it doesn’t need a fridge, four Expendables movies and this horrible date in every calendar. It comes the day after Thanksgiving — the only American tradition we haven’t imported as it would require employers to give us an extra day off.

So-called due to traffic gridlock and hostile shoppers in the US, Black Friday has been around for decades but its dark grip has tightened in the past decade. Seven people have been killed and almost 100 others injured since 2015 in crowd chaos that has poor and tasteless Americans wrestling for cheap waffle irons and TVs.

Ironically Black Friday took hold here during the recession, when retailers were fighting for a slice of a tiny market. They competed heavily on price and promoted the rare occasions when consumers believed there was value to be had.

The main problem with Black Friday is that its chief promise may not even be true any longer.

A study by research firm Decide Inc shows the industry is using technology to turn the date into a marketing bonanza by carefully selecting items for deep discounts while pricing broader merchandise at levels that won’t kill profits.

The explosion in online shopping has given researchers a world of data to examine and it found the lowest prices often occur in March and almost never on Black Friday.

Retail solutions firm Boomerang Commerce examined last year’s Black Friday prices in the US. They concluded that retailers did not significantly discount the vast majority of popular products.

The constant retail push means that almost everything is always on sale and no-one ever pays the full price. Sales take place before and after Black Friday. In 2014, one study found the average discount for such marquee shopping days was only five per cent.

It is not illegal but it is exploitative of an impressionable shopping audience who are seeking rewards for their long year of hard work. We like to think ourselves as sophisticated Europeans, but we’re far closer to the American spirit than we’d like to think — rust belt, KFC and all.

Over €100million is spent by Irish shoppers on Black Friday and a further €30million on Cyber Monday, another made-up event to syringe the pension fund directly from your wallet.

In America, Black Friday stores started opening at 6am in the late 90s. By the noughties it crept back to 4am and then to midnight. Now Black Friday starts on Thursday afternoon.

It’s similar to how an Irish ritual used to see us beginning Christmas on December 8 but it is now a two-month ordeal.

Festive decorations are up so long that by December 25 every building looks like Chevy Chase’s wrecked house at the end of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Irish people shop every day, until late. By contrast, if you visit the continent on a Sunday, most shops are closed and people enjoy their day off in cafes, restaurants and strolling through the park.

Retail staff get a vital weekend day off too. There’s a lovely energy of relaxation and rest for the body and the mind. We lost that Sunday closed day vibe, because we felt it was imposed by the Church. What a shame we Irish follow the American example rather than that of our European neighbours.

Continental shoppers enjoy Christmas markets that sell local produce on grand city squares that generate spirit and atmosphere at the heart of old towns.

In Ireland, we flock to giant sheds on former swamps filled with Supermac’s and global brands. We buy crap marketed by American culture and manufactured by the Chinese. Our town centres are as empty as a crib manger.

This shopping experience is so devoid of identity, there’s no novelty to visiting America where a mall in Minnesota looks no different to one in Mullingar.

When the Government talks about supporting the economy and jobs, they really mean doing whatever big businesses want them to do. Take Fine Gael’s broken election promise to give workers an extra bank holiday.

They recently blocked Sinn Fein’s proposal of an Easter Rising Day, saying it would cost the economy €400million. It’s unclear whose backside this figure was plucked from. They didn’t add up conversely how much a day off might be worth to the hospitality sector as workers spend the extra holiday.

It is a shame that every Government decision like this is based on financial factors rather than the mental health of the nation or the boost to community spirit of providing a measly extra day’s holiday.

Retail is important for employment and the economy but it has a sinister element too. Tired and over-worked citizens are under constant bombardment to spend, every day, all year round. When churches began to close on Sundays and shops opened, we were replacing one unforgiving hand of dominance with another.

Black Friday has bright lights but a dark heart. Bah, humbug upon it, I say.

Donald ducking his own pledges

LITTLE by little, Donald Trump is dismantling all the crazy from his plans for the US Presidency.

Trump now says he won’t jail Hillary Clinton, believes in climate change and condemned white supremacists.

It really is starting to look more like Brexit by the day. The Leave the EU campaign promised that the UK health service — the NHS — would get back £350million a year committed to Europe.

But on the morning of the result, Nigel Farage denied making the claim, which was emblazoned on a campaign bus.

Trump is following a similar path, slowly backing down on issues that gave him a no-nonsense edge in the campaign.

His appalling treatment of Trump University students is laid bare by his settlement of the fraud case after the election.

He spun it as the need to work on his presidency. It is an admission of wrongdoing which he denied for months.

Another denial during the campaign was about ‘self-dealing’ in regard to his Trump Foundation charity. It was claimed he used charity funds to settle lawsuits connected to his other businesses.

This week he finally admitted self-dealing. Some journalists have described it as another term for “embezzlement”.

Expect the opening 100 days of his Presidency to be littered with similar backtracking. Most notably, the promise to ban Muslims and build the Mexico wall are next in line for the U-Trump-turn.

Rowing Government is stuck in the ice age

REPORTS of furious rows at Cabinet between Shane Ross and Enda Kenny show we have a Government that is utterly frozen.

No substantial new laws have passed through parliament in the last six months and no minister has tabled any new big policy initiatives.

Instead of a country being run, we have two egos fighting for oneupmanship on issues that matter little to ordinary people.

Transport Minister Ross is insisting on a free vote on a neutrality bill. He and the Taoiseach are at loggerheads over reform of how judges are appointed.

Neither of these matters are on the minds of working people looking at worsening hospital queues, a housing crisis and fears over Brexit and public pay demands. Ross is the intense focus of searing media criticism over his lack of a plan in Transport and his failure to fill vacancies on State boards. His past as a columnist in the Sunday Independent is mostly to blame for the backlash from rival media groups.

But he is accused of nothing that couldn’t equally be attributed to virtually any minister.

Almost no-one around the cabinet table has set out a decent plan in their departments, including the Taoiseach who is also Defence Minister.

Some ministers like Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney continually make public comments on matters that are not relevant to their portfolios.

