I should perhaps start by introducing myself. I’m twenty-seven years old, single and a journalist and have just been promoted to being the Political Correspondent of Concerned Citizen, an alternative newspaper. I’m so excited. My editor is Willy Watchdog and he’s really cool and one of the founders of Concerned Citizen. It’s our job to find the stories that matter at the grass roots. It’s what I’ve always dreamed of doing. My family has always been big into human rights, justice and equality and they are so proud of me. What is so amazing is that my oldest best friend (who was in primary school with me!) works in the Department of Finance so has access to the wheels of power and best of all she is my secret source of information. Her name is Bridie Moale and she’s brilliant.
I’m under quite a bit of stress this month as SO much has been happening on the political front and Willy is putting on the pressure. He wants a big scoop not just gossip, like which TD is snorting coke in LH. Willy’s mantra to all his staff is ‘to keep cool and objective and follow the money trail’. I know that sounds rather cynical but he’s been around a long time and is usually proved right. Bridie said there was a real hullabaloo this week with ND, (the choirboy) suddenly announcing that all provos (as in provisional driving license holders) were going to be rounded up and interned with five days notice! Have you ever heard of a law being put into action with such speed? Well more haste less speed and all that – within twenty four hours ND, who clearly didn’t know his right from his left did a massive U turn, went down a one way the wrong way and ended up in a right old cul de sac. I then remembered Willy’s mantra and tried to imagine what the money trail might be on that one. Could it be the Department of Finance balking at providing pensions for more driving instructors?
Bridie and I had a wrap lunch (chicken tikka) together and breathed a big sigh of relief. To be honest if this HAD borne fruit the country would have ground to a halt. The media, gardai the mammies and granddaddies of Ireland, including myself (I know I’m ashamed to say I’ve failed three times) would be off the roads sitting at home listening to Pat Kenny (and phoning Joe Duffy) waiting for the knock on the door and the big round up. I mean why bother with a driving test (and all that performance anxiety) when you can buzz around with a provo. I can hardly expect my 90 year-old grandmother to accompany me (my mother works full time) every time I hit the road (figuratively speaking) – besides she never took a test herself so what’s a girl to do!
Bridie got me into LH and from what I can gather from talking to backbenchers on the QT at the bar, is that this time it is SERIOUS and the law will get enacted (we’ve had a few of these panics before so I’m not holding my breath) so it looks like I will have face my fear of failure, read up on the rules of the road and take that test. Of course most of the chat at the bar is about well you know the Economy – is it over-heating, under-heating, collapsing? Plenty of speculation, nothing concrete. Is the Celtic Tiger going into melt down? Are we entering the era of the Celtic Rat? Survival of the fittest and all that. TD’s are gob smacked (some of them secretly impressed according to Bridie) that a couple of rogue lawyers were able to make so many millions off the banks. That really takes some neck. Willy’s right. Money really is the bottom line, the bum on seat. The current ethos seems to be that Your Buck Stops Here (with us). Willy has already written a stern editorial on that one – greed, corruption, exploitation of people so I’ve still got to find a scoop.
Bridie introduced me to a TD who was prepared to talk on the QT. I wondered if he was the white powder snorter who might be trying to redeem himself but he turned out to be very depressed and heavy going not hyper and confident as snorters are purported to be. I asked him the obvious hot topical question as to how he felt about pay rises to politicians. Well of course he was in favour. Stupid question and it turned out he was also chairing a committee on reviewing the review of the HSE or something to that effect so was getting an extra whack. He muttered something about hours of time spent away from home and the family and needing to secure a pension. (He didn’t appear to be in a great hurry to go home to the family as after several drinks at the bar we then went on to Guibaulds (no less) for dinner.) I got brave as we munched through the pressed quail in balsamic and pursued on with the money trail and mentioned something about accountability to the public and that people normally got pay rises as rewards for jobs well done. He looked hurt and slightly gob smacked and said that the Celtic Tiger was all his doing (his government’s that is), that people now had high expectations and were spoilt and that overall they (he and the lads – he never mentioned any women come to think of it) had done a fantastic job. Weren’t we the richest country in Europe and what was all the fuss about?
During the Seared Salmon en Croute I became more assertive and brought up that old chestnut the lack of infrastructure, the cuts in mental health care, major screw up of breast cancer diagnoses, lack of provision for carers, general chaos of health care system, traffic jams, litter, drug addictions, child care, crime and murder rates, house prices and high levels of stress.
He looked at me incredulously and said these blips were just people problems and weren’t we just a nation of complainers anyway and that I was missing the point. The economy is healthy and we are the richest country in Europe! I went home full of kiwi fruit and pumpkin Pavlova and high on coffee wondering who all these rich people in Ireland were and why I never seem to meet them. Maybe I really was a moaner with high expectations and it was my own fault that I couldn’t afford to buy a house.
