Thursday, February 25, 2010

The 30th Dáil is Doomed - What Chance Electoral Reform?

The Green Party - it'll take more than an umbrella to save them from the delugeThe 30th Dáil is doomed. It bears the unmistakable mark of Cain. An Spailpín Fánach cannot see the Government lasting until the summer. Even Easter might now be a bridge too far. "Events" happen, and Governments fall. This is the lesson of history.

Does anybody really believe that the Albert Reynolds Government was hiding a paedophile priest? That’s the issue that brought it down. The end of a Taoiseach that established the peace process and talked the IRA into laying down their arms. It fell over nothing. Political pouting and posturing. Over the cliff it went.

Six months ago, the three huge hurdles the Government faced were Lisbon, NAMA and the rotting reputation of Ireland abroad. Lisbon was passed, NAMA has been passed and an article in the Economist at the start of the year suggested that Ireland had at least managed to put on the brakes in its economic decline, in a way that Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain have not.

And now it’s all about to go wallop. The Greens are broken. They’ve spent two and a half years in Room 101 and they’re just not able for it any more. They may have calmed down somewhat over this extraordinary Trevor Sargent business, but the next bump in the road will explode the bus. There’s no way Paul Gogarty will hold his water to see this thing through.

And then a Fine Gael / Labour coalition will go in, and they’ll find out very quickly just how hard it is to keep all these corks under water. To say nothing of Eamon Gilmore’s problem with several union leaders expecting their man to deliver happier times. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.

But the worst thing is that there may be no other way. The last non-Fianna Fáil government was elected in 1982, twenty-eight years ago. And in an adversarial democratic system, that’s too long to wield power. It is.

The problem is that the opposition have failed to provide an alternative, other than “at least we’re not the other crowd.” And that’s not good enough.

Therefore, An Spailpín suggests that electoral reform be the first question on every householder’s lips when the canvassers come to call. Ask all candidates what they will do to introduce electoral reform in this country. The answer will be a big fat nothing of course, but all we can do is hope that word will percolate back to the top brass that there are votes in this. Nothing gets politicians attention quite like that.

The second thing to hope for is that somebody can rise in the system, as Gorbachev did in the Soviet Union, who is willing to destroy the system that made him for the greater good, and draw a line under the civil war and clientelist politics for ever. There is, of course, no sign of that now, but then nobody saw Gorbachev coming in the USSR either. It’s not much to believe in, but right now it’s about all we have.

In the meantime, An Spailpín’s advice is to stock up on the non-perishable goods and prepare for hard times. Fianna Fáil certainly created the mess, but they’ve been doing their best to repair the damage. But that’s not how we judge politics or politicians in this country. Up Glawngreeshkeen and to hell with the country.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

World Gone Crazy, Part N

A full aisle of Easter Eggs in Tesco's in Finglas last night. And it's still thirty-five days to go.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Mayo Edge Tyrone as Mist Comes Down and Tempest Roars

Mayo 1-12
Tyrone 1-11

Perhaps the strangest thing about the league game in Omagh played in the soft spring rain on St Valentine’s Day was the sudden burst of messing that broke out in the final minute. Before that, the game had been typical league fare, played out in very middling weather. Teams going through the motions, thoughtful football men in the stand hoping to see rocks on which to build summer churches, and everybody fully aware of what time of year it is.

Then Mark Ronaldson caught Ryan McMenamin in the face with a flailing arm, laying him out, and all Hell broke loose. If An Spailpín were attending a children’s tea party and the young ladies suddenly pulled homemade shivs and started trying to slice each other’s ears off, he couldn’t have been more surprised.

There had been some biffs before that – Kevin McLoughlin took a shot in the second half that caused him to leave the field, and the substitution of both O’Sheas must have been injury related – but compared to the white heat of Championship, this was very much more Luis Vuitton than Vlad the Impaler.

Mayo won by a point, for what it’s worth, 1-12 to 1-11. They did well to hang on – Mayo were cruising with a four point lead with ten minutes to go when Tyrone realised that no points at all two games into the League isn’t the best situation for not getting tangled up in relegation issues when your mind should be on other issues after the Ides of March, and stepped on the gas a bit.

