Saturday 25 April 2015

Yes, Minister

We live here in Ireland in a parliamentary democracy. It is salutary to reflect on what makes the difference in getting elected to represent the people. After a long session consuming alcohol and yakking the previous night in Dublin, I caught a bus down South to go back to work.  It was a busy day, with a number of tasks to tick off:
  • Marking two Excel exams from my final classes on Wednesday
  • Attending a PhD viva and congratulating the candidate
  • Delivering three research project reports to colleagues in Teagasc on the other side of town
  • Meeting of the Research Board
  • A few re-hydrating cups of tea
  • Wait on James Reilly, TD. Minister of Children and former Health Minister
I was a little discommoded, I won't say annoyed, at the last item because it appeared on my To Do List with only 26 hours notice.  It didn't appear only on my list, of course, dozens of people were requested-and-required to be in key places on campus as the Minister sailed through pressing the flesh. No elected representative wants to see a creche, a milking-parlour or a factory unless there are voters inside.  So just before lunchtime, I dropped my mark-book, shrugged into my white-coat [needs a wash, looks authentic] and loped off to the Dargan Centre which was formally opened by local TD Phil Hogan thirteen months ago.  You can't expect the Minister to trudge up two flights of stairs to visit our environmental research coal-face, but we have an elevator: very modern with two glass sides. Its arrival on the top floor was a a little like swinging the net up onto the deck of a trawler because it was brimful of suits.  "How many suits does it take to propel a Minister?"  I asked my HoD.  I had barely loosed this quip before I was shaking the fist of the Great Man while being introduced (as Jim Scientist;  sigh!) by our Director of Chiromancy.  About 2/3 of the suits were officers of the Institute: the Quidditch Coach, the Dean of Basilisks, the Elder of Zion etc., but the others were the usual suspects from the Party corps de ballet. The only sitting Fine Gael TD for the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency was there, of course: a good photo with a minister [any minister will do] is worth on average 23.7 votes in next year's election. The other FG CW-KK TD Phil Hogan has, since he had his tour of the building in March 2014, become an EU Commissioner in Brussels [basic pay = €247,992] and vacated his seat in the Dail.

About 3 minutes after I was introduced to the Minister, I was shaking his hand again like the was no tomorrow [Groundhog Day reference] and being asked to talk about Lithium in the Blackstairs: possibly the most exciting and potentially damaging thing to happen in the constituency this century.  But you could tell he wasn't really interested, his radar was scanning over my shoulder for another hand to shake. I asked one of our suits who was the well turned out baldy guy on the visitor's team, and it was David Fitzgerald, county councillor, who is hoping to continue to Keep Kilkenny Beautiful [and Right] while upping his gross pay from CC=€16,724 to TD=€87,258, which is a little more than I'm pulling down.  It looked like the Minister had instructed the Candidate "Stick close to my shoulder, boy, and let me do the talking." as he worked the room - it was an anthropological wonder to see everyone presenting themselves to the alpha-male: we're just primates. The style of Reilly's boss Enda Kenny is miraculous to see - that's why he's Taoiseach.

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