not a member? click here to sign up
With Dana and Albert Reynolds leading the charge, the Presidential race is looking like a non-starter.
Eamonn McCann, 20 Aug 1997
Is it not strange that commentators who can barely stifle their mirth at the idea of Dana as a presidential candidate have no difficulty maintaining calm when discussing Albert Reynolds' announcement that his hat's in the ring, too?
This is not to suggest mirth as the appropriate response to the prospect of a Reynolds presidency. Distaste might be more apt.
The point is, judged by conventional standards there's nothing more outlandish about Dana as a candidate than there is about Reynolds. The difference is that one is risible, the other repugnant.
The report of the Constitutional Review Group (CRG) last year declared that the president should provide the people with "a reflection of their highest values and aspirations."
Mr. Reynolds, it seems, in the mind of much of the political mainstream, meets this criterion. This says something about pollution and the political mainstream.
It is not that Reynolds represents anything illegal or unethical. But neither does he represent the "highest values and aspirations" of the Irish people.
Mr. Reynolds has had a long and successful career in business and in politics. It would be impossible to sum up in a single short article. But we might usefully look back at an instance of his political and business talents being put in play together.
The Beef Tribunal heard evidence of dealings in the late '80s between Mr. Reynolds as Minister for Industry and Commerce and Larry Goodman, who was both an acquaintance of Mr. Reynolds (an invited guest to the wedding of one of his daughters, for example), and a generous contributor to political causes, including to the Fianna Fail party.
More generally, the evidence gave us the most detailed picture available prior to the Ben Dunne affair of the relationship in Ireland between big business on the one hand and government, supposedly representing the mass of the people, on the other.
The tribunal was told of an occasion in 1988 when Mr. Goodman arrived back at Dublin airport in a private jet from a meeting with members of the Iraqi military dictatorship, and immediately phoned Reynolds. The pair met the following day, alone, at Reynolds' government office. Mr. Goodman came away from this conversation with a guarantee that he'd get $30 million of Irish tax-payers' money if the Iraqis reneged on payment for any beef he might be able to sell them as a result of the talks he'd just had.
This is, surely, an astonishing tale, difficult to fit into the framework of a functioning democracy. Yet, although they differed on detail, not only did Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Goodman confirm its accuracy in all essentials, neither seemed to see or sense anything remotely improper in it.
Some might think that this, on its own, makes Mr. Reynolds an unsuitable candidate for the presidency, no need to mention passports for petfood, the Brendan Smyth/Harry Whelan affair, the "There's women for ye" jibe or anything else.
Another thing, the triviality of which is obvious, is that Mr. Reynolds doesn't have the look of a president. There's that permanently greasy appearance. Perhaps it's glandular. But even so, do Southerners really want as their president a man who looks as if the only thing which wouldn't stick to him is dignity?
Now let's take a comparative look at Dana. She is a handsome woman from the same street as myself, pleasant to meet and I've never had an unfriendly word with her - partly because I've never broached with her the daft and reactionary ideas which she so eagerly proclaims.
To most commentators, it's the silliness of her ideas which puts her outside the range of presidential plausibility. You may disagree with Reynolds' ideas, they say, or imply, but you have to take them seriously.
Do we, now? In what way are Dana's ideas sillier than Albert Reynolds'?
She's hooked up with the "pro-life" crazies, of course. But even if he doesn't make as much of the issue as she does, so is Reynolds. Indeed, if Family Solidarity were to strike a holy medal for presentation to the politician who has done most in recent years to enmesh the machinery of Irish politics in the manoeuvres of the "pro life" crowd, a strong case could be made for affixing the award alongside the pioneer pin on the shy lapel of Mr. Reynolds' latest suit.
I wouldn't give Dana my vote if I had one. If there were only herself and Reynolds standing, I'd stop home and watch Neighbours rather than trek to the polls. But if by some strange eventuality there was a straight contest between the pair of them, I wouldn't be crestfallen if word eventually came through that Dana had won, and Reynolds lost.
It is strange, too, that people who reckon Mary Robinson has done a great job don't think Dana would make a suitable successor. In key respects, the two are very similar.
Both have a wide-eyed earnestness about them. In Ms. Robinson's case this is taken as indicative of deep concern for the wretched of the earth. In Dana's, it is dismissed as childish naivety. But there is no objective basis for this distinction.
Each of them has a tendency to speak in bland generalities. With Ms. Robinson, this is attributed to the constraints imposed by the presidency. But when Dana talks about, for example, "the need for the world to focus on the instinct for good which lies within all human beings", she's patronised as being the same fluttery schoolgirl as so perfectly sang 'All Kinds Of Everything'.
Actually, it wasn't Dana who said that. It was Mary Robinson. But it might have been Dana.
Both women are big into the spiritual aspects of human existence. Dana is involved with the charismatic faction of Roman Catholicism and has spoken of "ecstatic" experience. This has earned her the derision of people with common sense.
But she has never, as far as we know, abandoned rationality as completely as Mary Robinson who, it might be recalled, once explained to a jet-lagged Andy Townsend that a light-bulb which she kept lit at a window in Aras an Uachtarain was a continuous reminder to "millions" of emigrants of their Irish heritage, even though they might not know that the light-bulb was there, much less that it was lit.
It may be that a fine-toothcomb search through the cuttings-file would reveal a statement from Dana as plain silly as that, but I doubt it.
One serious difference between Dana and Mary Robinson is that Dana has never been a member of an organisation like the Trilateral Commission.
It is four years since I first mentioned here Ms. Robinson's membership of this outfit, which brings together in conditions of high secrecy leaders of politics and big business and of academic and legal elites in North America, western Europe and Japan, with a view to co-ordinating policies to ensure these interests' continued dominance of the globe. Mary Robinson joined, by invitation, in 1973 and played an active role in the organisation for some time afterwards.
I mentioned then and have continued to draw attention to the fact that Ms. Robinson's membership of the Trilateral Commission has been studiously ignored in profiles and biog. pieces about her in the Irish press.
In the past few months articles in two Dublin magazines have, at last, referred to this aspect of Ms. Robinson's career, and have followed this column in speculating about the extent to which her powerful Trilateral associates might have helped win her the job of UN Commissioner for Human Rights.
The global forces represented by the Trilateral Commission share significantly in responsibility for the extinction of human rights which it will now be Ms. Robinson's prestigious responsibility to appear to restore.
Neat or what?