There were many positives to take from the Mayo performance, the most eye-catching being Mark Ronaldson’s very impressive tally of 1-6. The first thing you notice about Ronaldson is how very small he is, and you fear for his safety. It is interesting to note, however, that he put on his tour de force performance in Tyrone, home of Peter Canavan, who was pretty good at the football without being that big either.

The great thing about Ronaldson is that he seems a natural corner forward. He can come for a ball, collect it, turn and shoot. That doesn’t sound like much, but it is. Ronaldson is racking up the scores so far and if he form continues he’ll play his way onto the Championship team, and deserve his jersey.

Andy Moran was another standout today. Andy is senior on the team and, even though it’s sometimes difficult to know where exactly to play him, he showed a lot of bite and fight today, a level of bite that permeated down through the rest of the team.

Mayo did well at midfield, as they usually do in the league. It’s interesting to note that reaction on so many games that Mayo have played in the past six years focuses on how well Ronan McGarrity played, yet when Mayo lose in the Championship there seems to be an almost consensus that Mayo cannot afford the luxury of fourteen footballers and one basketballer.

This is not entirely fair to McGarrity. Or at all fair. Certainly when he started, David Brady was there to do the heavy work and McGarrity play the football but under the current setup, it’s McGarrity that does the heavy lifting in midfield while Parsons is the silky Second Coming.

Tom Parsons’ dip in form was deeply depressing last year, but he showed flashes of the sheer quality that made him an instant favourite when he first pulled on the jersey. Kevin McLoughlin, also, is a dinger, and An Spailpín is convinced that he was only substituted because he shipped a knock of some kind. McLoughlin is here to stay.

So Mayo have their four points in the bag now, and surely one or two more will pop up in the next five games to secure Division 1 for another year. Job done. It would be a mistake, however, to read anything more into a February League game than was there. Tyrone were at sixes and sevens due to the reshuffling caused by the sudden suspensions imposed on them, which freed up more room for the Mayo inside line that might otherwise be the case.

And reader, think on this: if this game were Championship, don’t you think that Ryan McMenamin would have been told to move onto Ronaldson and curb the diminutive Mayoman’s enthusiasm? It’s like we always say: it really is only the League.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dublin's New Mayor - Who'll Bridge the Divide Between Ballier and Blackrock?

Diamond Joe Quimby - the most likely winner, God help usThe election for the first directly elected Lord Mayor of Dublin was always going to be exciting. The George Lee resignation has made it even more so.

The election is important nationally as it’s potentially a sea change in politics, in the way we choose our politicians (directly elected Mayoralties are meant to roll out to Galway, Cork and other cities if Dublin goes well). A directly elected Mayor is, potentially, someone on whom to pin the buck. Even a hint of accountability would be a treat compared to the current system.

Not that the new Dublin Mayor will have the power to do much. The draft legislation for his or election was approved by Cabinet on Tuesday, but details of what exactly the position will entail aren’t due until next week. However, your correspondent seems to recall Conor Lenihan using the phrase “however limited his powers” about the new Mayor on the Sham Shmyth radio show recently, which should give potential Mayoral candidates pause for thought and reflection.

Interpreting those runes, if any newly elected Mayor shows any symptoms of any Obama-esque dreams of change, they will be told no, you can’t, fairly lively. We’ll have no boat-rocking here, thank you very much. Now feck off out to Finglas and open that clinic, here’s two Euro for the bus.

But they’ll run, all the same. It’s what they do. You might as well ask a junkie to switch to a nice cup of Horlicks at night as ask a politician not to run for election, no matter how ceremonial the actual job.

Paddy Power, a man never knowingly caught napping, has made book on who the new Mayor may be, and it’s an eclectic field. A bit too eclectic – betting men would be better advised to see whom the parties field before parting with any wedge, because even choosing a candidate within the major parties themselves is a far from trivial task.

The so-called left are energised at the moment after the local election result, and would be the biggest party in Dublin if the general election were held in the morning. Contrary to their acolytes in the media, this is not a swing to the left in urban areas. This is a lot of civil servants who don’t fancy pay cuts. But how and ever – choosing a left candidate will be tricky.

