As Fine Gael T.D. Derek Keating is starting to realise, your political allies can sometimes cause you more problems than your political foes.
It was a lesson I learned back in the 1980s courtesy of a story, probably apocryphal, of an incident in a block of flats (in Ringsend or Pearse Street, depending on the version) involving a canvasser for late Fianna Fáil TD Sean Moore.
The canvasser, who seemingly was a good friend of Sean’s rather than a party member, was out campaigning with two or three others when he encountered a gentleman who was less than enamoured with Deputy Moore. Not only was the man unprepared to offer Sean his number one (or two or three), he was quite adamant about it and told the canvasser in forthright terms precisely what he thought of Sean Moore and all belonging to him.
Unused to vagaries of door to door canvassing, Sean’s ally decided that his best option was not to admit defeat and swiftly move on to the next door on the balcony but to stand his ground and take recourse to his own deep love of boxing, whereupon he proceeded to draw back and deck the poor man mid sentence; leaving him sprawled out cold in his own hallway.
Besides the fact that the story above is probably untrue, or at least greatly exaggerated, the difference between this situation and that of Deputy Keating, his assistant and the Lucan Gazette is that Deputy Keating cannot so easily deny his aide’s actions – though he seems determined to do so.
Indeed, perhaps one of the most unseemly aspects of the story is Deputy Keating’s readiness to dump all over his aide, in much the same way at that aide was prepared to dump all over others – in support of Deputy Keating and Fine Gael.
This is not to say that I have any sympathy for the aide in question: Mr Tommy Morris. I don’t. Despite the fact that we once worked with opposing TDs in the same constituency, he with Gay Mitchell and I with Ben Briscoe, I barely know the man.
My only encounters with him have been online, via Twitter mainly, and could hardly be described as fraternal or amicable.
While I cannot excuses his actions and do not have any personal sympathy for him, I can nonetheless understand how he walked himself into this mess. Like all great disasters, he did it incrementally: one step at a time.
The sad truth is that everyone in politics does something stupid from time to time, its just that not many of us have the misfortune to have it spread all over the media when we do.
The reason we do these stupid things is that all too many of us forget the purpose of politics and focus instead on the machinery and process. It can easily happen when you find yourself working in the environment 24/7 and allowing it to consume your life – both at home and at work.
Working in politics is dangerous, especially when you lose the facility to switch off when you finish your work. Politics today, even local politics, can be all embracing. If you allow it to it can become a 7 day a week, 18 hour a day existence. It becomes your work and also your rest.
You start to believe that our side good – their side bad, even when the political differences between you are miniscule. Taunting and ribbing your opponents become fun – and it times it can be.
The problem is that suddenly everyone is viewed in terms of whether they are for you or against you – even neutrals. It becomes a zero sum game, if someone is not fully behind you and exhibits even the slightest criticism; they come to be seen as your sworn enemy.
The language of politics becomes coarsened, not just by the elites, but by the grassroots – indeed it becomes even more coarsened there as the stakes are so low.
What Morris did in those shores in Lucan is the real world equivalent of what virtual warriors of most parties do online.
As deeply misguided as it was, like them, he did it in support and protection of his political master – a master who cannot now be permitted to simply disown him and move on.