The Government has entered the Ice Age. Fianna Fail hint at their invisible grip on power only when it suits them and the Independent Alliance seem happy to run down the clock until their ministerial pensions kick in after two years’ service.

That leaves the opposition looking like they have no salt to start a thaw.

Dobbo’s Dollop – The world according to me

FORMER newsreader Anne Doyle is the latest celebrity to turn down RTE’s Dancing with the Stars series.

It’s just as well, the sometimes frosty anchor wears so much Newbridge Silverware jewellry, watching her doing the fandango would sound like a truckload of trumpets crashing into a train.

The show will be presented by Amanda Byram. She’s the human equivalent of beige paint — you know you wanted something brighter but this will do the job until a better option comes along.

So far all we know is who is not appearing on next year’s show.

This includes the unknown cast of MasterChef and Margo O’Donnell. Never mind Daniel O’Donnell — they can’t even land his SISTER!

Who will be asked next? A first cousin of Foster or Allen? This means the very bottom of the celebrity barrel has been removed and producers are digging in the cold dark soil desperately seeking ‘stars’.

It is looking increasingly like Dancing with the Stars will be a contest between used-up Fair City actors and weather presenters.

Rumour has it they have even put in a request for the corpses of Hal Roach and Dinny from Glenroe to do the Dancing on Ice edition of the show.

It is going to be a long January watching the lifeless Byram struggling to cope with Angela Scanlon — the redhead nuisance who appears to be eternally giddy on Fanta and Centrum 55.

Shining a Rae of light on reality of climate change

WHEN it comes to the climate change debate, I have a lot in common with Danny Healy-Rae. 

Neither of us are scientists, nor have any expertise in climate. We’re both boggers who are worried about the future of farming. We both get confused about the difference between the weather and climate. 

It’s at this point that we start to diverge. Danny shouts his ignorance into the Dail record without checking facts. He claims human behaviour has not caused climate change and disputes its very existence. Instead, I will try to set out the truth. 

Healy-Rae says that in 1913 “there was some place in Arizona where the warmest date ever was recorded, and this was before machinery and industrial activity, so we couldn’t have caused that”. 

This strikes a chord with farmers who watch the weather like no-one else. They point to how there was a scorching dry summer in 1995 but 2007 was a washout, despite claims the planet is heating up. 

Donald Trump uses a similar tactic, like his tweet during the winter of 2012, “It’s freezing and snowing in New York — we need global warming”. It’s a favourite of climate change deniers, confusing weather and climate to muddle the debate. 

This explanation from Nasa might help clear things up: “The difference between weather and climate is a measure of time. 

“Weather is what conditions of the atmosphere are over a short period of time, and climate is how the atmosphere ‘behaves’ over relatively long periods of time.”

A simpler way of understanding this is that climate is what you expect at certain times of the year, like a frosty November. Weather is what you get, like a sudden cold snap out of nowhere or a heatwave. 

Even though we’ve had the odd freezing winter, the average air temperature in Ireland is 0.8°C higher today compared to 100 years ago. All Irish seasons are warmer than ever before. 

The irrefutable truth is that our climate has changed, the Earth is heating up and 2016 will be the hottest on record. 

Another favourite of deniers is throwing the ozone layer into it. Healy-Rae again: “There was a lot of talk about the ozone layer, and now we’re told it’s repairing itself. We were told it was cattle and cows and airsprays, and now that it was nuclear airborne testing that was carried out 50 years ago that damaged the ozone layer.”

This muddies the waters even further, but Nasa experts can help the Kerry TD here too: “The ozone hole and global warming are not the same thing, and neither is the main cause of the other.” 

The ozone did start repairing itself, when CFCs were banned in the 1980s. His claim about nuclear testing is totally false. 

Climate change in a nutshell: CO2 gases from fossil fuels and methane from farming are causing excess greenhouse gases which melt the polar ice caps and cause changes to the temperature of the Earth’s surface. 

In the EU, farming makes up an average of 12 per cent of these emissions. In Ireland that figure is 33 per cent, and there are plans to increase our dairy production by 50 per cent over the next four years. 

Methane from cows traps up to 72 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over 20 years. Cattle farming also requires more land than poultry or vegetables so CO2 emissions from its production is far greater. 

This is why campaigners like Mary Robinson and Leonardo DiCaprio are appealing to consumers to eat less beef to save the planet. 

The final tactic of climate change deniers is that scientists are being bribed to promote the hoax. Healy-Rae says he has suspicions that €419million raised in carbon taxes are used for this. 

The opposite is in fact the case as 97 per cent of scientists with climate expertise agree that climate change is real. Among the three per cent who don’t agree are scientists largely from organisations funded by oil companies. 

Take one example of a prominent US academic who denies climate change, Willie Soon, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics. Soon refuses to accept rising greenhouse gas emissions since the industrial age are causing the change, saying it’s driven by the sun. Last year, it was revealed Soon received a total of $1.25million from three major oil companies. 

This is the sort of “expert” in the same camp as Danny Healy-Rae, Donald Trump and Sarah Palin.

The Kerry TD earns major media coverage every time he denies the climate crisis. This is only because he does it in a colourful way that livens up dull news bulletins. What the media has not examined is why he says it, but it’s interesting to note the following:

The Healy-Rae political machine has lobbied on behalf of the fossil-fuel-loving motor industry. Michael Healy-Rae proposed the car registration change in 2012 for 131-reg plates to boost car sales. The family owns a gas-guzzling plant hire firm that famously earns millions in taxpayer-funded contracts including Irish Water. They own a filling station in Kilgarvan. 

Most importantly, a Healy-Rae core demographic is farmers. But unlike farmers, the two TDs have enormous public funds at their disposal to research and find out the facts about climate change before reading irresponsible falsehoods into the Dail record.

Another UN climate change summit will end tomorrow and we’ll see how politics is failing the future environment of the planet yet again. 

That’s because politics is a short-term sport and climate change needs long-term thinking.