An Spailpín’s guess is that Labour are praying desperately that Joe Higgins is happy among the Walloons at the moment, and is not planning a homecoming. Joe got a big, fat vote for himself but Joe is far too loose a cannon for the apparatchiks in the Labour Party to trust, and the people who voted for Joe in previous elections may think again if Joe has the power to strike rates.

Fine Gael, meanwhile, must be still tearing their hair out in bunches. They held the line well for their first 24 hours of George Lee, but Brian Hayes’ shabby crack on the Pat Kenny show yesterday did them no favours and the lack of grace under pressure demonstrated how much the Lee resignation has thrown them.

The party is reeling, and there is a big huge swathe of Fine Gael voters in Dublin who do not like seeing their party run by a culchie, as reported by the always excellent Olivia O’Leary on RTÉ’s Drivetime during that Dublin South by-election last year. Not even Coveney, probably, although they might be open to negotiation on that. Fine Gael’s best candidate may be the highly personable Lucinda Creighton, but whether she’d be willing to be give up a safe Dáil seat for a role that may have little power is open to question.

For a long time, it looked like the Dublin Mayoral Election would be a suicide mission for Fianna Fáil, where they’d send a man out on a mission from which he may very well not come back. Their aim may be slightly higher now, as they slowly rise in the polls and eagerly await to see what damage George Lee has done Fine Gael. If Fianna Fáil end up running Conor Lenihan as Dublin Lord Mayor, An Spailpín Fánach wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

The field is open for a surprise candidate. Mannix Flynn, perhaps, although he would not be getting An Spailpín’s vote. The tricky thing is that the city is so very diverse – if you were to draw up a candidate from scratch, what would he or she look like? Northsider or Southsider? Dubs like Dubs, generally speaking, but what really is the demographic breakdown of the city?

There is a lot of talk about the emigrant population of the city, but the biggest immigrant population in the city, and the one that has always integrated with the most difficulty, remains the culchies.

Could the culchies be the kingmakers? Is there a sufficiently charismatic candidate out there who can unite both sides of the river, the rich and the poor, the immigrant and native populations, turn the political system on its head, and define his or her own Mayoralty, breaking free of the constraints of the job, energised by a popular mandate? Let’s hope so. It’s not a trivial ask but God knows, we could do with it.

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Monday, February 08, 2010

George Lee - Innocent as a Lamb or Crazy like a Fox?

George Lee, former TD, is either the most naïve politician in the history of Irish politics, or else the most cunning and ambitious the 21st century has seen so far. George Lee has either got destroyed by the Irish political system or is about to destroy it himself.

On the face of it, Lee has thrown the rattle from the pram and resigned because he is a political innocent, a lost lamb, and this view is what Fine Gael are furiously spinning currently – once their front line spokespeople got over the shock of Lee’s resignation, which seems to have descended from the clear blue sky.

Any amount of Fine Gael luminaries, from old hands like Alan Dukes and Michael Noonan to young guns like Lucinda Creighton and Leo Varadkar, have been on the radio today, shaking their heads sadly and giving it the Absalom! Oh Absalom! stuff about George Lee, how he just didn’t give himself time to bed in properly into Irish political life. Sure, George is made for sums and his time to fog up the calculator screen in service to Erin would surely come, if only he’d show a little patience.

Joe Duffy make the point to George Lee on Liveline that Lee was being extremely naïve in his understanding of the very nature of politics in his refusal to accept Enda Kenny’s last minute offer of a front bench post. Joe thought that there was nothing wrong with being offered a front bench post under duress, that there was nothing wrong in threatening to go nuclear in order to get what you want. This may be an interesting insight into how a radio phone-in show host gets paid more than a Prime Minister in Ireland by the way, but that is a story for another day.

If all this is true, how isn’t it astonishing how naïve George Lee seems to have been about the way the world works? How annoyed he is that the world wouldn’t fall down at his feet when he walked in the door? How shocked he is that his talent for sums couldn’t be seen and followed just as the Israelites followed a pillar of fire in the desert. How he seems unware that even Brian Lenihan had to cool his heels on the back benches before he got a go on the reins.

But your cynical old Spailpín finds it hard to believe that a man as clever as George Lee bought that many glass hammers. Very hard to believe indeed.

