Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Infernal Affairs on Kildare Street

Hard times in the halls of power. Who'd swap places with the Taoiseach? Not I.
It's like that scene in Infernal Affairs, you know, Andy Lau's Hong Kong crime thriller that spawned the not-as-good The Departed.
Yan (think Leo DiCaprio) is leaving the police academy in pseudo-disgrace and the sergeant fella asks the rest of the cadets which one of them would like to swap places with him.
Yan's expulsion, of course, is a charade. Because he's the brightest and the best, he's been given the task by the police hierarchy to become a triad undercover and live a life of hardship and danger, driven by a duty to law and what is right.
Who would swap places with him? The fact that he and several others end up quite dead (very very dead, in fact) is irrespective for this particular point.
Public service - and I mean true public service now, not working as a traffic warden - should be considered the preserve of the brightest, the driven, the best.
Brian Cowen, since taking office, has presided over an economy that has for the past nine months resembled the last minutes of the Yamato.
Yet he can still count on a reservoir of public good will that the Opposition would be very careful not to underestimate. His support is different from that which Bertie Ahern cultivated, which was built on little but smiles, cunning and folksy populism.
The Irish people appreciate the Brian Cowen is a man of intelligence, understatement and integrity, much like Lemass. We can belittle him and dismiss him in cheap conversation, but deep down we appreciate that he is driven by responsibility - not a desire for fame or popularity like so many of his peers and predecessors. He is, in the end, a true public servant.
After a decade of excess and squandered plenty, what this country needs is a pragmatist. Brian Cowen is that.
That is not to say he is the best man for the job. Who can pass judgement on such a thing? Who can really claim that Enda Kenny or Richard Bruton or Michael Martin would do any better? Perhaps they might. Perhaps they would not. What matters now is that the job is Cowen's, and will be for the foreseeable future.
The gravity of the economic crisis straddles so many borders and is tangled in so many spheres that replacing one man with another will have no effect.
What we must be grateful for, ultimately, is that a man of intelligence and not a hollow superstar has been tasked with our leadership at this time. That is not a party political statement. The Chalkboard's views on Fianna Fail can be quite unkind at the best of times.
It is an observation on reality; the same reality that is claiming Irish jobs by the hour.
For those who would criticise, for those who would deride, I have one question.
Who would swap places with him? Not I, not you. But such is Cowen's clear pride in public service, I suspect he would not swap with them either.

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