TD Kelly is going off the tracks 

SEMPLE Stadium has reacted angrily to being left out of Ireland’s 2023 Rugby World Cup bid. 

The Tipp home of hurling’s lack of nearby hotels is said to be the reason for its exclusion. 

What Tipperary lacks in resources it makes up for with ambition. Its two most famous TDs Alan Kelly and Michael Lowry promise and deliver, even when it makes no sense. 

The Alan Kelly Memorial Train costs a staggering €550 per passenger to move 73 people from Ballybrophy to Limerick. Bull-headed Kelly reacted angrily to calls for its closure this week. 

He went off the rails before the election when he said he felt “power is a drug”. It’s one drug he won’t find at Tipperary South Hospital, which is getting a 30-bed facility from the Government, shortly after Lowry voted for Enda as Taoiseach and gave his unofficial support to the Coalition. 

Of course, Health Minister Simon Harris denied this was part of a secret deal with Lowry in return for his support. 

Lowry was chair of Semple Stadium’s management committee in the 1980s. Not even his close friendship with Enda could convince the Government to add Thurles to the 2023 bid. 

The event is seven years away, and we can’t be sure of much, except for the fact that there will certainly still be a Lowry TD in Tipperary. A Kelly TD may be a different story. 

Judging by Labour’s recent poll figures, and Alan’s ranting interviews, he’s on a train to nowhere.

What is behind O’Brien silence?

MEDIA ownership is one of the most important issues for democracy in this country today. 

In 2014, the debate raged over what the Government would do about the lack of plurality in the media. 

Specifically that one man, Denis O’Brien, holds an interest in too many newspapers in Ireland under Independent News and Media and also too many radio stations through Communicorp. 

There was anger when the Government announced new laws that would only curb excessive media ownership in the future, but that O’Brien’s present empire would remain untouched. 

At the very least, we were assured the Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2014 would prevent any one person’s ownership of media increasing, in theory. 

It is a matter of public concern that even after these new laws were introduced, a State agency allowed INM to acquire seven more regional newspapers. 

This is the very thing the new law was surely supposed to prevent.

Independent reports have shown that too much media power is vested in too few interests and it needs to be tackled.

This week Taoiseach Enda Kenny refused to be drawn on whether he thought that the latest O’Brien merger was acceptable and ruled out an inquiry on media ownership in general. 

He came to power promising reform and accepted the findings of the Moriarty Tribunal that made adverse findings against O’Brien. 

There seems to be less media discussion about the latest merger in INM newspapers or Communicorp radio stations. 

What is worrying is that RTE — the only group powerful enough to highlight and ask questions about this massive issue — has chosen to remain mostly silent.

Dobbo’s Dollop

A NEW Trump-ist right-wing political party is due to be set up in Dublin. 

One hotel has already refused to host them so they had to go on the lookout for another suitable venue. 

Perhaps some looked to the Gibson Hotel, mistakenly thinkging it sounds like it’s been named after America’s second favourite bigot, Mel Gibson? 

He’s also in Dublin these days, although this time he’s making a film rather than making a show of himself. So what will Ireland’s right-wing party look like? Little is known about the new group so far.

We know America’s version is a billionaire comb-over who isn’t racist, he just prefers people with white or orange skin. 

And the UK’s answer is beer-swilling Nigel Farage. He’s less orange, more jaundiced — like his views on immigrants. 

Apparently the ‘National Party’ of Ireland will include a farmer as its deputy president, while former Mother and Child Campaign spokesman Justin Barrett, pictured right, is its president.

So Ireland’s version of Donald Trump may look like a cross between Glenroe’s Miley Byrne and Jeremy Clarkson. 

Sorry National Party, we already have a place for storing all our ignorant, bigoted, anti-immigrant people. It’s called Dail Eireann. 

The new group may struggle to get mainstream coverage. What chat show in their right mind is going to put some shouty moron on live television? 

The Late Late Show is all stocked up these days. 

Katie Hopkins attracted 1,300 complaints after her petulant Daily Mail stand-up routine last Friday. Dad Anthony must be mortified.

“Dear Web Summit, Pint soon? Yours, Ireland.”

Paddy Cosgrave’s creation is a global Irish brand as big as Tayto but as disliked as Bono

In Lisbon, Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrave “paced the stage like a man who had lost his keys, clutching a tiny iPad as a life raft”. Photograph: Andre Kosters/EPA

In Lisbon, Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrave “paced the stage like a man who had lost his keys, clutching a tiny iPad as a life raft”. Photograph: Andre Kosters/EPA

Paddy Cosgrave stood nervously on the stage in front of 15,000 people, head down and muttering: “Uh oh, is the wifi working?” It was not. The 2016 Web Summit was just three minutes old. Irish journalists were tweeting with glee about the mishap even while Cosgrave was still presenting.

Wifi trouble was one of the reasons Cosgrave and his crew gave when announcing their unpopular decision to leave Dublin for Lisbon. They foolishly took on Government spin doctors and lost spectacularly. Their error was first using the prestige of the Taoiseach and later dumping on him and his office.

Cosgrave had good points to make about the Government exploiting the tech event’s success but doing little to help. The manner in which he made his argument, however, with a ranting statement and tetchy follow-ups, suffocated it.

The Irish public reacted with scorn and cynicism. Web Summit is now one of the most maltreated of our local triumphs. It started in 2010 with 400 attendees. This week’s event attracted 80,000 people, paying hundreds of euro or more per ticket. The attendance is double last year’s in Dublin.

Global Irish brand

The speakers are Hollywood and football superstars, tech billionaires and political leaders. Deals worth tens of millions are made on its fringes and tickets are already on sale for next year’s event. A stunning achievement, it’s as big a global Irish brand as any whiskey or cheese-and-onion crisp, yet it’s as disliked as a Bono.

After the wifi gaffe, tweeters reacted with “Karma is a bitch”, “It’s the wifi curse” and “Should’ve stayed in Dublin”. The media is also in the anti camp, with headlines screaming about how a momentary glitch “marred” the opening. The criticism is unfair and excessive. However, the Web Summit’s founder, like Rory McIlroy, doesn’t make it easy for us to love him.