The news about George Lee broke today around half-twelve or one o’clock. Since then, George Lee has been:

1. Talking to Sean O’Rourke on the News at One on the radio;
2. Talking to Joe Duffy for over an hour on Liveline from after the News at One until three o’clock;
3. Talking to Matt Cooper on the Last Word at half-four;
4. Talking to Alan Cantwell on TV3 at half-five;
5. Talking to Brian Dobson on Six-One.

That’s a pretty full day, and An Spailpín fully expects George to be on Vincent Browne’s show tonight on TV3 while your correspondent is tucked up in bed, and would probably even be on Nuacht TG4 if only George were blessed with the Gaeilge.

For a man who’s a political innocent who doesn’t know how the system works, that’s some media blitz. It is not the action of a man who took on a job and realised he couldn’t do it. If that was how he felt he could have just released his statement, did Six-One and walked back to his guaranteed public sector job in RTÉ.

But that’s not what George Lee has done. That’s not what he’s done at all.

Fine Gael are aware now that one of their own has gone dangerously rogue. George Lee has not spilled the beans on what exactly the internal wranglings in Fine Gael were that did for him in the end, but he has been pointed in his refusal to endorse Enda Kenny as a viable alternative Taoiseach.

It was interesting to note how quick both Leo Varadkar and Olivia Mitchell were to point out how little the Dáil has sat in the nine months since George Lee was elected. Politicians’ normal tune is that they work every minute God sends them, and turning up in the Dáil is only a small part of that. Fine Gael are running scared, but it’s interesting to wonder if the entire political establishment isn’t just sweating slightly about just what exactly George might be up to.

An Spailpín will be watching this with interest. Chances are nothing will come of it. There’s a huge indolence in the Irish political system, as written about by An Tomaltach recently, and the chances are that George Lee will just float away into a footnote in history, a fish out of water like Justin Keating, the Cruiser and the rest.

What would be really interesting though would be if Certain People were go visit George Lee in the next few weeks, and start talking about new voices and new directions in Irish politics. For instance, Dessie O’Malley caused a big stir when he set up the PDs a quarter of a century ago, a move that damaged Fine Gael far more than it damaged Fianna Fáil.

The presence of a PD option meant that natural Fine Gael voters could vote for Fine Gael politics knowing that they could be implemented by a FF/PD Government in a way that would never happen in a Fine Gael/Labour coalition. Wouldn’t it be interesting if Fine Gael’s determination to have George Lee know his place were to cause him to start something that could deliver them, and Civil War politics itself, a death blow? An Spailpín Fánach does not believe that Irish public life has seen the last of George Lee.

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

James Nallen, and the Day Time Stood Still

If you look back on Mayo football over the past twenty-five years, from 1985 to 2010, and chose the zenith, the greatest combination of thrill and triumph and heady potential, James Nallen’s goal against Kerry in the 1996 All-Ireland semi-final could very well be it.

The past twenty-five years are stories of what might have been, of course, and defeat snatched from victory. A house of pain, in Keith Duggan’s memorable image. But there have been blessed days too.

People talk about the win over Dublin in 2006, or the march to the Hill before that game. There was the win over Tyrone in 2004, the first victory over Galway in Tuam in 1997 for forty-six years, Padraig Brogan’s bullet goal against Dublin in 1985, the bandaged Willie Joe against Tyrone in 1989 and Jimmy Bourke’s famous goal against Roscommon in the Connacht Final of 1989.

But for a moment of the sublime, where the earthly and mundane are suddenly raised to a new level of wonder, those who saw Nallen’s goal against Kerry on August 11th, 1996, will never forget it.

Neither team started 1996 as favourites for their province. Galway were Connacht Champions, and Kerry were still suffering their long withdrawal from the end of their golden generation, and had spent the five years before 1996 watching Cork win four Munster titles and Clare one. Those were short summers by the lakes of Killarney.

Croke Park wasn’t even full that day, fourteen years ago. A beautiful day, as I recall, with strolling room on the Hill, into which Mayo played in the first half.

