Editorial from Thursday 16 September
I’m not talking about the Junior Certs. They’re paragons of good behaviour, compared to some of their ‘role models’. While everyone was busy sniggering at Brian Cowen, or invading the moral high ground this week, it was another image from this week’s Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party shindig that caught our imagination here at Cork Independent HQ.
An image of An Tánaiste fixing her smart suit for an official parliamentary party photo, because she had just been sat on, for a laugh, by Cork TD Noel O’Flynn.
Whatever your views on Mary Coughlan as a person or as a politician, surely we have more respect for the office of Deputy Prime Minister?
Noel O’Flynn is Mary Coughlan’s junior by quite a bit in terms of professional ranking. Mary Coughlan is, if not the boss, the second in command.
Those of you who work for large companies, take a minute. Picture yourself at an official function. The announcement of a new acquisition, maybe, or a major contract signing. You’re not on a company night out, where the rules are a bit relaxed; there are members of the media, photographers, your immediate boss, and probably their boss too.
What do you do as the official photograph is being taken?
Do you run over to the company Vice-President and sit on his lap?
Like hell you do. Your termination notice would be in your hand before you even stood up.
Anybody working for a multinational or any kind of professional outfit will have broken into a cold sweat reading that.
But apparently it’s ok, because this is Ireland, this politics, not business, and, sure, isn’t Mary Coughlan always up for a laugh?
Imagine Bernard Allen, then a fairly junior Fine Gael TD, attempting to sit on revered Cork Tánaiste Peter Barry during a press conference. Imagine a jovial Charlie Haughey alighting on Tánaiste Seán Lemass’ knee, as the camera rolled and Gay Byrne shouted questions at them.
What’s most astounding about this is it hasn’t even been questioned. By anybody. The huffing and puffing about Brian Cowen’s state on Tuesday morning has distracted from this little episode, which raises more than one question about Irish politics.
The first one, about basic respect for public office, has already been dealt with. All of us make mistakes in our careers, but the office of Taoiseach, the responsibility it entails, is too important to be treated the same as any old nine to fiver where you can show up the worse for wear and lay your head on the desk for the day.
But the second is a different question entirely. With gender quotas back on the table; when talented young politicians like Olwyn Enright just cannot make politics work for them; and as Ireland has one of the lowest rates of female representation in the world, why is it ok for a middle aged male politician to behave towards his female superior like a teenage boy whose next trick will be to make rude noises with his armpit?
It is inconceivable that a male Tánaiste would be treated like this.
A photograph of one of Cork’s few young female politicians – City Councillor Laura McGonigle – appeared in this newspaper recently. The photo was taken at an official function she attended in her capacity as Deputy Lord Mayor, and she was wearing a ballgown. Women wear ballgowns at these things; we are expected to look decorative at all times.
A week later, she started receiving abusive text messages, with personal comments about certain aspects of her appearance, purporting to be complimentary.
If a male Deputy Lord Mayor appeared in this newspaper wearing a suit, his wife would probably be the only one to notice how he looked in the picture.
But this constituent apparently thought he had a right to express an opinion on whether he found her attractive or not. He was even surprised when she mentioned the Gardaí.
Is it any wonder Olwyn Enright decided politics might not be compatible with motherhood? Is it any wonder Brian Cowen thought the office of Taoiseach would not be compromised by a few scoops? Is it any wonder the country is the way it is, when we have no respect for the highest offices in the State, and those elected to them can’t even respect each other?