Part of its presentation problem is how Cosgrave insists on being the MC. He is a driven businessman but he has no talent for the stage. His opening remarks on Tuesday night were dull, self-indulgent and lacking energy. He paced the stage like a man who had lost his keys, clutching a tiny iPad as a life raft. The huge tech crowd was unconvinced and stayed subdued until the confetti cannon fired. Cosgrave was like Frank Spencer drowning in a sea of Steve Jobs.

Reading from the tablet, his head constantly bowed, giving him the body language of unease. It’s a tech conference: get a teleprompter. The iPad may have failed too, because Cosgrave didn’t seem to have a speech ready or anything inspiring to say. Instead he repeated exclamations about how “unbelievable” and “incredible” everything was, in a lifeless tone that made it clear the opposite was the reality. He needed humour to defuse the awkward wifi moment but he didn’t have it.

Earning tens of millions of euro in ticket sales, they could’ve got a Ryan Seacrest or any effervescent numbskull who could whip up a crowd. American actor and filmmaker Joseph Gordon-Levitt was the first guest; how hard could it be to stoke up fervour with global celebrities waiting in the wings?

Defence mode

And why take the risk of testing the wifi anyway, in front of a huge crowd on opening night, on a big screen, live online within minutes of the start? The PR around Web Summit is on constant defence mode, firing back at bad headlines that the wifi issue was a “glitch”.

There are plenty of things to spin positively about it. That Cosgrave and his crew have created a global all-year-round events company. That it hasn’t sold out like too many start-ups the minute a corporate giant comes calling. That it has created employment for 140 people and is expanding by 100 more. That it creates a mini-economic boom in its host city. That a small group of founders managed to make all this happen from a student flat in Ranelagh six years ago.

A lot of the backlash against Cosgrave involves his sense of self. One radio presenter said on air last year: “He has an ego the size of Wyoming. ” It’s a horrid Irish thing to suggest ego is the worst condition possible. I challenge any person to set up a multimillion-euro phenomenon that sells as many tickets as Beyoncé in Croke Park and then try act as humble as a monk.

Web Summit has divorced Ireland and the love is gone. It shouldn’t mean though that we can’t still be friends. “Dear Paddy, Pint soon? Yours, Ireland.”

Calm down everybody: Donald Trump is not the worst and won’t go unchallenged

Trump is a New York wheeler-dealer, not a redneck from the backwoods. He is no Reagan ideologue

The man’s impetuousness, his shooting his mouth off, must horrify Americans accustomed to some dignity in their commander-in-chief. But they have voted for a joker, an entertainer-in-chief. They must now take the baggage that comes with it. Photograph: Timothy A Clary/AFP

The man’s impetuousness, his shooting his mouth off, must horrify Americans accustomed to some dignity in their commander-in-chief. But they have voted for a joker, an entertainer-in-chief. They must now take the baggage that comes with it. Photograph: Timothy A Clary/AFP

Did he really mean it? The mushroom cloud that has risen over American democracy is a question mark. Did Donald Trump mean the hatred, the belligerence, the racism, the boasting and the lies?

Was his witches’ Sabbath of a campaign all a gigantic act, a ritual wallow in mud before the cleansing douche of the ballot? Is a man so incapable of courtesy and human kindness remotely suitable to lead a nation?

I have the answer to all these questions. Nobody knows. No one has a clue – probably not even Trump. It may soothe the fevered brow of snowflake liberals to outbid each other in abusing “the Donald”. But abuse has not worked. He is to be president. That’s it. Get a life.

One of Trump’s last predictions was that his election would be “Brexit, plus, plus, plus” . It was code for the shock given to politics in Europe four months earlier, when voters rejected the failure of a perceived ruling class to deliver on its duties and promises. For decades an elite of the urban, educated and self-righteous had merely made itself richer and the poor poorer. A peasants’ revolt of the sort that periodically jolts democracy out of its comfort zone was the result.

Both Trump in America and Brexiters in Britain may be unclear what they really want. That is often the case with uprisings. But they knew what they did not want. Trump told them.

For two decades, half of all Americans had become poorer. They were frightened by the world round them, in all its guises. They were told they had been cheated and the system that cheated them did not care. Hillary Clinton’s appeal was to the young and minorities, it ignored the old, white and dispossessed. This was “whitelash” time.

I noted back in June that of 700 primary Democrats voting for the socialist Bernie Sanders, a phenomenal 60 per cent said they would prefer Trump to Clinton. They said they liked his “honesty”, by which they meant his brash language. “He may be a horrible, racist, misogynist idiot,” said one woman, “but he is our kind of idiot.”

Novelist Dave Eggers likewise sensed the appeal of Trump’s “crazy shit” to a people fed on years of political correctness and “inappropriate” language. His populism was that of the bar room rather than the Tea Party. He was what the sociologist Daniel Boorstin called “the celebrity as pseudo-event, his relation to morality and even reality highly ambiguous”. His son called him “a blue-collar worker with a bank balance”.

Left-right spectrum

To see Trump as a conventional rightwinger is stupid. The left-right spectrum should be in the dustbin. The new politics is that of insider v outsider, city v province, success v failure. At present, it is outsiders who are in the ascendant, in Europe as in America.

Trump is a New York wheeler-dealer, not a redneck from the backwoods. He is no Reagan ideologue. When he called for more public spending, the rightwing National Review called him “a menace to American conservatism”. His policies are inconsistent. He has been for and against gun control, for and against abortion, for and against free trade, for Medicare and against Obamacare. When a man is so all over the shop, we can at least bank on his inconsistencies.

Much is being made of the American constitution as a check on Trump. That would be easier were his Republican party not now firmly in control of Congress. He is also likely to secure a supreme court majority. But America remains a federation. These institutions have their sovereignties, and many remain sceptical about Trump. So too will many states, governors and mayors.