After a cagey opening, James Nallen got the ball on his own half-back line, laid it off to James Horan, the flying Kiwi from Ballintubber, and set off running himself. Horan moved it on to McHale, who loped up the pitch before passing to the now flying at full speed Nallen, who buried into the Hill goal, right before our eyes.

Sometimes, in weather like we have now, you can stand on the hills and heather at home, and all you see is grey. And then the sun breaks through, and the clouds clear, and everything is so beautiful you wish you could stop the world so it could look like this for ever, and never change.

That’s what it was like when James Nallen scored against Kerry in 1996, except that instead of taking half an hour for the clouds to clear, they cleared in the time it took Nallen to flash that goal home. Before James Nallen’s goal, Mayo were that county of bums whose last four Championship outings ended in defeat in Tuam against Galway, in the Hyde against Leitrim, humiliation in Croke Park against Cork and a defeat against Donegal the year before that lead to a players’ revolt.

After Nallen’s goal, Mayo were suddenly the county who had pucked the greatest name in football in the gob, and were on their way to the All-Ireland final, when all the world seemed dressed in green and red.

Of course, it would never be as good again. Nallen was the only survivor of John Maughan’s team from nowhere in 1996, and now he too has gone into the night, to join the pantheon of Mayo greats who have never won the All-Ireland medal their talents deserved. McDonald, McHale, Kenny Mortimer, Willie Joe Padden, Joe Corcoran, and now James Nallen.

As a Mayo player James Nallen owned the 6 shirt for over a decade. He was tall and angular, with long limbs that made him good at smothering men in the tackle, and James Nallen was faster than he looked with a deceptive speed in his stride.

He played midfield too, for Crossmolina and for the county, but it’s always at six that he’ll be remembered, watching for the break, collecting it and beginning his advance. Ending, most famously of all, in that earth-shattering goal that gave life to the modern era of Mayo football, the most successful we’ve seen since the black and white Brylcreemed days of Sean Flanagan, Tom Langan and the Flying Doctor.

Happy trails, James Nallen. Thanks for everything.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The League Football National - the Competition that's Run Backwards

This weekend sees the return of proper Gaelic football to the national calendar, after the shadow boxing of the provincial competitions. But the league is a backwards competition, as it begins with a shout and ends with a whisper, just trailing away after the initial roar.

The loud beginning is easy to understand. The nation has been denied football all during the winter, so the return of the colours is a source of excitement, as much as the arrival of the curragh with the barrel of stout was in the ad long ago on the telly.

After a few weeks however, all interest lags as the reality of the Championship approaches. For the first weekend, teams and managers both all mad for smashing, because inter-county is the game’s highest level and they’re getting to play it again. But come week 4 or 5, teams and managers are wondering how much exactly they could be bothered, and how badly getting mired in playoffs will upset their scientifically worked out training regimes for the only competition that counts.

The league isn’t about winning. The league is about not getting relegated. Relegation is not a disaster – you can get relegated and still do well in the Championship, or you can do well in the Championship if you’re in Division 2, a la Cork and Dublin in a few years. But it is a setback, as the games in Division 2 take the edge off for the next Championship season.

Far better, then, to play for safety in the first few games and then take the foot off the pedal. Once you have your five or six points in the bag though, it’s time to roll the dice a biteen.

The league’s purpose is to discover players and plots that may be sprung come high summer. Jack O’Connor spoke in his book about how grinding out a result some dour game in Monaghan did a lot for the team when he took over first, but it’s small vignettes like that that count. The final itself is just an inconvenience. How many teams owe their September wins to a National League title in the spring? Anytime the double has been done it’s been happenstance.

But despite all that, it is great to have football back, and the GAA is doing well to promote the opening of the season after the long and lonesome winter. There is another marquee game for the opening weekend when Kerry play Dublin, the Kingdom playing their usual game with the gullible Dubs before another inevitable summer massacre. If Dublin last that long, of course.

The west was due its own gala opening to the season as Galway were due to visit Castlebar to play Mayo under lights in the new McHale Park. It would have been a big night for Castlebar, as there’s nothing like the few pints after the night games. Saturday could have been a great day for sporting ecumenism in the country as well, as Mayo would play Gaelic football, the Irish and Italians would play rugby union and Joe Kernan’s new look Galway will almost certainly play rugby league.

