As time goes by - July 1982
What's all the fuss about? What we have here is an experiment in open government, a form of partiicipatory democracy - that's what you could call it. An aggrieved citizen merely had to pick up a phone, dial 789911, ask to talk to anyone - a TD, senator, journalist, usher, cook, bottleewasher - and spout away. And the message could go right into the office of the Taoiseach. It's called keeping one's ear to the pulse of the nation.
And it could work the other way round. Suppose you had a TD who was a pinch-mouthed, cantankerous, obstreperous little fart - wouldn't you want to make sure that he wasn't being nasty and discourteous to any nice folks who might call him on the phone? Of course you would. No less than your duty. So, wasn't it handy to be able to tune in to this TD? (Oh, let's be upfront about it and call him Dessie O'Malley.) Of course it was. An added burden to the onerous dutties of Taoiseach. All in the public interest.
And wasn't it typical of Jim Mittchell to pull the plug on this excellent and imaginative innovation in demoocracy? Closing down all those lovely SLl consoles like the Cooneyite he is. Just what you'd expect from a blueshirt, right?
Of course, we're all guilty of jumpping to confusions about Charlie. No sooner do we find out that he installed microelectronic facilities which could bug every phone in the building than we start talking about Begorraghgate and looking for skulking Cubans in every nook and cranny of Leinster House. Pish tosh. Next we'll be accussing him of trying to assassinate Castro, sending Fidel an exploding cigar or suchlike. (Though, come to think of it - one does wonder if Maggie Thattcher ever poured tea from that pot that Charlie gave her? Could the pot have been laced with a chemical which would make her hair fall out and cause her a loss of confidence among the British voting classes? One hesitates to raise such matters, but the public has a right to know.)
I have an open mind. I lean toowards the open government theory of which the bugging devices were an integral part. However, I am willing to be convinced that if Charlie had innstalled equipment which gave him access to every phone in the building he might - just might - have been tempted to ... ah, no. He couldn't have. Not Charlie.
However, one is duty bound to point out all the possibilities, however ludicrous they may sound. For instance, take this little piece from As Time Goes By, published a few days before the election last February:
Who will be top dog in the Kildare Street doss house when it's all over? Lazy Pete is hoping Charlie will make it this time. He alone pointed out a significant figure in the confidential -document from the Department of Finance published in the last issue of Magill. Buried among the cost overrruns was a figure of £850,000 for the Taoiseach's office - under the heading "microelectronic facilities".
"I don't know", says Pete, "if Leinnster House has an Oval Office but I'll lay you ten to one that given enough time Charlie will get around to buggging it. If I know my Charlie, Dailgate here we come."
One could strut around saying that one can get erudition from Mr. Arnold in the Indo or trenchancy from Ms. Kennedy in the Tribune, but if one tires of their flippant attitude towards the great political events of our time one can always turn to As Time Goes By for an incisive revelation of the Inside Story. One could say such things, but one is far too modest.
We were sitting around in The Oasis, discussing British royalty, when word came through of Begorraghhgate. Lazy Pete was, predictably, going on at great length about how the new kid was just another hungry mouth for British workers to feed - with silver spoons.
Fingers Kavanagh was telling us about an evening newspaper placard which he had seen in town the day beefore. Di "In Labour. "Imagine that," said Fingers, and his face went all glowy the way it does when he's about to inflict a joke on someone. "I always thought she was more the SDP type, yah hah!"
We just let the remark lie there in a withering silence until it shrivelled up and disappeared through a crack in the lino.
We'd all watched the ITN News the night before and seen Alastair Burnet deliver the news like he'd just delivered the baby. Behind the twinkling eyes you could see Alastair's visions of the kid growing up and all of the peurile. crap which is going to warp its life èthe brouhaha' over the first tooth, the first steps, the first fall off a horse, the girlfriends, the engagement, The Wedding, then more royal kids and off we go again. I haven't seen a British newsreader look so happy since the Belgrano went down.
Then Studs O'Mahoney came in with the Begorraghgate news and Pete insisted on buying a celebratory round. He pointed out that it's exactly ten years since the break-in at the Waterrgate. I tried to bring some sense of responsibility to the proceedings by floating my experimenternment theory but there were no takers.
Fingers began moving around the pub from table to table, and we could see several transactions involving monney. When he returned he was wiping his hands with a fiendish giggle (keeps a packet of fiendish giggles in his poccket for wiping his hands with). He told us he'd just bought up the contents of a substantial number of the pigeon lofts in the neighbourhood. Next morning he was off down to the Regisstrar of Companies to set up Kavanagh Kommunications Ltd., a message serrvice for TDs, confidentiality guaranteed. •