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Paddy Cosgrave’s creation is a global Irish brand as big as Tayto but as disliked as Bono
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?
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.”
Trump is a New York wheeler-dealer, not a redneck from the backwoods. He is no Reagan ideologue
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”.
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.
Documentary elevated Taoiseach into some sort of ruthlessly clever and manipulating leader
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.