By Ray O’Hanlon
"IF" is sorry to see John Bruton go. Politically clumsy though he may have been at times, "Brutal" was one of the more refreshingly outspoken and honest of Irish politicians of the last 20 years. Who could ever forget a line such as "I’m sick of answering questions about the bleeping peace process" or his dig at Sinn Féin: "The strategy of a ballot box in one hand and a gun in the other was first originated by the Nazis."
"IF," then a callow hack of uncertain prospect, was actually working in the Dáil that night in 1982 when Minister for Finance Bruton managed to topple the Garret FitzGerald-led government. He did so with alarming ease by means of a proposed tax on children’s shoes in his party’s budget. An Irish government falls if it loses a financial vote in the Dáil and on the evening in question reporters watched in increasing astonishment as Bruton, who was otherwise considered a smart and capable minister, steered Fine Gael on a steady course for a whopping political iceberg.
But enough of Bruton’s known foibles. Here’s a lesser-known tale that says much of the man. A few years back, Taoiseach Bruton arrived in New York around St. Patrick’s day to preach the gospel of a new, emerging Ireland where kiddies could now afford shoes at any price. The word went out to the New York press that Bruton was to host a breakfast press briefing at the Plaza Hotel. There was a good turnout and Bruton was eager to talk up the new old sod. He was advised to wait until the press had eaten but insisted on plowing ahead.
The hacks, deep into their eggs etc. reached for their tape recorders. Bruton talked and then asked for questions. It all seemed to go well and Bruton was seemingly in command of his facts. Problem was, when the reporters returned to their newsrooms it was discovered that Bruton’s sweetness had been wasted on the clamorous air. Such was the racket from the Plaza’s huge knives and forks, china cups, saucers and plates, that Bruton’s taped words were all but overwhelmed.
The potential for disaster had been spotted by an official from the Department of Foreign Affairs, but, just like that night in 1982, Bruton duly ignored the iceberg. His words were like pearls to crispy bacon and another cock-up in a most particular, and not infrequently stellar, political career was thus writ.
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Meanwhile, Bertie Ahern, the Teflon taoiseach, must be wondering if it might be a good idea to go for a general election sooner rather than later given a combination that sees the post-Bruton Fine Gael on the back foot and the Shinners more on their political toes with each passing week. Bertie said a few days ago that there would not be an election this year, but that he was figuring on the government running its full term into the middle of 2002.
Of course, the important thing here is to keep everybody guessing even as your own party sharpens its bayonets for a full-scale assault on the minds of the fickle electorate. The continued popularity of Ahern has been in spite of the scandals besetting his party, but it’s probably the robust health of the Irish economy that is the primary factor in keeping Ahern’s head above the fray.
With that in mind, the rumblings of economic uncertainty on this side of the Atlantic could well give the taoiseach pause for second thought. Simply put, if America catches cold and sneezes, Ireland will be first in line to pick up the germs. So a summer ’01 election is yet a possibility. We can only wait and see.
"One recollection is stronger than any other — a soldier in a red beret, down on one knee, leveling his self-loading rifle toward me and shooting."
TV documentary film-maker David Tereshchuk, who was present in Derry on Bloody Sunday, penned these words recently in the New York Times Magazine. Tereshchuk has been reliving his moments of terror for the Saville Inquiry, the British government’s latest — some would say first — attempt to get to the truth of what happened in Derry on Jan. 30, 1972.
Tereshchuk’s recollection of the soldier in the red beret has been knocked off kilter a bit by photographic evidence showing the soldier wearing a helmet. Both forms of headgear were in evidence on the day, however, and it could be that in the rush of memories Tereshchuk, who these days works for the United Nations, got the clashing head fashions a bit mixed up. He makes that very point in his magazine piece.
Hats apart, the bullets used by the Paras that day were of a more consistent style. The Paras are on tour in the North again right now and have been sporting their red berets in the Fermanagh/South Tyrone constituency of SDLP assembly member Tommy Gallagher. Gallagher was up in, well, arms last weekend after the Paras crossed the border into the wee Republic.
Gallagher, clearly a one-man Maginot Line, has been complaining of "boorish . . . arrogant, aggressive and totally unacceptable behavior" by the Paras and is demanding their withdrawal from the area.
"Given their history, I simply cannot understand why it is felt that they are needed here at all," Gallagher complained in a press release churned out by the SDLP’s apparently self-loading fax, a machine that has been very busy of late.
Meanwhile, Bloody Sunday comes under scrutiny again on Wednesday evening, Feb. 7, at Rocky Sullivan’s in Manhattan, when veteran British journalist Peter Pringle, co-author of the book "Those Are Real Bullets," reads and answers questions on an event that stained the streets of Derry with a color not unlike those Para berets.
€ "It took great courage to bring the Irish Republican Army into the political process in Northern Ireland, and he got closer than anyone else to settling that conflict." Anthony Lewis in the New York Times on President Clinton.
€ "With quiet pride, the Irish have finally discarded the inferiority complex that always dogged their relationship with the old colonial master. Ireland is now importing British construction workers to build the factories commissioned by Microsoft and Intel. Soon there may be a string of jokes about thick English brickies, a happy payback for the volumes of sneering Irish jokes in which many English have delighted." From the February issue of Wired magazine.