Cassandra 2012 Headline Animator

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Manners maketh the man

A quarter of a century ago I had the privilege of representing a small part of what is now North East Lincolnshire on what was then Humberside County Council. The council was split down the middle with the Conservatives having just one more member than had Labour. This meant that we four Liberal members had a lot of power for it gave us the casting vote on every decision the council took.

About half way through our four year term of office a former member of the British Intelligence Service published a memoir containing a great deal of information that was in breach of the British official secrets act. The book – Spycatcher – was published in Australia and its sale in the UK was banned as was publication of extracts in any British newspaper. It became a cause celebre, seen by some as another example of an unpopular government’s contempt for the people.

Behaviour unworthy of men with power

A fellow member of our group obtained a copy and all four of us made an ostentatious display of passing the book between us and commenting on it during a debate in the council chamber. We saw this as an act of bravado, demonstrating our contempt for censorship and of the acts of governments of both other parties over a number of years that were exposed in the book. Looking back it seems a rather adolescent thing to have done: certainly not worthy of mature men – half of us over 45 – entrusted with the power to make decisions affecting the lives of over 800,000 citizens.

On Saturday last, 22nd September 2012, the Irish Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, was observed apparently indulging in similar behaviour. As a member of a delegation from the Christian Democrat International political grouping he was attending an audience with the Pope. An Italian website has posted one minute and twenty seconds of footage showing him fiddling with his cell phone and failing to notice when everyone else stood to applaud.

Justified anger about clerical abuse

Mr. Kenny has made no secret of his anger at the Church’s response to decades of clerical abuse in Ireland and elsewhere. That anger is shared by many Irish people but Ireland remains a largely devout catholic country in which the Church plays an important part in people’s lives. Many still attend Mass daily; visits to sacred places such as Medugorje, Knock and Lourdes as well as Rome are undertaken by large numbers of Irish citizens.

Mr. Kenny has been granted the honour of representing these people on the world stage and it was in that capacity that he was present in Rome on Saturday. To date we have no way of knowing whether his behaviour was, like my own described above, a deliberate act of contempt or just the kind of ill-mannered inattention that the former primary school teacher would surely never tolerate in the classroom.

Phone etiquette

If the former then, like me, he was guilty of a childish act unworthy of a national leader. It would have been better, surely, to have declined the invitation. If the latter it was nothing less than sheer bad manners. It may be difficult to imagine the Pope reacting like Richard Griffiths to such behaviour but nor is it easy to believe that the Toiseach is unaware of basic etiquette.

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