The Gombeen Man is to the Irish urban middle classes what Arthur Scargill used to be to the British middle classes: A symbol of what is holding Ireland back. He’s a politician or voter who puts his own short-term self-interests ahead of everything else, and dismisses rational planning and shared social burdens as a “fancy Irish Times type” idea. Although predominantly from a rural background, he can just as easily be a cabinet minister or head of a major bank. It’s not his background that marks him out but his contempt for thoughtfulness and the long-term. He doesn’t care whether the county next door disappears under the waves, as long as he gets the grant for the new roof for his GAA club. It’s here and now and what’s in it for me, or the people who elect me, and F**K the rest of you.
What’s more interesting, however, are the people who defend The Gombeen Man. Those who say that he speaks for “the Real Ireland” and that attacking him is the mere snobbery of leafy Dublin suburbs. There’s certainly a hint of truth to this, but the reverence for him is akin to that of a community which is grateful to a drugdealer who sweeps a few crumbs off the table at Christmas, giving out free turkeys at the same time he’s planning to sell children heroin. He distributes taxpayer largesse around the constituency only because he and people like him have failed (or in many cases, actively sabotaged) the reforms needed to free his constutuents of the need for political intervention to get what they are entitled to in the first place. The reality is that he does not speak for “the Real Ireland”, beause the real Ireland, in population terms, now lives in urban centres. The real Ireland actually needs complicated urban planning and national strategies in cancer care and supervision of banking regulation and serious legislators and not just is The Gombeen Man incapable of delivering those things, but he’s against them in the first place.
But, finally, there’s the hypocrisy of it all: For all the sneering at “Dem up in Dublin” with their fancy plans and “political reforms” and all that crap that has nothin’ to do with the real issues on the ground in the “Real Ireland”, just wait until the mother gets sick. All of a sudden the highest standards of healthcare are demanded, alongside a properly planned health system and well regulated supervision, because who has ever heard of a Gombeen Man surgeon?
When we are dealing with the IMF and trying to borrow on the bond markets, will even his hardiest supporters cheer if he goes on Bloomberg News to speak for Ireland? Or will we hope that some nicely scrubbed, well educated young man will do it instead?