Trump will not rule unchallenged. He has promised to clean the Augean stables of Washington’s “donor politics”, and will find his hands full with that. He has declared war on bureaucracy at home and abroad. Others have tried and failed. His supporters will be watching, suspicious of any sign that the outsider is going native in Washington.

The man’s impetuousness, his shooting his mouth off, must horrify Americans accustomed to some dignity in their commander-in-chief. But they have voted for a joker, an entertainer-in-chief. They must now take the baggage that comes with it.

The outside world has other priorities. It must wander the campaign battlefield gleaning bloodied fragments of what passes for a Trump foreign policy. Not much is new. His antagonism to free trade and hostility to Kipling’s “lesser breeds without the law” echo the isolationism of George W Bush’s 2000 campaign. But Bush is a man Trump calls “ a liar and war criminal ”. Trump’s opposition to the Saudi alliance and to meddling in the Middle East appears sincere – even if he would somehow “bomb the shit” out of Islamic State.

There is sense in Trump’s desire for rapprochement with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and in his plea for greater realism in European defence. The intellectual tundra that is Nato’s world view has long been in need of a thaw. As Britain’s former defence chief, Lord Richards, told the Times last week, a Russia-enforced victory for Assad in the Syrian city of Aleppo would enable intervention to concentrate on Islamic State. “The world could, ironically, be safer with Trump in the White House,” he said.

Amity and concord

In victory Trump seemed all amity and concord. “We must bind the wounds of division,” he said. “We must come together as one united people.” We can only wait and hope. Trump was right to claim that America is stuck, constitutionally as well as politically. As the historian Arthur Schlesinger liked to recall, American democracy often flies close to the flame and gets itself scorched, but it escapes the stronger for it.

This is not about sanitising the unthinkable. It is about adjusting to a new reality. Trump is not the worst candidate to become president. He has to beat Andrew Jackson, Warren Harding and Richard Nixon for that title. He is unknown and unqualified rather than proven to be incompetent.
America is a cultural blood brother to Britain, and an important ally. The very least Britain can do is wish it well as it emerges from the politics of hysteria and embarks on a longer voyage of discovery, into the mystery of its political soul.

The real Enda Kenny remains as elusive and underestimated as ever

Documentary elevated Taoiseach into some sort of ruthlessly clever and manipulating leader

That the documentary was broadcast at all proved its own theme: the constant underestimation of Enda Kenny. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/Bloomberg

That the documentary was broadcast at all proved its own theme: the constant underestimation of Enda Kenny. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/Bloomberg

Enda Kenny once bought me a pint of Smithwicks and did his JFK impression. It was terrible. Worse than the Smithwicks, which is a watery version of Guinness. Much like Enda once was a watery version of Bertie. It was in the aptly named Ginger Man pub in Dublin 10 years ago. I had just performed on one of Vincent Browne’s last RTÉ Radio One shows, doing the usual Enda shtick. Painfully rigid, pointing at the middle distance and overpronouncing “de pipple” in that way of his.

I was reminded of this odd encounter while watching RTÉ One’s Enda documentary this week. The programme elevated him into some sort of ruthlessly clever and manipulating leader, in between looped shots of a funfair and a Dart station. I think they were suggesting Enda’s career is like a trip to Funderland. Old and kitsch yet keeps showing up year after year against the odds, making everyone roll their eyes and feel nauseous.

They forgot to mention the part where Enda took a nap in Leinster House for 35 years and became Taoiseach through no fault or effort of his own. I started mimicking the “Stiff with the Quiff” in 2004 as a young apprentice on Today FM’s Gift Grub. My Enda was an emotionally constipated pretender, too in awe of Bertie to land any punches. He was frustrated by his inability to muster real feelings, like Anthony Hopkins in Remains of the Day.

By the time I was working alone, doing the very patchy and often juvenile Nob Nation series on the Gerry Ryan Show, Fine Gael’s handlers were doing the satire for me. Frank Flannery, celebrated in the documentary as some sort of shrewd strategist, was handed an open goal in the 2007 election while Bertie was mired in tribunals. He made a bags of it. They stage-managed Enda into a style-obsessed half-wit who needed an autocue to ask where the bathroom was.

Folsky

It was like they’d never met Enda before and sent him rigid lines written for a talking Tesco checkout. They even changed his hair. I got about a year out of that. They made him say that awful “sign my contract” slogan. Another 12 months. The real man is folksy, good humoured with a culchie steel disguised as eejitry. They stifled his optimistic personality, the one that later made him feel like such of breath of fresh air after grumpy Brian Cowen when Enda fell into office in 2011.

The sissy image created by Fine Gael gave Fianna Fáil an idea. Someone peddled a lie around town near the 2007 election, that Enda had been arrested on Leeson Street dressed as a woman in the early 1990s. I thought it was so hilarious I created “Dame Enda” sketches on radio.

Fine Gael’s press office even complained, which is the best thing that can happen to a fledgling sketch show. Privately though I was mortified. It was rumoured PJ Mara was behind the ruse and I’d helped him get under Fine Gael’s skin. Even though I’d given up journalism for funny voices, which would take years to develop into satire, I always felt Mara was toxic to media. NUI Galway now has a “PJ Mara Scholarship for Journalism”, which makes me sick to my stomach.

I tell this story as spin doctors are so important to Enda’s story. Almost every shot of him in the documentary post-2002 shows a frowny bespectacled man at his side. The show’s biggest misstep was never mentioning him – Enda’s chief handler Mark Kennelly. He looks like the sort of chap who enjoys turning down health insurance claims. PR men such as Kennelly only make the news when their salaries are revealed. That only serves to shield them from greater scrutiny, about how unelected handlers control and steer the Taoiseach.

Disappeared

Kennelly was the man who finally knew how to handle Enda, and often made it hard for guys like me. They disappeared him. “Where’s Enda?” would trend every now and then on Twitter. Vincent Browne’s show had an empty chair in the 2011 election debate. There were no probing one-on-one interviews for almost four years of Enda’s tenure as Taoiseach. Even today, press doorsteps consist of a prepared statement and few questions.