But it was not to be, due to what can only be described as a monumental and shattering level of incompetence achieved by the Mayo County Board, who seem to have managed to put up floodlights at McHale Park without making sure the had planning permission first. This, coupled with the hames they made of the sightlines in the new stand, which will only be full once ever two years, if that, makes an Spailpín wonder if they wouldn’t have been better served by just digging a huge pit at centre-field, filling it with fivers and setting fire to the whole damned lot. They would have got as much value for money for it. Jesus wept.

FOCAL SCOIR: To An Spailpín’s great friends in Galway whose feathers may be ruffled by my little joke up the way: An Spailpín has recently been the victim of many cruel and hurtful remarks made by Galwaymen about certain American football placekickers being from Mayo, because of their inability to kick their field goals in the NFL playoffs. I’m hardly going to take that lying down, am I? Up Mayo.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

2010 Six Nations Preview

Declan Kidney will name his team for the first game of the Six Nations against Italy in Croke Park later today. Ireland start the competition as more or less joint favorites with France to retain the title, although at longer odds to retain the Slam. No matter; it is hard to remember a time when the Irish team sat so high in rugby’s firmament.

While a lot of the focus on Declan Kidney’s selection dilemmas is on Sexton v O’Gara, you couldn’t call it a problem, as such. Kidney’s real problems are at nine and in the front row. It shouldn’t be a problem against Italy, but down the line it could be tricky.

But who better to perform the judgement of Solomon than Declan Kidney, after his resurrection of Ireland after the disasters of the 2007 World Cup and its 2008 hangover, when some of the greatest minds in rugby analysis were writing Ireland off? Heady times indeed for Irish rugby.

If the Championship is to be between Ireland and France, the Championship will be decided early, as Ireland travel to Paris on St Valentine’s weekend, twelve days from now. Before that, however, both teams open with potential banana skins; the notoriously homesick French must go to Murrayfield on Sunday, where the Scots beat Australia in the autumn, Scotland’s best international result since costing Ireland the Championship in 2001, probably. The day before, the Irish must beware of complacency against the normally hapless Italians, who are twenty point underdogs in the game.

The standard of Italian rugby looked better than it was when Italy joined the Five Nations ten years ago, and this was because they had Diego Dominguez, an Argentinean, at stand-off half, the single most important position on the pitch.

The ten, like His Holiness the Pope, has the power to loose and to bind. The ten conducts the orchestra and if he’s tone deaf with no sense of timing the team is at nothing. Dominguez presence made the Italians look better able to compete than they were; since he retired, Italy have struggled to be competitive.

The Italians seem set to try the hired gun approach at ten this year with a former Australian rugby league player, Craig Gower, at ten. An Spailpín does not expect this to be a success.

Mr Gower seems to have character issues, and his character will get a thorough examination on Saturday on Jones’ Road. If Ireland can retain focus, they should win pulling up, and then look fair for Paris in the springtime.

What sort of France they’ll face will be determined by how the French do at Murrayfield. If they go down, you may expect big changes in the team and the volatility that brings. If France win, however, the combination of l’esprit du clocher, confidence and a howling need for revenge after last yeaer should make for a challenging afternoon for the Irish.

Not least upfront. The Irish pack was pushed around by Australia, who are not known for their scrummaging, and continued weakness in the tight will be bad, bad news against a French eight who were so fearsome in the Autumn internationals.

That said, the French have problems at out-half too, where Lionel Beauxis seems out of favour. An Spailpín thought the next ten years where the stumpy Beauxis’ to command, but this not how Marc Lievremont sees it. Oh well. That’s his problem.

Paris will certainly not hold the same fear for Ireland as it traditionally has. Now, it will be hell on Earth, of course, but that doesn’t mean the Irish can’t win there. The young Brian O’Driscoll inspired a famous win in Paris ten years ago, and fine wines are only trotting after O’Driscoll in their response to the aging process.

The biggest outside challenger to France and Ireland will be the winner of this weekend’s game between England and Wales at Twickenham. The Welsh are terribly weakened by the absence of Mike Phillips, as fine a nine as there is in the game, but An Spailpín has been wondering lately if Stephen Jones is the most under-rated ten in the world.

