A parable and a president

A parable or cautionary tale. If your house is under siege from vandals, it may not be the best time to remind your spouse that s/he should clear out some of the junk that has  accumulated over the years.  And if you must mention this uncomfortable fact, you’d be better saying “The house is stuffed with rubbish that needs dumping”, rather than “The superfluity of  futile memorabilia and bric-a-brac is an impediment to the full flowering of our relationship and the felicity of our mutual domesticity.”

What does all this have to do with the price of bread? Patience, dear Virginia, patience.

A President or reckless praise. Despite the fact that he promised to be a one-term president and is now a two-term one, President Michael D Higgins has many admirers. Certainly his concern for oppressed minorities around the world, his scrapping of Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act and his establishment of what is now TG4  all deserve praise.

I too admire President Higgins’s several sterling qualities, but not to the extent that I then ignore other, less commendable features of the man.  I know that political correctness forbids mention of public image, particularly television image, but while President Higgins presents a loveable figure I don’t see him as an impressive figure.  While it’s good to have a politician/later President who cares about human rights, his relative silence over the decades about the violation of human rights in Ireland is less impressive.

But the extent to which the President’s virtues blind us to his weaknesses showed most vividly in a letter to The Irish Times dated 29 March.

The letter, by Dr Sarah Alyn Stascey, was loud in its praise of a speech by the President, where he criticised the EU for its “narrow economic policies.”  Certainly there’s a need to scrutinise the EU, an imperfect organisation, but I’m not sure the present moment is the most timely, with Westminster’s Brexiteers about to inflict long-term economic, social and political damage on  the EU, Ireland and the UK.  But Dr Stacey sees no problem in the  timing.

She also also is full of praise for the precision of the President’s speech: “How clearly President Michael D Higgins puts the case!” she exclaims. I am baffled. Here’s an extract from the speech:

“A new mind for Europe is required, which requires a casting aside of failing assumptions within inadequate models. It requires new symmetries between the social, the economic, the cultural and the ethical. These symmetries, if they are to be achieved, will require changes in the institutional architecture of the union.”

In his 1946 essay ‘Politics and the English Language’, George Orwell lamented the state of disrepair into which the language had fallen and pleaded above all for clarity: ”Never use a long word where a short one will do.”

Perhaps the President had a bet on with someone about how many abstract polysyllabic words he could fit into three sentences. Or perhaps Dr Stacey thought  29 March was 1 April.

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