If possession is nine-tenths of the law, then that seems to be most true of the recent TCD and NUI senate elections, where all six incumbents were comfortably re-elected, even though some interesting characters ran them close.
Ruth Coppinger, the former Solidarity-PBP TD, was one such character, who missed out by a head on NUI’s final seat. That such a colourful character, who believes Ireland should unilaterally confiscate the assets of American companies operating here, was almost elected by NUI graduates who are, presumably, a large and enlightened electorate, should really make us question the NUI educational process which the writer Flann O’Brien assured us, was only good for developing an alcohol dependency problem while shooting pool in the Students’ Union Bar.
Not that Coppinger was the only Caped Crusader away at those races. The Trinity Triumvirate of David Norris, Lynn Ruane and Ivan Bacik also based their cosseted Trinity political careers on similar issues, with all three being helped, akin to Mullen and McDowell in NUI, by internal Trinity networks and, in Bacik’s case, by the very long and very pervasive tentacles of Trinity’s Law Dept. Although NUI’s Law Faculties, as well as his own formidable personal and political connections, undoubtedly helped Senator Michael McDowell romp back home, McDowell can legitimately claim that, as he is a very competent (and very expensive) barrister, he deserves to be in the Senate, formulating our laws. Good luck to anyone who would try to argue otherwise with him.
But what of the others? Has Senator Alice-Mary Higgins any other relevant qualifications besides having an MPhil in Theatre Studies or some such from Trinity, some gig or other with the state-funded National Women’s Council and the good tactical foresight to be the daughter of President Higgins, who was once an NUI senator himself, before he struck the political mother lode he now enjoys? Does Lynn Ruane’s poppy and cocoa leaf tattoos and other hallmarks of her colourful background make her fit to legislate, or at least more fit than Hugo McNeill, the former rugby star and Irish boss of Goldman Sachs, one of the American companies Coppinger wants to take out of the game, who Ruane beat for Trinity’s final seat?
Who, in short, might serve Ireland’s interests better by drawing well over €68,000 with expenses a year and all the printer cartridges you can rifle for making occasional speeches and rubber stamping legislation in our Upper House?
Well, to use the cliche, the people have spoken, or at least the miserable 29.37% of NUI’s electorate, who bothered to vote and the paltry 15,053 of Trinity’s graduates, who thought it was worth their effort to vote, have let their “thoughts” be known. Contrary to another well-worn cliche, many of our politicians need no encouragement to pursue their chosen career as the perks are just too bountiful to miss. Not only could David Norris, who took early retirement for health reasons from Trinity (but not from the Senate) argue that he has “done the State some service” for his many years feeding from the public trough, but he actually did so during the debates to abolish this talking shop and fair play to him for overcoming his career-ending health problems and carving out a lucrative niche in this very crowded of fields.
But what of the rest of us? Can we do more than cry into our imported beer that such nepotistic networks rule the roost in our elections, when our graduates are happy to doff their hats to these comic book characters? Though we may be as happy to bend the knee to these creatures as our ancestors were when Queen Victoria, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra deigned to visit, there are again forces afoot that not even our home grown Royalty can control and “it’s the economy, stupid”.
Ireland is facing its worst recession since independence and it will not be solved or saved by Coppinger’s crew antagonising American companies, or by throwing more money at the National Women’s Council or Trinity tattooists. Down-sizing will be the order of the day and where better to start with than with the most venal of our Senators, who should really read Oliver’s Cromwell’s superlative 1653 “In the name of God, go!” speech dismissing the Rump Parliament before following Old Noll’s juncture to exit public life to the letter.
Dr Declan Hayes is a retired Professor of Finance, who formerly lectured in UCD’s Business School, as well as leading universities in England, Japan, Australia and America.