Leo: Hope and history rhyming – or just a younger man in a grey suit?


All week

I’m not sure how we will measure Leo, but let’s see how it goes.

It is being heralded as a new era for Ireland, and maybe it will turn out to be just that, and an exciting one into the bargain.

Even if the words were carefully scripted, there is something poetic and timeless about that soundbite that rescued his acceptance speech…‘Prejudice has no hold in this Republic.’

Writing these words now, I am thinking back to the stony face of Charles Haughey, an expression captured for posterity when he came to face to face with the wheels of history turning.

It was the swearing-in ceremony after the 1990 Presidential election. Mary Robinson and the women of Ireland had rocked the system, not the cradle, and a confident, new Ireland was turning on its past.

Behind Robinson, on the podium in Dublin Castle, old men – led by Haughey and Brian Lenihan – wore weak smiles as, lost and confused, they witnessed history turn.

And, somewhere out there, as the bell rang for the beginning of the Mary Robinson presidency, alarm bells sounded for the Church authorities too.

People are always entitled to hope. Sometimes, we don’t have much more than hope. Now personally, I remain to be convinced that Leo is a Special One, but at the very least his emergence is symbolic of an ever-evolving Ireland, of men in grey suits being further ushered into the background.

I am not at all sure that there will be significant substance behind Leo’s style and smoothness, but I am looking forward to finding out. And I am prepared to give him his chance. It’s kind of exciting. Any move away from the template of the past is, at this stage, worth going with.

I know Leo’s rise was predicted in recent times, but five or six years ago, who would have thought that we would have a 38-year-old gay man of Indian origin as our leader?

We may have foreseen Leo’s rise in the last year or two, but in historical terms, it’s quite seismic.

It’s a big milestone. It’s like we’ve had our Trump moment, but without the buffoonery.

Even if Leo turns out to be a poor or even just an adequate Taoiseach, his rise is almost bigger than how he performs in the role; his rise to power feels like a historic moment, a new turn in the country’s history, a further rejection of the old men in the grey suits.

And, let’s face it, the old men in the grey suits didn’t always serve us well.

Because for all the great things there are about Ireland – and in ways it is the greatest, most wonderful place on earth – there are many rancid skeletons in the cupboards of the nation.

What makes Ireland special is its physical beauty, its traditions and culture, and, above all, its people.

Where the darkness lies is where greed and corruption has been allowed to reign. This is a young Republic, and it seems to me that it has been weighed down by greedy, power-crazed golden circles since the foundation of the State. A century of nods and winks and worse. A corrupt little country, if we are honest. Corruption infiltrated our political system. Horrors were exposed in the once-controlling Catholic Church. Corruption seeped into our banking system. Many of our charities were poisoned by greed. Cosy golden circles were occupied by certain politicians, business people, planners and bankers.

Anyways, I’m not sure how we will measure Leo, but I hope the nod and the wink is finally being removed from Irish life.

To be honest, I have no reason to assume that Leo will be a great new leader. The famed television detective, Columbo, when summing up a case, always used to tell his captive audience ‘Just one more thing…’

Well, with Leo’s rise, I say ‘Just two more things…’ Firstly, he is unproven. He has done nothing special in any of his ministries, indeed was highly unimpressive in health. Secondly, pass no heed on the hero-worshipping by Fine Gael TDs and Senators. In fact, worry that they are out of touch with their own membership. They haven’t elected Leo because they are convinced of his leadership potential, and certainly not because they honestly believe he has some great vision for Ireland’s future. Maybe I’m being harsh, maybe he has a vision, but can we honestly say that we have seen it? No, the Fine Gael TDs and Senators chose Leo – and went against the party’s grassroots -– because enough of them convinced themselves that his is the face the people will want to see on election posters. And, once enough of them came to that conclusion, more TDs and Senators followed their lead, like not very sheepish sheep.

But it is Leo’s moment, Leo’s time, and I wish him the fairest of winds. And he may turn out to be great. And it does feel quite historic. As to how we will measure him, I’m not sure.

Maybe in these parts we need to measure him in the most practical way. Will broadband be delivered? Will the decline of rural towns and villages be reversed? Can I go to Portiuncula without seeing the old people who built the nation being humiliated on trolleys? Is there a hope in hell that our children, in years to come, can help build Ireland, not Australia or Canada?

I don’t like the political establishment of today. While politicians on an individual level are very decent people, the culture around them has earned our cynicism. Awaiting fat pensions, they preside over a society in which more and more people are homeless, and our parents and grandparents are subjected to hospital delays and the indignity of trolleys. So I don’t like so much of what we have been and what we still are, and I hope that the wheels of history are still turning.

I wouldn’t say I’m particularly optimistic about the Leo era, but I am hopeful and interested. And I wish him well, because if he happens to have that vision thing, it will be good for us all. Even if he’s just a breath of fresh air, a further break with the past, that will be welcome. Anything that gets us further away from the men in grey suits will be worth smiling about.