Party time

On Saturday I was a guest on Newstalk radio’s Saturday morning show with Brendan O’Brien. One of my fellow guests was someone I had never heard of before until the middle of last week, Leo Armstrong. His claim to fame, and the reason for his presence on air, was that he had organised a meeting (attended by 50, we’re told) to discuss the setting up of a new political party. The news report on the meeting said that several speakers had complained about the political system’s ‘corruption’, ‘cronyism’ and other failings.

I thought that Mr Armstrong, who is 70 years old, was a totally affable man, a somewhat old-fashioned gentleman if that term still means anything. But I absolutely could not fathom why we were discussing his plan, or indeed why his meeting had merited the attendance of an Irish Times journalist and an article the next day. Don’t get me wrong, he is absolutely entitled to explore the potential for a new party, and he is welcome to lead it. But before the rest of us get excited about his chats over a pint in a Kilkenny pub, we would need to see more of his credentials. So far all we know is that he was a serial member of Fine Gael and the Greens, neither of whom he now likes, though maybe he dislikes them less (or possibly more) than Fianna Fail; and that he failed to get elected at the last local government elections, coming last of eleven candidates. On the air I asked him to set out his stall politically and say what his proposed party would stand for. Good question, he agreed; but he had no answers other than his dislike of the others, and his belief that many other people shared his disaffection.

In the end, politics is a mixture of personalities and ideas, and you need to have the right mixture of both to connect with the electorate. I thought Leo Armstrong was a charming man, but he didn’t have the political stature or presence that he would need, and he clearly hadn’t applied his mind to the ideas thing at all at all. So why in heaven’s name was he news? That we were discussing him and talking with him probably tells us something about the state of the political system right now. In particular, it tells us something about the alarming inability of some of the political leaders to communicate their message and through that keep the country focused. If a small meeting in a pub with an ill-defined political agenda makes it into the news, someone should be worried. Pat Cox and Michael McDowell’s teasing the MacGill summer school may be one thing, but getting all excited about the chat over a pint somewhere or other is quite another.

All the political parties need to re-tune their message and engage the wider public. Democracy depends on it.

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7 Comments on “Party time”

  1. Vincent Says:

    In Ireland we don’t muck up politics with things like ideas. The very idea indeed. The last time there was any such thing Parnell was stupping the Shea wan. And that activity in lieu of having any ideas himself.
    If you look at FG these days, the educated ideas ones were sidelined. Or to put it another way, the big farmer hang ’em-flog ’em types were out wielding the Burdizzo.
    What normally happens is that perfectly innocent notions like the GAA or the farmers co-operative movement become political. But mostly things go back at least 200 years. Shur the Thirty Years War has just finished.
    And if not pure dislike for that gobshite down the road how else could you decide which tribe is your natural home. For however FG and Labour think they will obliterate FF next time, that plays without the Irish reality, while the FFer may and I do mean may vote Labour hell will freeze over before he votes FG. The only hope is that he stays home altogether.

  2. Dublinjack Says:

    I am a self-confessed political junkie, and while Ireland is better than Tammany Hall as a news source, it seems the news outlets are now stuck for fodder.

    The silly season is upon us; the dis-equilibrium in the electorate needs venting to balance its confusion/anger; politicans will survive only if they can get through a winter of discontent.

    The daily diet requires light relief.
    However, I think we need to move from personalities to a public discussion about issue topics .

    Let’s start with the WATER CRISIS. What makes water a crisis in a rain soaked climate?

    Answer: Distribution assumption to use fresh potable water to answer ever incresing demand. 20 yers ago each of us used 100 litres per day; now it is close to 200 litres per day. But only 35 litres need potable water for cooking and drinking – the rest is used to wash and flush.

    There are two choices: Rebuild the fesh water infrastructure so we pump more potable water into which to defacate (NO!); or RECYCLE waste water locally to a healthy standard suitable for flushing, washing and gardening. (YES!)

    The first choice is a a mega-tax bill. Consider the trial balloon to spend € 500 miliion to pump the Shannon to Dublin?

    The second choice is better addressed by modern, CLEANTECH waste tretament systems already proven elsewhere. Cheaper and better; this clean technology creates water surplus with existing facilities to supply a decentralised, locale.

    Best place to start this innovation would be a university campus – from a certian point of view, a large public toilet (consuming 89% of its fresh water supply to flush toliets 3 x per day for each man and woman visiting! Cost savings to deploy cleantech would be c. €800,000 for a population of 8000 stduents.

    IBM is working on this problem with its SMARTER WATER R&D programme. DCU CLARITY is at the forefront of this water solution.

  3. Al Says:

    I dont think you are being fair to this man.

    I dont know him personally, but he doesnt cast as long or as dark a shadow that other recent entrants on to the political scene have in recent years.

    Further he isnt agitating for dissension or resistance against the rule of law or leading people astray.

    Is it inconcievable that youth of today will begin to look at the state as irredemable and the only approach is resistance, bank robberies and illusions of some republic with virgins hands?
    This aggitation is going on right now.

    • Al, I wasn’t criticising Leo Armstrong, I was wondering why we were covering his activities, at least at this point? Or rather, if we were giving them some space, then why not every other conversation in the state involving 50 people or more? I think he’s a decent man (from my brief encounter with him), but he has no real idea what he’s doing, and absolutely not an iota of a political plan, beyond not liking the existing parties. That isn’t enough for a manifesto. Actually, it isn’t enough for a column inch in the newspaper.

  4. Ros Says:

    I heard the Leo Armstrong piece on Saturday and, while I’m sure his efforts are well-intentioned, I can’t for the life of me see why he was being given airtime at this early stage in his plans to form a new party. He had no idea how to answer any of the questions put to him and the outline of his previous forays into the political landscape did not inspire confidence. I’m willing to entertain any plausible alternative to what we have at the moment, but please, put some thought into these things before parading them in public rather than reinforcing the image that the plot has been well and truly lost!

  5. cormac Says:

    “So why in heaven’s name was he news?”
    Journalists love nothing more than airing arbitrary opinions. It constantly amazes me – why give publicity to this one over here and not that one over there? Who knows !
    What constitutes news in this country seems to be more and more arbitrary.

  6. Clare Says:

    I agree. I’ve been trying to find out more about the various new political parties that have been touted and no-one seems to have thought things through. They all agree that the government is doing a poor job, but have no ideas about how to do things better. It’s disapointing. It’s the perfect moment for a new political party, and nobody is seizing teh initiative.

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