Steven Jones has started all the tests at ten in two consecutive Lions tours. The last man to do that was Jones’ countryman Phil Bennett, in 1974 and 1977. That’s pretty rarefied company. An Spailpín will be backing the underdog Welsh at Twickers on Saturday.

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Monday, February 01, 2010

Charlie Bird

An Spailpín Fánach did not watch Charlie Bird’s American Year last week, and has no plans to do so tonight. It is for the same reason I don’t set myself on fire of an evening – I do not expect to enjoy it.

However, it was interesting to read the derision with which the program was received last week, especially as Bird had been more or less above criticism prior to that. And yet suddenly, here it was – maybe Ireland’s No 1 Reporter wasn’t that great after all.

Four days later, for reasons unknown, something in the air perhaps, something took over the Irish Twitter community, as people started tweeting #birdfacts – elaborate claims about Charlie Bird in the style of the Chuck Norris / Paul O’Connell thing. “Charlie Bird is so smart he can work out Sudoko using the Crosaire crossword clues” ... “Charlie Bird pities BA Baracus” ... “Quantanemo [sic] bay prisoners asked for Barney songs back after Charlie Bird interrogated them.”

Ireland’s No 1 Reporter was suddenly exposed as something of a gobaloo in the public mind. As if everybody knew it all the time. It was like the movie Network, with everybody rolling up their windows and shouting that they weren’t going to take it any more.

There were some exceptions. Sarah Carey mounted a typically spirited defence of Charlie Bird in the Irish Times on Wednesday, the day before #birdfacts. She remarked on how interesting it was to see how news is made on the documentary: “Another section showed how Irish journalists are herded around the White House on St Patrick’s Day and the desperately limited opportunity they have to extract anything from the occasion.”

What exactly were they trying to extract from the occasion in the first place? It’s the annual shamrock presentation at the White House – it’s not like Obama and Cowen then went off to discuss a potentially delicate situation arising in the North because Warren Beatty had been seen with Iris Robinson somewhere near the Giants’ Causeway.

St Patrick’s Day in the White House is a day out. Nothing else. There is nothing to extract from the occasion except beer, boiled beef and cabbage. But even this proved difficult for Ireland’s No 1 Reporter.

Ms Carey sums up Bird’s talents thusly: “His reports are raw and that’s what makes them sometimes amusing, sometimes almost amateurish but always, always, completely authentic. That’s why he’s a trustworthy and reliable reporter. In a world of mannequins, he is reassuringly human. I like that.”

An Spailpín Fánach doesn’t like that. An Spailpín Fánach likes a reporter to do two things. 1. Know what’s going on. 2. Report same. All else is noise.

Media reports of the documentary comment on how hard it was for Ireland’s No 1 Reporter to find the newly named US Ambassador to Ireland, Dan Rooney, at the do in the White House as Charlie didn’t have a picture of him.

Well, why not google him Charlie? Not near a computer? Why not buy an iPhone Charlie? How hard is this? It’s not like you’re looking for the head buck cat of the Den of the Secret Nine, is it? There’s a whole press office dedicated to supplying journalists with these bios. All Charlie had to do was ask for one and read from it.

But he couldn’t even manage that. An Spailpín was listening to Morning Ireland on St Patrick’s Day when Dan Rooney’s appointment as Ambassador was announced. Charlie described Rooney as the owner of the Chicago Steelers, a football team in the American NFL.

Dan Rooney owns the Pittsburgh Steelers. Over six hundred miles distant from Chicago. The same distance as that from Dublin to Berlin.

That’s missing the target by a fair sketch. All the more so as Pittsburgh had won the Super Bowl when Charlie Bird arrived in America last year.

To be an ordinary citizen in America and be unaware of the Super Bowl is not easy. As a foreign correspondent who needs to get in tune with what’s going on in the new country it’s quite remarkable. But to be unable to read the team name correctly off a press is a genuinely stunning achievement.

Charlie Bird released his autobiography a year or two ago. It was ghost written by Shane Kenny. For a journalist to need a ghost writer tells you an awful lot. And none of it is good. Utter chaos here, indeed.

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