Kenny seemed to vanish during the Siteserv controversy concerning IBRC and Dáil privilege, which was left out of the documentary too. The political press corps has failed to spot how Kennelly is no longer a constant at his boss’ side, signs perhaps of yet another Kenny friendship gone awry.

The series’ problem wasn’t just that it was a radio show with visuals crowbarred in to stop your eyes frosting over; it was its moribund attempt to explore the legacy of a Taoiseach while he remains in office. Imagine they had tried to sum up Bertie based on his first five years? Filming began in the spring when a lot of people felt Enda Kenny would be gone by now. That the documentary was broadcast at all proved its own theme: the constant underestimation of the man.

There wasn’t enough emphasis on the person even most Fine Gaelers believe is his driving force: his wife, Fionnuala O’Kelly. This is because a documentary can’t get the right access when the story is only half finished. Although cleverly scripted with some good soundbites, Enda was an extended Reeling in the Years with no new revelations. At one point Michael Noonan summed it up best when he seemed to say, “I’m not going to tell you the full story now – are you mad?”

TDs need a moral code, not a dress code

If privilege allows them to say what they like, it should allow them to wear what they like.

The Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privileges is considering a new dress code for TDs. The current rule is a little vague “ . . . that Members should dress in a manner which reflects the dignity and decorum of the House”.

For decades, this has been taken to mean a suit for men and anything that makes a woman look like a sort of Bean an Tí version of Margaret Thatcher.

Dáil members should dress according to the dignity of the office?

TDs throughout history have bribed, cheated, groped, lied and broken promises. They are frequently drunk in Leinster House, even during votes.

The garb that befits this level of “dignity” is an orange jumpsuit and manacles. Our elected betters need a moral code, not a dress code.

Why is a suit considered the height of dignity anyway?

For a TD, elected by working classes or the unemployed, a suit is the last thing that would best represent them.

Enforcing what old-fashioned elites consider appropriate is an anachronistic correction. A suit is not just a symbol of authority – but evil, too.

Dracula and the Nazis were always well turned out.

Air of authority

I remember the first time I wore a suit. First Holy Communion Day, 1985. I knew instantly that this foreign outfit provided costumed relief from the dung-stained uniform of farming.

To my imagination, a suit transformed me from farmhand to wealthy gent. Or, as my seven-year-old self might have called them, a Protestant.

In hand-me-down wool blazer and red tie, clutching a holy book, my communion photo made me look like Mormon-meets-mini-Tory. I was delighted with myself and the suit has served as camouflage ever since.

The school once gave me a specially-commissioned blazer for debating contests against posh kids who wore them for real.

The fear was that if I showed up in a Patrician High School grey geansaí, the boys from Clongowes might order me to starch their collars or bring them swan’s blood by mistake

The BBC used to keep a dinner jacket on its radio studio door so the newscaster could slip into it – and an air of authority – during a bulletin.

You behave differently in a suit. It straightens the back, tidies the step and has you handle objects more daintily as if the suit itself scolds poor posture and etiquette.

Contrived

It’s a sartorial impersonation of importance. The suit is so contrived that purposeful “dressing down” is required to appear relatable.

Like when the US president rolls up his sleeves at Camp David. What’s Hillary Clinton going to do?

Walk around in a man’s shirt or eat ice-cream in pyjamas? It’s what advertisers seem to think is the international symbol of a woman relaxing.

In my Monaghan childhood, the only ones who wore suits were people in old photographs who seemed to farm in a shirt and tie.

They must’ve held doors open for pigs and doffed the cap at cows chewing the cud in the haggard. And corpses.

Our neighbour Jackie Kerr died in the early 1990s and the first time I saw him in a suit was at his wake. The dead have a better dress code than the living.

There was no doubt Jackie was a gentleman. He smoked Sweet Afton and drank tea with a saucer. First, he would tip the Pyrex mug of tay into the saucer and slurp from it, but still, he used a saucer.

Jackie taught me humour, character and the gift of having an imaginary friend. He lightened life when my nine years weighed heavily on my feet. The old man had true class and didn’t need a suit on his way into the ground.

The other chaps who wore suits were the bank managers who kept calling to our house to tell my father he needed to sell the farm to cover debts.

Besuited cretins

I recall it now with some bitterness, knowing as we do that these besuited cretins were also writing off the debts of other suited men. They were linked by a herringbone-patterned delusion of dignity.

I was once sent to cover a Dáil committee as a young reporter wearing a hoodie and jeans.

Within five minutes of entering the press gallery, a Dáil usher called me politely outside. His manners deserted when we were alone.

I had broken every etiquette of the House, was a disgrace to journalism and should leave at once.

He was technically correct, of course, and I deserved the subsequent reprimand and humiliation in the newsroom for being thrown out of parliament.

Only later would my undignified dress code breach be worn in honour.

The Oireachtas decorum committee is as useful as what I imagined was once the Department of Diction in RTÉ, which taught broadcasters how to mispronounce “Dún Laoghaire” and “sexual issues”.

Trying to correct the Irish predilection for coarseness betrays who we are.

Many TDs have taken relaxed dress to such lows they look like they’re queuing for soup in the 1970s.

However, they wouldn’t be true to themselves – or their voters – if they wore suits or went for Theresa May’s Ziggy Stardust-does-Debenhams look.

Pretentious suit-wearers, such as this writer, might wish for a formal wear Dáil, but the parliament is supposed to represent everyone.

If absolute privilege provides them the important democratic protection to say what they like, it should allow them to wear what they like.

Besides, if you impose a dress code, TDs would only add tailors’ bills to expenses. You can’t even trust that shower to dress themselves.

Ireland has become one of the worst Big Brother states

IRISH people tend to think the idea of a government spying on their calls, texts and emails is something that George W Bush imposed on America after 9/11.

But the reality is this country has become one of the worst Big Brother states.

