I turned on Liveline for a second. Joe Duffy was talking about how Brian Lenihan’s death was eliciting condolences from across the political spectrum, bringing people from different political parties together. I turned it off again, so don’t know what happened next. Maybe he turned on himself and started foaming at the mouth about how stupid someone would have to be to think that the normal state of affairs is that people wish other people suffering and death because they belong to another political party. Maybe he started to wonder aloud if this connection between death and a desire for the abolition of political difference has an insanitary history. Somehow I doubt it.
I looked at a few internet threads. A platoon of the most pious of the public mourners were out policing sentiment, making sure that speaking ill of the dead would be met with indignation and opprobrium. How awful that someone was ‘liking’ news of Lenihan’s death on Facebook!
I can’t recall these same people out and about whenever Brian Lenihan and his government sided with financial speculators and property developers against poor and working people in Ireland, or when they were bankrupting the state, cutting wages and welfare, appointing the agents of corporate oligarchies to public bodies, entrenching a health system that privileges the rich, or seeing to it that industry bosses found it easier to throw people onto the dole. But, you know, show some respect.
Ah, but all that –and let us remember that the former Icelandic Prime Minister is currently facing criminal charges in Iceland on account of his actions during the financial crisis- must be set to one side in order to preserve the sanctity of a public figure’s death.
He was, we are told, a decent and personable character, a highly impressive human being, an educated renaissance man, a paragon of stoic patriotism, and so on, and so forth.
You can say all these things, but don’t you dare say things like he was a suave spoofer who lied to the population on behalf of the ECB and the IMF, or that he stood up in front of the Dáil and spouted manipulating claptrap about patriotic calls to arms while working assiduously to bail out property and banking magnates.
No, let us huddle ourselves together sedately beside the wireless or in front of the television to consider his place in the pantheon of Irish Politics, that realm of stately grandeur where deference to those above and contempt for those below is the eternal order of things, where what binds us, the reach of our love, is most amply and definitively expressed in heartfelt tributes to would-be patricians, our generosity in calling a time to forget about politics, and not in our regard for the former slaves of state-sanctioned laundries or for the asylum seeker on the brink of suicide. Let us sort out his legacy first, and let he who thinks ill there be shamed.