Put yourself in the shoes of the following person. You are elderly, making your way cautiously through autumnal years. You live alone. You are highly security conscious, because even though you reside in one of the more salubrious enclaves of the State, you have been repeatedly told that your area is a crime-ridden hellhole. You don’t answer the door to strangers.
You especially observe this rule at night, after dark, when the ‘crims’ come out to terrorise. In that vein, it’s just as well that your local, unoccupied garda station is going to reopen, even if it will always be dark and unoccupied after the sun goes down.
Anyway, Christmas can be stressful for the lonely, as burglars sniff big bounty. So on New Year’s Eve, at around 9pm, when the door reverberates in an unexpected knock, you freeze. The crims have come out to wreak their terror.
Cautiously, you advance towards the door, your imagination already on a dark rampage. No way are you going to open it.
“Who is it?” you ask. Maybe it’s your cousin, who left for California forty years ago, back in time to ring in the new year.
“It’s Shane Ross,” a lovely, clipped, but distant voice comes back.
Appropriately, he didn’t offer a peaceful new year, considering he had just scared you witless. What in the name of God is a government minister doing out terrorising his constituents on New Year’s Eve?
Last Wednesday, Mr Ross told Joe Duffy that he was out and about not just then, but also on Christmas Eve, at the same carry-on.
Picture now, not an elderly person, but a child. There is a knock at the door just as you’re about to hit the leaba. You tremble as mammy goes to answer it. Has Santa got lost and arrived early, via the front door, because daddy neglected to have the chimney cleaned? Could you bear to set eyes on him?
Who appears like an apparition but Shane Ross TD, government minister on a sleigh, weighed down with nothing more than a leaflet, telling you how he is working tirelessly to make your life comfortable. “Ho, ho, ho” says he and why wouldn’t he and him on the pig’s, as opposed to the reindeer’s, back?
Mr Ross did the State his customary service during the week, when he brought some levity to a world grappling with serious and frightening issues. A number of his constituents phoned into RTÉ’s Liveline to relate the experiences they had lived to tell. Mr Ross was out knocking on doors at a time when the world was curling up. Clearly, there is a want in him.
A want for what? Perhaps he was providing a post-delivery service to his constituents, after securing the return of the garda station in the beautiful suburban village of Stepaside. Maybe he felt that, having shouted long and hard about rampaging criminals feasting on the vulnerable in the stationless village, he felt he should provide a citizens’ foot patrol to keep people happy in their beds.
One way or the other, it was good fun, and whatever you say about Shane these days, he’s certainly good fun. A genial man, he is fast-rising to the status of standard bearer for a humorous kind of populist politics: Gentle, unintended, bumbling, and laughable.
He is the ideal leader for the Independent Alliance in government. The tension that customarily exists between representing a constituency and governing in the interests of all does not exist in the world of Mr Ross and his elves. Instead, their contribution to national affairs is to adopt the pose of populists within the government tent.
They are the self-styled outsiders, who have sneaked into the cabinet room and swiped a few seats from the ‘insiders’. They are gas men and, in Shane, they have the ideal leader.
He is a populist who doesn’t want to wreck the existing order, but merely bend it slightly here and there, into a shape that will serve his needs.
He is the former journalist who used to excoriate parish pump politics, as long as the parish wasn’t Stepaside, and the pump wasn’t a redundant garda station.
He is the minister for transport who complained about a new transport plan for Dublin’s buses. Shane wrote to the National Transport Authority, pointing out that the plan would discommode some of his constituents, as if he wasn’t the political head of the plan.
Others, like Bertie Ahern, revelled in this “I and I” world, where “I”, the minister, rarely sees eye to eye with “I”, the constituent TD. Shane might be more at home using the royal “we”, rather than “I”. He sees no split political personality in his “we we” world.
He distinguished himself last year with a proposal for a granny grant. This was to be a payment to grandparents who could show that they invested some time looking after grandchildren.
He was in cabinet to represent older people, harvesting the grey vote, putting forward their case to a cabinet stuffed with “insiders”. Again, it was a good laugh.
Talking to Joe, last Wednesday, Shane made sure to mention he is a great supporter of the nurses, inferring that he would represent their case to the faceless ministers who are now grappling with the prospect of strikes.
He is the sports minister who doesn’t know the sports people, or at least their names. After Ireland’s grand slam rugby victory, he congratulated “Dave” Kearney, whose name is Rob.
Credit where it is due. Minister Ross was briefly solemn when he helped enact some road safety laws that may well save lives and he should be applauded for staying serious enough to see that through.
We should be grateful for his presence, leading the band of Independent elves.
At a time when a virulent strain of right-wing populism is stalking the democratic world, they are eager to show that populism can be gentle, too, retailed in a cuddly personality and Santa hat.
Shane’s brand of populism bears only a distant echo of the dark stain propagated by The Donald. He does not lambast the vulnerable, nor take a swipe at minorities. Trump has his wall, while Shane promises nothing more than a granny grant.
Trump tweets fire and hatred, while Shane just tweets harmless silliness to Finian McGrath about football bets.
At this time of political turbulence, you can have your Trumps, your Erdogans, your Bolsonaros, your empty, loud strongmen seeking to divide and conquer and claim that only through their singular personages will anger be sated.
We have Shane Ross. All he wants is a few auld votes and he’s happy with that.