Political compromise – or the art of the fudge

Con Houlihan...man of words and poetry.
Con Houlihan...man of words and poetry.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Con Houlihan was one of my favourite journalists of all time; and it’s sad to think that in 20 years’ time few will remember this colossus of a man who graced the back page of the Evening Press with some of the most alluring prose ever. As he might say, now read on.

The reason I’m thinking of Con is because of a piece of magical writing he produced about his childhood in Castleisland in Co Kerry. He was writing, as he often did about the bog in the mountains above Lyracrompaun.

He recalled cycling home down the mountain road on one idyllic summer evening with the fast waters of a little river called the Sruleen nearby.

“I cycled homewards,” wrote Con, “with the music of streamsong and spokesong in my ear.”

Well that was the nicest take on poetry in motion that I ever heard, and for some reason I remembered it when the great Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper announced his retirement this week.

Cooper is an assuming and ordinary guy in many ways, not a great performer in front of a microphone. But put a ball in his hand and you always saw something quite special, as natural and magnificent as a bike and a stream rushing down a hill.

So what does that have to do with politics? Very little other than this; I was involved in a debate on Vincent Browne’s programme on TV3 earlier this week. It was suggested that politicians’ careers should be confined to two terms and that Ministers not be allowed parliamentarians.

I disagreed with both. I think that such limits discriminate against a precious commodity – experience. Crib all you like about Enda Kenny but his 40 years of experience has stood him in good stead – particularrly around Brexit.

Such limits would also deprive people of a career in a profession which is vocational. What makes a good politician is hard to define but you know a politician when you see him or her.

They tend as a rule to be extrovert and to be social thinkers – in other words when they express a view it is always on the basis of a cohort or group, or of a point of view.

They also need a sense of infinite patience, the ability to absorb endless conversations and meetings and hand-shakings. It’s a skill set that few have.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.