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COMMENT: Protest at home of Minister Harris badly backfired

Monday, 18th February, 2019 7:59am
COMMENT: Protest at home of Minister Harris badly backfired

TARGET: Minister for Health, Simon Harris

COMMENT: Protest at home of Minister Harris badly backfired

TARGET: Minister for Health, Simon Harris

IN IRELAND, we have incredibly easy access to our politicians. In fact, at times it can be hard to avoid them.

Even when Bertie Ahern was Taoiseach, you could still find him sinking a pint of Bass in his favourite local, Fagan’s, or just down the road in the Beaumont House. 

Enda Kenny was less of a pub person, but there was every chance you might bump into him while climbing Croagh Patrick or cycling along the Wild Atlantic Way.

Brian Cowen, who loves an old sing-song and is a legendary mimic, was no stranger to a bit of craic and was often the life and soul of the party. Who can forget his passionate rendition of ‘Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore’ shortly after he took over the leadership of Fianna Fáil. 

A man of simple pleasures, he liked to staycation in a mobile home in Connemara. And let’s be honest, after the mess his Government made of the economy, a caravan holiday in windswept Ireland is all that most of us have been able to afford since.

Current Taoiseach Leo Varadkar may sound a bit posh but there’s nothing particularly lavish about his lifestyle, other than the pomp and ceremony that comes with the job.

Long gone are the days when politicians like CJ Haughey flaunted Berlusconi-like opulence in our faces: historic mansions, expensive shirts, yachts and horses. Oh yeah… and a private island off the coast of Kerry. Yet, despite his wealthy lifestyle, Haughey was widely perceived as a man of the people in his Dublin North Central constituency and was held in great affection by many voters. Locals would casually refer to him as ‘Charlie’, as if conveying personal familiarity with a politician they saw as one of their own.

In a small country like ours, we never let people forget their humble beginnings, even if they eventually rise to the highest political office in the land. If we have an axe to grind with a TD, we generally don’t have to look too far to find them. Chances are they’ll be first up to shake hands with a bereaved family at a funeral or be seen clambering over each other to get a prime position on a St Patrick’s Day parade viewing stand.

And if you’re seeking access to a senior Government minister, look no further than the latest sod-turning ceremony for an overpriced hospital or social housing complex. They’ll be the ones wearing hi-vis vests and hard hats with shovels in their hands.

You see, in Ireland there really is no need to go to a politician’s home if you have a bone to pick with them. This is why the recent protest at the Minister for Health’s house was so unnecessary. 

To be honest, I’m not even sure what the protest was about in the first place. Whatever it was, the point was completely lost in the cacophony of condemnation that followed. It would have been far more effective had they protested outside the Dáil, the Department of Health or whatever photo-op Harris was next attending.

If anything, the protesters actually did Harris a favour by distracting from criticism of his performance as Minister for Health. Questions about his handling of the National Children’s Hospital overspend and the nurses’ dispute were suddenly replaced by an outpouring of sympathy for Harris and his family from media commentators and politicians on all sides.

The law of unintended consequences was at play as the protesters gave the minister a well-earned break from all the negative publicity surrounding him that week.

Even the most Machiavellian spin doctor couldn’t have come up with a more effective device for shifting the emphasis from the real issues dogging Harris and his department.

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