Eoghan Harris a media phenomenon
In spite of the contraction and absurdities, Harris adds to the gaiety of the nation and will add a lot to the gaiety of the Senate and there is a basic integrity
Eoghan Harris is a media phenomenon all on his own. There is a brilliance to his presentation, his fluency and his intellect. He has the ability to capture in a phrase an illuminating insight. His style can be hectoring and relentless but relieved invariably by humour.
He has remarkable skills of rhetoric, he is an accomplished film script writer, documentary maker, columnist and performer. All the more impressive given the occasional afflictions of bi-polar depression, about which he has been courageously open and frank. Along with that there is a self-obsession and a self-importance, believing himself to be the central focus of most events involving him, however peripherally. Regularly he sees himself as the prime mover in any event in which he has been involved, however marginally.
His judgment varies from insightful to bizarre, fluctuations on a scale that far exceeds those of other media commentators. This results in extremes of approbation or disapprobation on the part of critics who rarely acknowledge how right he can be and how wrong he can be, sometimes at the same time.
His excoriation of Mary McAleese when she ran for the Presidency in 1997 is a case in point. He described her as a “tribal time bomb”. He said she would make a “very dangerous and tribal President”. She was, he said: “an unreconstructed nationalist, who will drag all sorts of tribal baggage with her when she is elected President of Ireland. Nobody will be able to control Mary McAleese. She is arrogant and she's a self-sufficient candidate who is using the Southern election to advance her career. She is not a Sinn Féin-er, she's a mé féin-er”.
He intervened in that campaign in 1997 to assist the former Garda superintendent, Derek Nally in his Presidential quest. He wrote a strategy for Nally's campaign which revealed him (Harris) at his most strategically brilliant. He wrote: “There are three main reasons why people will vote for you: because you are a man, because you were a cop and because they feel you would be sound on the security of the State. … (He advised Nally to say things like) ‘Look in some senses I am old fashioned in that I'm the kind of man who would open doors for women and in another sense I'm modern in that I'm the kind of man who would open doors for women'”. But then he went on to advise Nally to lose weight (“cut out bread and big breakfasts”), buy two back jackets a little long to hide his bulk, with single, not double breasted lapels, three pairs of slimline slacks, three expensive pale blue poplin shirts with long sleeves which show the cufflinks and three blue ties with red stripes.
As with many of those he has advised, he fell out with Nally because he tried to push him beyond where Nally wanted to go.
He had a similar experience with Fine Gael for which he caused humiliation over an Ard Fheis sketch involving Twink in 1991. He was influential in the Mary Robinson Presidential campaign in 1990 but she felt he pushed her too far in criticising her opponent the late Brian Lenihan in a television debate (the scale of his influence in that campaign varies from his own assessment of himself as being the sole influence to others such as Fergus Finlay, who regard him as marginally influential).
He has flipped flopped on almost every issue – capitalism, religion, the media, Tony O'Reilly, Bertie Ahern, socialism – but has pursued a consistent line on Northern Ireland, even though that required him at times to ignore the barbarism of associates of the Workers Party. He has held a consistent anti-sectarian line, opposed to violence but his obsessive focus with this has pushed him into absurdities like the championing of the lying, informer-killer, Sean O'Callaghan (Harris avoided a huge significance of the O'Callaghan story that the Gardai allowed a Cork man, John Corcoran, to be murdered by the IRA to protect the security of an informer), seeing the “A” case (the man convicted of statutory rape) as an outgrowth of the Northern issue, his association with the Iraqi conman, Ahmed Chabali, his wild accessions against former RTE colleagues (he was forced to apologise for remarks made about RTE television producer/editor Betty Purcell).
After a lifetime (almost) in politics he has ended up almost apolitical, now holding almost no political positions, at least not for long. Whereas at one time as a socialist/Marxist he was an advocate of equality, he is now dismissive of the idea. Whereas at one time he critical and suspicious of the capitalist media, he is now a part of it and a champion of it. Whereas at one time he was an atheist he is now contemptuous of those who profess atheism (“a college affectation”).
But behind those contradictions, flip-flops and absurdities, there is a sense of struggle with morality and meaning a sense of underlying integrity, even if laced with compulsive attention seeking. He adds significantly to the gaiety of the nation and will add a lot to the gaiety of the Senate.