IT WAS a spur-of-the-moment thing. On Tuesday evening, as the sun beat down, I got a sudden notion to wander in and see how Bob Dylan was doing.
The song and dance man was playing in the O2 in Dublin. Mr Dylan had been bugging me since that morning, when I had read a review in the Irish Examiner about his gig in the Marquee the previous evening. Joe Dermody wrote a highly favourable review which prompted me to revise my decision some years ago to see Bob no more.
So down I went, and hung around, and snaffled a ticket from a woman whose friend didn’t show. The queue moved at speed, and pretty soon I was swallowed up by the giant auditorium, cocooned from all the bad stuff that was filling the airwaves.
Medical card probity now also appears to have been a spur-of-the-moment thing.
Last October, with the bail-out boys still running the show, somebody came up with a number and decided that €113 million could be saved by slashing the availability of medical cards.
On Tuesday, the government finally brought that little adventure to an end. Up to 15,000 adults and children, most of whom are suffering medical conditions, had their discretionary cards restored. So ended a policy that was brutal and heartless in execution. The u-turn is going to cost €13 million, and nobody has a clue where that will be recouped, but then, we’re getting used to the government making it up as it goes along.
More than anything, the whole affair highlighted in stark terms the reality that it is those who can least afford it that have been whacked by austerity. Here, as elsewhere, it was a case of picking a number to balance the books, and targeting a group where the least resistance might be expected. They got the latter part of that formula wrong.
Aided by elements in the media, most prominently this newspaper, the results were laid bare for all to see. Throw in a timely election, and the government was finally dragged around to its senses. It would be nice to think that a lesson has been learned, but don’t bet on it.
Back at the O2. Dylan was living up to expectations. His voice is not what it used to be. David Bowie once sang that Dylan’s voice was “like sand and glue”, but time has hardened the edges and reeled in the range. He no longer uses his guitar as shield or weapon, but instead sits behind a piano, or stands, somewhat awkwardly, as he runs down through his back pages.
The glory days, however, return in an instant when he puts his lips to harmonica. As the sound wails around the auditorium, it could be emanating from the young hipster of the early ’60s, the folk poet of the counter culture, the snarling rock icon who surfed through the ’70s producing everlasting work.
As is his wont, there is practically no interaction with the audience. But the songs remain the same. He reworks some, flattens out others, indulges in his customary playfulness with more. One highlight is Tangled Up In Blue, a number that dates from the 1974 album Blood On The Tracks, which was forged on the anvil of his marital break-up. All these years later, he’s “still on the road, heading for another joint”.
The year after Blood On The Tracks was released, Enda Kenny entered the Dáil as a fresh faced TD. Dylan has grown and adapted to the changin’ times since then, but were it that the same could be said for Enda.
The cock-up of the banking inquiry suggests that real change is beyond the Taoiseach.
Even before the dubious inquiry is out of the traps, it has been drained of credibility.
Kenny insisted that the committee charged with the inquiry has a government majority, heightening suspicions that it will be used merely as a weapon with which to beat up on Fianna Fáil ahead of the next election. We were supposed to be beyond all that by now, following the laughable “democratic revolution” that swept Kenny to power in 2011.
Independent TD Stephen Donnelly did give hope for the future by resigning from the committee on a matter of principal. Last Sunday on the radio he made a cogent remark about how politics is done. He suggested that the younger breed of politicians would not have acted like Kenny. He may have a point, but that certainly won’t come across in the banking inquiry.
Kenny’s decision to remove the whip from the committee members is all smoke and mirrors. A quiet word in the ear of a member from the government side can work wonders, particularly as most backbenchers are focused on advancement and advancement is entirely in the gift of Kenny and his cabal. Anybody expecting anything of substance or insight from this inquiry is going to be disappointed. The only pity is that Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil didn’t do as Donnelly did and call the Government’s bluff.
While that’s the kind of fare that occupies Kenny 39 years after entering the Dáil, Mr Dylan is more engaged with matters of the soul. Is Kenny a man out of time, stuck in the old way of doing things, resorting to political attacks and shoring up the defences, because he has little else of value to offer? Maybe he should sit down with Bob, just as Bertie had a chat with Bono in 2006 , ahead of a U2 concert in Croke Park, attempting to divine how three chords and the truth might boost the exchequer returns.
Success met Dylan at a tender age, and the usual peaks and troughs followed, but he hit a purple patch from his late 50s to mid-60s, turning out albums of very high quality, at a stage of life when most of his ilk get by on harking back to faded glories.
Is there a purple patch in Enda at this stage of the game? It’s difficult to see. What the last six months of fustering and fumbling have shown is that beyond exiting the bailout programme, Kenny and his cabal have no vision on how to shape the country.
They crunched the numbers, decided who would take the biggest hits, and who might best be left alone. Now they find that the ungrateful public want more from their government than just the ability to do sums.
Dylan finished up the set with a song from his latest album called Long And Wasted Years. It’s a song reflecting on lost love in the winter of life, but a twisted mind might suggest that the title could be applied to how this country has endured through recession and austerity. Not much has changed. The old order has endured. There is little appetite at the upper levels to do things any differently.
He came back for two encores. ‘All Along the Watchtower’ saw him scale another peak, even if ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ did not. He’s still got it after all these years. Dylan that is, not Enda.
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