Bridie was great. She said I wasn’t to doubt myself and that all her co-workers were tearing their hair out. She said trying to organize committees and get politicians to make decisions was like herding cats. The fur mostly flew around the V M and P words – vision, management and planning – so after hours of wrangling and minute taking it was agreed to stick with simple headings like economy and general public! The economy was going well and the general public was a problem that usually needed deferring to the next meeting. No wonder they need more ministers and committees. I tried to get clarification but Bridie had to go as her Minister had returned from the golf course. I guess I’m going to have to wait till next week for my scoop.
Spent the weekend stuffing envelopes for Amnesty and selling tickets for the Trocaire Xmas raffle as well as scouring the newspapers for ideas. Bridie then texted me during the nail-biting finals of Strictly Come Dancing and told me to go to the Dail tomorrow and that it was v.imp. Am intrigued.
Phoned the Watchdog that had a lead I was following up and arrived in the Dail as the Debate was starting on same sex unions. BH of the Labour party put his head above the parapet and proposed the motion that same sex unions should have the same legal status as marriage and that the rules of law applying to marriage would also apply to civil unions for the most part. (I can’t believe sometimes that in 2007 we are still debating these issues.) Blow me down if the government didn’t come up with their own plan but instead of full legal status opted for ‘legal protection’ and ‘recognition’ of myriad life-styles, which is not quite the same thing at all. This would be drawn up in March. Then of course we got to the Constitution and everything started to unravel as it always does. Somebody next to me got up to leave muttering something about ‘here we go again’ and ‘we might get this through five years down the road’.
Met Bridie for lunch in Merrion Square after the debate and gloomily munched our way through soggy coleslaw and goat cheese sandwiches. Bridie and I are Green party followers and we were so depressed the Greens were backing the government on this one. I feel betrayed. ‘This might cheer you up,’ said Bridie as she handed me an envelope before rushing back to her desk.
All of a quiver I opened up the envelope and there was a document marked STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL – For Internal Use Only – and the sub-heading read: How Same Sex Civil Unions could inflict serious dent to the economy. Oh My God. This was my money trail and scoop all in one. (And a major leak.) I furtively glanced around the bushes in the square. Had I been spotted? Would I get subpoenaed to court and end up in jail for refusing to name my source? I would go to the grave with my lips sealed in order to protect Bridie. (Not called Moale for nothing.)
I phoned Willy saying I had a headache and was taking time out and decided to work on my article from home. I have to confess as a young single I’m totally ignorant about marriage and tax does my head in. (I’m not even sure if I want to get married but that’s another story.) By the time I’d reached the end of the document I could see why marriage was the best financial option going and also why the government will probably stall for as long as possible on same-sex unions and co-habiting couples. The labels we still put on people are just weird. My Auntie Kitty (who goes to mass twice a day) still mutters about people ‘living in sin’. Bridie who lives with her boyfriend is living ‘common law’ (whatever that means), and same-sex couples are referred to as ‘strangers-in-law’ (I kid you not) even though they might have been living together for twenty years! Mad!
Even though homosexuality has been de-criminalized there has been minimal recognition of basic human rights. Gays cannot marry or have a civil union, adopt children, give blood, risk getting fired in the workplace and the financial discrimination is reprehensible. If your partner dies you cannot get their pension. Nor is there exemption from inheritance tax and there are no next-of-kin rights if your partner becomes seriously ill, etc. So if a Civil Union Bill were to go through then a lot of money would have to be found in the kitty to give same-sex and cohabiting couples the same financial benefits as married people. Exhausted from wading through complicated tax details (who’d be an accountant) I finally got my article together and then collapsed in front of the tele with a glass of wine (several), texted Bridie to thank her and then had a bath in Epsom salts to detox before going to bed.
Overslept so had to scamper in to office. Willy was not in very good form but he read through my article and apart from spotting some spelling mistakes and the odd comma he said it was good and would run it tomorrow. ‘You’re learning, Fiona,’ he said, smiling grimly. ‘I am?’ I said, bemused. ‘To be objective,’ he said, handing me the article. ‘And,’ he added, with an elephantine pregnant pause, ‘you really are beginning to follow the money trail. Good work.’
I phoned Bridie in the coffee break to thank her again but also to ask her if she thought I might have sold my soul to the economy and if I lost all my passion would life have any meaning. That lead to some hard existential talk about death and not having a boyfriend and so on….and my body clock ticking away…..and then the phone rang and there was another lead to follow up….adrenalin has kicked in again…