Nation states are built upon aspirations and ideals. The, oft-overly naive, but daringly utopian dreams ought form the basis of any aspiring politician's manifesto. Though the quotidian of actual political life ends up being a constant micro-management of compromises on these ideals, one hopes that the loftier those ambitions are in the first place, the more palatable and acceptable the compromises. Shoot for the moon, land among the stars etc. etc. Given this, yesterday's press conference, held in Kildare, for presidential candidates to pitch their campaign promises, should have been the perfect forum for those budding statespeople to outline their unfettered goals and ambitions, were they to attain office.
The four candidates present, Gavin Duffy, Joan Freeman, Jimmy Smyth and Kevin Sharkey all, during their respective campaign pitches, meandered through some of the more symbolic and unique aspects of their manifestos in the hope of drumming up support. Given that they will be coming up against the beloved political - if not physical - behemoth that is Michal D, throwing their hat in the ring in the first place surely constitutes a far greater delusion of optimism than any single point their manifestos could contain. The first three candidates fielded questions about their pasts - and their unbesmirched and public-office worthy nature; their goals, were they to become president, and their thoughts on what the role should entail in Irish public life. All well and good.
Enter Kevin Sharkey.
Now, given that I was not at the press conference and am solely concocting this article off quotes taken, primarily, from an Irish Times article covering said event, there is every possibility that Kevin Sharkey, an erudite and respected figure in the public eye, had many salient and well-measured points on which he eloquently expounded during his time on the podium. Perhaps he talked about how he thought the role of President could best be optimised internationally to continue to grow Ireland's respected reputation on the global stage. Perhaps he had many community-based initiatives he would seek to implement to improve civic and communal life for the populace of Ireland. As I said, I do not know. That is outside the purview of this article. Instead let us briefly take a moment to look at what we do know he said, what was reported, and will be widely reported elsewhere, in The Irish Times article.
He deplored how motorway, and natioal road, bypasses had isolated many rural communities, economically starving them. A proposed solution to ameliorate their plight was to attempt to monetise on a time when they were not just economically but literally starved - the opening of famine villages as tourist hot-spots. He proposed framing the remnants of many famine villages that dot the countryside as sort of frozen-in-time museums saying they should be minimally redeveloped to create tourist attractions. I can say with certainty that I have long wondered what my ideal tourist attraction would be and, for years, the truth eluded me - until now. What I wish, nay pine for, above all else is a tourist experience that lucidly illustrates the impact the widespread ravaging of a subsistence food-crop by a terrible fungal infection had on a small, economically imbalanced nation. Eiffel Tower, London Bridge, Sistine Chapel et al. eat your damn hearts out as Kevin Sharkey's got his hands on the ruins of a stone cottage and a powerpoint about blight.
While tourism centered around history is an incredibly worthy thing, and is an integral aspect of national culture that should be supported and promoted, it's Mr. Sharkey's ideas on how to 'Irish-ify' these proposed tourist destinations that was truly extraordinary. He said that all villages should have a girl with red hair playing a harp in the corner as well as someone cooking cabbage or someone burying a body outside, like they used to in the old days. He claimed that these under-exploited ruined famine villages were a "gold nugget" that we're sitting on.
This is a degree of 'Irishness' aspired to that is of an ur-Michael Flatley level; a proposal so cloying that it would make a Leprechaun glumly stop its jigging and - having become wracked with a profound sense of existential angst upon seeing how cynically self-parodying national tropes are being lobbied for monetary exploitation - forlornly give up looking for its pot of gold and seek treatment for his long-ignored alcoholism.
That said, were he to win the election, it would be utterly mental and fascinating to see how one would implement such a policy and enforce a rule that a red-headed girl has to at all times be playing a harp in a village. Would there be some kind of national training programme rolled out to train red-headed girls how to play the harp in order to meet the vast personnel demands of such a policy? Would he simply consider it easier to die the hair red of those who already know how to play the harp?
There is only one way to find out, to place your vote for Kevin Sharkey on October 26.