Using scaremongering over gangland crime, our Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald wants to make us a world capital of state spying.

As the Dail returns, new spying laws are high up the Government agenda, with little opposition.

The law currently allows authorities to monitor and retain all of your call logs, some web history and emails for up to two years.

The idea is that although innocent now, you may commit a crime in the future and your past communications will need investigating.

Think that’s bad? They used to store data for up to seven years.

In 2014, the European Court of Justice struck down the law on which our surveillance is based. It ruled that such gathering and storing of the data of innocent civilians amounted to “mass surveillance” and a violation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Two years on, our spying laws remain in force.

It is these Draconian laws, so open to outrageous abuse of power, which Fitzgerald now proposes to extend.

She also wants to include all your social media activity, WhatsApp messages/photos plus other forums yet to be invented in the State monitoring.

The State could eavesdrop on your WhatsApp messages because of surveillance laws in Ireland

The State could eavesdrop on your WhatsApp messages because of surveillance laws in Ireland

Big Mother is watching you and all your family as the State can also eavesdrop on and keep your children’s communications and chats.

Don’t worry, though, as the Gardai, the Army, Revenue Commissioners, GSOC and others are kind and decent folks who only go after bad guys, right?

“Sad face”, as the kids say on Whats-App. There isn’t room here to remind you of all the cases of State corruption and abuse of power going back 40 years.

The Morris Tribunal report detailed corruption in the Gardai in the Nineties and Noughties. And little has been done to stop these outrages happening again.

Garda whistleblowers exposed more wrongdoing in the last two years. And that still wasn’t enough to encourage reform — our current Garda Commissioner was accused of trying to undermine their evidence as recently as May.

Since 2009, over 20 Revenue officials have been disciplined for abuse of access to internal records. A vengeful wife had one of her friends change the tax status of her ex-husband in the Revenue system.

And politicians, Lottery winners and public figures’ information was accessed. A trade union official described a “culture of snooping” in the tax authority.

In the Department of Social Protection, some welfare staff were investigated for accessing and selling private information to the Press and private investigators.

Earlier this year, it was claimed the Garda Ombudsman had accessed the call logs of journalists’ phones.

This was all illegal searching of information — just wait until they can legally search every iota of your private data from Facebook to WhatsApp.

All they need is to label you a “suspect” — that most loaded of dirty words that can apply to anyone who is innocent until proven guilty.

These guys, who have abused their powers over innocent people so often in the past, are about to get even stronger functions from the Government.

It is seeking to update an illegal piece of legislation without having set up the oversight to ensure it has enacted responsibly.

It’s like sending round a truckload of vodka to a crowd of unreformed alcoholics and expecting them to stay sober.

The snooping on our communications can be applied to anyone — man, woman or child, innocent or guilty and without you even knowing. It can even be applied to journalists investigating abuses of power by the very people they’re seeking to uncover.

It’s an Orwellian nightmare disguised as a gangland crackdown.

Although the media make loud noises about gang shootings, most don’t care. We wouldn’t mind if they kept wiping each other out endlessly as long as more innocents aren’t harmed.

What is scary is allowing blank-cheque access to our private communications.

Why these over-reaching powers for a terrorism-free country? Fitzgerald doesn’t have a totalitarian dictatorship in mind for herself — but there is a Fine Gael leadership contest in sight and being seen as tough on crime may prove an asset.

The Minister put her laws before the Cabinet ahead of the Dail summer break without a single dissenting voice. Campaigners such as Digital Rights Ireland’s TJ McIntyre, UCD lecturer Dr Julien Mercille and Irish Times tech reporter Karlin Lillington are the lonely voices in the unsexy story of data access and retention.

The amendments are expected to be passed unanimously in the current Dail period. The handful of left-wing Independent TDs are likely to be among the few opposing the new snooping laws.

The next time you drop your jaw listening to Edward Snowden or watch a film about creepy government spying, remember the problem isn’t so far from home.

Your eyes may not be the only ones scanning your phone’s screen.

How new politics is ringing in the short-changes

CROSS the world, voters are turning away from est-ablishment parties and giving their votes to alternative or extremist views. 

Americans cheering for Trump, millions voting for Brexit and now Germans rejecting Angela Merkel’s pro-immigrant agenda.

We’re constantly told the world is in turmoil, that a “frightening” prospect of anti-establishment sentiment is taking hold. Ireland, however, appears to be the exception.

The post-election hysteria around “seismic” changes in the political landscape hasn’t quite come to pass.

Since the economic shell-shock years, only two new parties were formed. Lucinda Creighton’s Renua failed to return a single TD and its founders have departed, leaving it essentially non-existent. 

The Social Democrats started late with great promise, returning its three sitting TDs and almost adding a fourth.

Since then, the experimental three-leader set-up has failed with the bitter departure of its best-known performer Stephen Donnelly. 

The Irish left-wing is heavily fragmented and focused around the single issue of Irish Water. But with Fianna Fail now in that brigade, Paul Murphy and other prominent socialists are being robbed of the one-trick agenda that gave them a reason to exist.

The Murphy-branded politics of discontent has not caught on in middle Ireland, in the way it did elsewhere. This leaves us with the twin powers of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. 

Sinn Fein is the third party, filling in for Labour — and so Ireland has returned to relative calm in the face of what is reported as global chaos.

Opinion polls show the only real change a general election would bring is a swap from a Fine Gael-led minority government supported by Fianna Fail to a Fianna Fail-led minority backed by Fine Gael.

It’s hardly the “new politics” our mainstream media predicted. A more historic shift might be Fianna Fail sharing government with Fine Gael.

The arrangement itself wouldn’t be the political game-changer, but handing Sinn Fein the Opposition would.

No left-wing party has ever held such a role and it would create a definite right-left political divide for the first time. 

The language after Election 2016 was one of fear, fear of an unknown and strange world where the two biggest parties would no longer swap the balance of power.

Most of those telling us that, however, are media types — typically middle-class residents of the capital, united with establishment parties in a common fear of change.

