RTE television do a show called The Week In Politics. I caught some of it by accident last Sunday. Sharon Ni Bheolain was hosting.
Like many RTE journalists Sharon doesn’t do anything as obvious as engage with the actual issue. Instead she occupies that favoured neutral ground known as “objectivity”, from where she basically just interrupts people as if for the heck of it. There seems no pattern or point to her interruptions. It’s like she’s just interrupting for the craic. The issue, whatever it might be, plays second fiddle to this game, which often seems kind of childishly spiteful in its intent. She seems to take special pleasure, even to the point of sadism, in saying, “You have ten seconds!” to respond to a really complicated proposition.
Regina Docherty, sent by Fine Gael to drive the sane crazy by wallpapering the studio in neo-liberal fudgery, decided to announce on this occassion that the nurses weren’t striking for more money.
This comment threw everyone, but Regina was very sure of her ground. That sneaky little smile played around her mouth, indicating that she was engaged in an artful piece of neo-liberal fudgery that wouldn’t be so easily refuted, and certainly not in ten seconds. As a debating tactic it is essentially a smoke bomb. Regina has tons of them and flings them around with reckless abandon. In this regard she is like the daughter of Frankenstein Trump.
The other two panel members were visibly startled by her fresh assault on reality, chosen for the occasion from the Fine Gael think tank of distorted perceptions, aka Leo’s PR unit.
Stephen Donnelly, Fianna Fail sposkeperson for Health, a bald guy with a beard for compensation, making it look like his head is on upside down, swung that head repeatedly in astonishemnt to stare in disbelief at Regina.
Next to him, Martin Kenny, a serious-looking man of Sinn Fein extraction, spokeserson for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and, judging by his demenour, representative of all things earthy and sensible, had his groundings visibly challanged by Regina’s swing at factoid reality.
But Regina’s claim that the nurses weren’t going on strike for more money, had at its core, a small basis in logic. In other words it wasn’t entirely insane, it was just deliberately unhelpful, in the way that Fox News is deliberately unhelpful.
Here’s how it works. Since the nurses agreed to a pay deal a couple of years back, which will be honoured, she concluded from this that the nurses, by accepting that agreement, were already “happy” with regard to money. So therefore they can’t be striking for more money, since they are “happy”.
So the strike is not about money. And though Regina didn’t say what the strike was for, the implication was that it was for “the craic”, or to be awkward, or because nurses are , presumably, “bad” and “irresponsible”, or maybe that the nurses are misled, demented, delusional, crazy, don’t know what they’re doing, God help them.
It might be more accurate to say, if someone had thought to say it, that the nurses are striking for more funding, to increase staff and to have a fairer wage for all. The politicians get their raises without a quibble from anyone. Really these pay freezes in the public service should work from the top down. It’s a bit much when politicians declare growth in the economy and immediately award themsleves a pay raise. It looks bad and unfair. But if pay raises in the public service started from the bottom up in response to econmic growth it would be far more equitable. But who ever said Fine Gael were in the equitable business?
Regina made her absurd claim about the nurses, twice, before Stephen Donnelly politely asked Sharon for permission to speak. He said, This is twice Regina has said this and I really have to pull her up on it, to which Sharon replied, “You have ten seconds,” with that odd twisting mouth mannerism of hers that seems to say, Up yours.
Then someone magiced a clip of Leo Vardkar talking about the nurses and the strike and the money.
We can’t afford to give the nurses more money, said Leo, neatly contradicting in absentia his minister for employment affairs and social protection who peered through her glasses with those huge eyes, like a small bewildered girl in a crowded specsavers.
We have to hold onto that money, said Leo, in case Brexit goes wrong in a few weeks time, and we also need it for housing.
Wait! Hold on. Did he just say we can’t give the nurses a pay rise because we need the money for housing? Yes he did. I heard it. He definitely said that!
But no one has apparently noticed. No one says anything about this strange juxtaposition of Leo priorites between nurse’s pay and housing. It is as if he is attempting to juggle morals and is somehow now all for housing, implying that the nurses are clearly opposed to housing by striking for more pay at this time with so many people homeless. How selfish.
But no one notices the inconsistency. The clash of these political Higgs-Boson particles in the Varadkar Hadron collider. The other two panel members still seem a little frazzled from trying to digest Regina Docherty’s belief that the strike was not about more money. This initial absurdism is now twisted into a fresh absurdism by Leo’s assertion that the nurse’s strike is morally irreponsible given the need for housing.
Sudeenly it was all over. We were right out of time, even despite all the hurried ten second repsonses. And nothing was clear. Nothing had been resolved or clarified. If anything, the issue was in worse condition that it had been before Sharon and the panel got their hands on it. All was smoky and obscure. The nurses weren’t striking for more money, because they’re “happy”, and Leo Varadkar – who apparently owns all public monies personally – can’t pay the nurses more money because he needs the money for housing, the very issue he has been neglecting all these years in the interts of boosting the profits of private landlords and vulture funds. Give that man a raise, I say. Oh, he’s already getting one. Another 5,000 a year? Well, doesn’t he deserve it?
If there was a winner in the show, it wasn’t truth. It was Sharon Ni Bheolain, who had succeeded admirably, time and again, in shutting everyone up before they manged to finish their sentences. Only Regina Docherty ever really got a full say, and that leeway was given, presumably, in the interests of gender balance. For everyone else it was constant interruption followed by a curt “10 seconds” and that mouth gesture of “Up yours”.
So that’s it from the Week in Politics. The nurses aren’t striking for money, they’re striking for the craic, and Leo isn’t paying them anyway because he needs the money for housing and for all that work he’s giving himself a raise.
Thank you, goodnight and up yours.