FERGUS FINLAY: Government needs a spirited discipline similar to boxer Katie’s

THE welcome boxer Katie Taylor received in Dublin on Sunday night was deserved.

She had finished a week in which she took the next steps to becoming an authentic Irish ‘hero’.

Taylor did it by doing what she does and by doing it as well as she can. She didn’t just qualify for the Olympics. She ensured that she will go to the Olympics as world champion.

Taylor didn’t just overcome a string of opponents. That this was her one chance of qualifying to pursue her life’s ambition must have put her under the most intense psychological pressure throughout the competition.

She was thousands of miles from home, surrounded by strange cultures and languages, so her achievement becomes all the more immense.

Katie Taylor is remarkable, perhaps unique in Irish sport and even in Irish life. She has been one of the people who has battled to make female boxing acceptable in the Olympic context. It’s a sport with a limited following. I don’t know, for example, how many times she has fought on live television, but her appearances have been far outnumbered by athletes and sports people who will never reach the heights she has.

And yet, working away in a corner of the sporting world that attracts less funding and less profile than many others, she has been dedicated to bringing home a gold medal to her country. You could say she has devoted her adult life to that task. No other Irish woman, and precious few Irish men, have ever achieved that. If she gets there, she will deservedly become an Irish sporting legend. She can already lay claim to four world championships — how could she be anything less than a legend?

What is most remarkable about her, though, is the quiet and unassuming way she goes about her business. She has helped us in Barnardos several times, and serves as a Barnardos ambassador. ‘Serves’ is exactly the right word. She expects nothing in return and wants only to have an opportunity to help kids. When you meet her, you have a sense of someone who is shy but utterly determined and focused.

Before she is much older, Katie Taylor could become a national role model. For the avoidance of any suggestion of conflict, I should add that I have a quite remarkable grandchild, both beautiful and talented, also called Katie.

That’s a pure accident. But I suspect, in years to come, thousands of Irish children will be called Katie after this extraordinary young woman, who has been such a credit to her family, her hometown of Bray and her country.

Katie Taylor could well be an inspiration in other ways, as well, particularly to those who are charged with the leadership of our country.

I don’t want to stretch a metaphor too much, but watching some of the political performances of the last week, you can’t help but wish that her style — that mixture of hard work, huge talent and self-effacing modesty — could be translated into Irish politics.

Maybe the single most important lesson to be learned is from her assertion that winning the world championship is only half the battle.

Imagine that — she has scaled heights that most competitors only dream of and she ticks it off as a step on the journey. She intends to take a couple of days off, to rest tired limbs and to recover from jet lag, before resuming training for the ultimate goal.

She’ll finish the journey, no doubt about it, with the right combination of discipline and team work. And that’s where she could provide some much-needed inspiration for our political leaders.

When this referendum is over, hopefully with a majority in favour of ratifying the treaty, there must be no celebration, no triumphalism.

Apart from anything else, the lack of cohesion and clarity on the ‘yes’ side over some critical issues has damaged their own cause. Richard Bruton, for example (if you’ll forgive the boxing metaphor), deserved a standing count over his gaffe during Matt Cooper’s debate, and was lucky not to be knocked out of the ring.

In fairness to Bruton, he is not normally so ill-prepared. So his mistake was an illustration of the fact that the team work on the Government side was simply not strong enough.

I’ve made the point here, a couple of times recently, that there’s a problem of political management. It started with the fiasco over the household charge (which hasn’t gone away, incidentally), and was compounded at the opening of the referendum debate by the introduction of entirely unnecessary controversy over water metering. Richard Bruton’s elementary error in debate is only the latest example of a government minister taking careful aim at his own foot.

And Michael Noonan’s jibes about Greece producing nothing except feta cheese weren’t much better. Talk about how to win friends and influence people. We need all the allies we can get in Europe, and kicking the people of Greece when they’re down is surely not the way to go about it.

THAT’S WHY, immediately after the referendum, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste need to call their people together for a pretty intense team talk. The referendum is not an end in itself. Like Katie Taylor’s world championship, it’s a step on the journey.

Winning the referendum is winning nothing, because our economy will be just as fragile the day after it’s won as it was the day before.

If that fragility is to be removed, it will take concerted effort by a government that is respected and trusted throughout the country, and one that is capable of dealing with rapidly unfolding events quickly and with credibility. They have to function as a team, and be seen to function that way at all times.

Their difficulty is, of course, compounded by the fact that Europe, as a whole, is grappling with one crisis after another. There is a real sense, now, that the next couple of months could determine the economic future of Europe for years, perhaps a decade, to come. If Ireland is to be caught up in a maelstrom of economic change, the only way that can be managed is by a government that is entirely in command of its brief.

That’s why they need to take a day, once the referendum is over, to recharge their political batteries. The most recent opinion polls show quite clearly that disapproval with the Government is climbing. That can, and must, be put right.

We don’t need to love the Government, but we do need to know that they’re well up to the task.

It’s certainly far too early in the lifetime of any government for them to be worried about unpopularity. But they need a detailed long-term plan, much more cohesion and total focus.

That’s how you win gold medals.


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