Political journalists enjoy unhealthy proximity with Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.

This was especially evident at Fianna Fail’s 2010 Galway think-in when Brian Cowen was the subject of intense commentary about his late-night drinking, singing and impressions after a stumbling morning radio interview.

Political hacks and colour writers were all in attendance that night, drinking with the Fianna Failers and enjoying Cowen’s show.

They did not, however, initially report on the incident. It only came to light in a tweet from Fine Gael’s Simon Coveney who said Cowen sounded “half-way between drunk and hungover” in the interview. 

The media then seized on their night out with the Taoiseach that would have otherwise gone unreported, like all socialising between reporters and politicians.

Stories about the establishment parties are leaked and analysed and passed into the public sphere from close bonds forged over decades. It’s a club of like-minds and they hope to keep it that way.

This is why you can hear the terror prickling on the necks of journalists and TDs on Friday morning talk panels about the “destabilising” of establishment forces around the world.

By contrast, a scandal erupted in Sinn Fein last year leading to over 50 members of a Cumann in Cork resigning from the party over a disciplinary action against a senior party figure there.

What was noteworthy about the story is that not one media organisation managed to uncover the reason for the turmoil in the first place. 

The spin by the mainstream press was that people in Sinn Fein were too scared to leak. 

The real reason nothing leaks out is because the party rarely partakes in Dail bar antics with journalists and lacks the cosy media relationship enjoyed by Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Independents.

The disdain for alternative or left-wing views is evident in the language used across broadcast and print media.

Water protesters were viewed in a singular light by journalists and one minister’s description of “sinister elements” was reported gleefully by the like-minded press.

Ireland remains immune to the alleged worldwide political shift — but there are more countries like ours than those that have changed. 

Can you even argue that the US is transformed as they seek to replace their first black president with a white one in their 60s/70s who they’ve known for 30 years? 

Even Britain, said to be more divided than ever after Brexit, has turned from a multi-party state to a one-party Tory one. 

Thanks to the internet, we’re hearing more voices from more places than ever before but the message seems to be the same — the world is turning anti-establishment. 

When you listen closely, you’ll hear that more noise just raises the volume of a consensus rather than question whether it’s even true to begin with.

Split not the Pitts for us

BRANGELINA are locked in a bitter custody battle for their many children.

Brad Pitt is expected to get Tinky Winky and Dipsy, while Angelina Jolie will get Lala and Po.

Divorce isn’t pretty for anyone but it’s hard to feel sorry for Brangelina, who have gone through it so many times it must feel like going out for pizza.

They also have the world’s media at their disposal to settle scores and have wasted no time doing so.

Ocean’s Eleven hunk Brad is portrayed as a midlife-crisis-riddled love cheat, Tomb Raider babe Ange as a fun-averse, scorned spouse. 

For a power couple who prided themselves on highlighting issues in the Third World, it was ironic that their divorce managed to knock Syria off the top story slot on many news channels.

When the extraordinary lives of the super-famous get undone by something as ordinary as a divorce, the world takes a small bit of pleasure

Watching them try to kill each other in the action flick Mr and Mrs Smith is starting to feel like a documentary. 

Another chapter in reign of Prez

MICHAEL D is busy promoting his new book When Ideas Matter this week, a publication of presidential speeches. 

Few people can sit through most of his long-winded and meandering sermons, never mind sit down and read 352 pages of them. 

It’s an actual book containing speeches he has already delivered in his role as President. 

Therefore the sum effort in writing his latest tome might have involved pressing the keys ‘CTRL+C’, then ‘CTRL+V’, followed by hitting the print button. Or perhaps getting one of his many tax-funded staff to do it for him. 

It’s still unclear if the book features speeches written by his full- time head speechwriter Aziliz Gouez, who is paid €65,000 a year by the State. 

The promotional blurb on the book rather hilariously describes it as “a series of remarkable and urgent speeches, which are anything but the bland commentaries of a ceremonial head of state”. 

By pointing out the thoughts of most commentators on Michael D’s speeches, he’s clearly hoping to preempt criticism of this book (all his speeches are available on the Aras website). 

It’s the third book Higgins has published since he became president. His predecessors Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson both waited until their terms had ended before publishing theirs. 

However, Michael D is donating proceeds of the €24.99 tome to the Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People. 

Many of his speeches, which often go on for a lockjaw- inducing 4,000 words, criticise free market economics and capitalism. The President earns €1.75million for his seven-year term. 

He lives for free at the Aras with house staff, an 18-strong chef and catering team costing €862,000 in wages per year, a chauffeur-driven car, free travel and vast entertainment expenses all running into the millions. 

He will also qualify for three huge State pensions on retirement. 

Not bad . . . 

Dobbo’s dollop

I USED to confuse the Ploughing Championships with the Lisdoonvarna Festival — which involves a different sort of ploughing altogether. 

It’s well known that the Ploughing Championships was how the Famine started. Thousands of tractors going back and forth over the Midlands for weeks — but they forgot to plant any potatoes.

They were distracted by the throw-your-welly-at-a-wife competition and Richie Kavanagh mauling folk songs on the back of a donkey. 

Ever since then, it has become a sort of Tupperware party that’s gotten out of hand.

It’s the one time Nuala Carey, below, is actually famous as black and white TV owners hit the RTE Weather tent to see if she’s real or a Met Eireann-controlled robot. 

One year, Roscommon telly watchers saw Grainne Seoige in colour for the first time and tried to burn her as a witch — but since she is made from a solid block of ice, she can’t go on fire.

It’s not all serious, however, as farmers have a great sense of humour at the event.

In one corner, they’ll be complaining about the poor price they get from supermarkets for their veg. In the other, buying tractors worth €150,000. Hilarious.

But beware the military wing of the Ploughing Association, known as the ICA. 

They hold bake sales aimed at keeping wild men docile with Madeira cake. 

A violent war broke out in the 1970s when one woman told another that her buns tasted “bought”. That’s an insult so great it’s like telling a TV3 presenter they’d be better off on UTV Ireland.