On Friday 22 October RTE will announce the winner of Ireland’s Greatest. Each of the five finalists were the subject of hour-long documentaries, broadcast from September onwards.
Michael McDowell made the case for Michael Collins, Dave Fanning for Bono, Joe Duffy for James Connolly, Miriam O’Callaghan for John Hume and David McWilliams for Mary Robinson. The winner will be chosen, as was the shortlist of finalists, by popular ballot.
Not withstanding my deep reservations about the show something interesting struck me as I watched the five documentaries.
All of the finalists share a feature in common. Despite their differing political, social and ideological backgrounds they are all quite similar in one crucial way.
They are all people who devoted a significant portion of their lives to changing the world in which they lived.
As each documentary shows, in their own way each was unhappy with the politics and economics of Ireland and the wider world. All were of the firm belief that human kind can and must do better, and worked to change both Ireland and the wider world.
Isn’t it interesting that of the 100 names originally put forward by RTE at the shows outset, the voting public chose figures whose mark of greatness, according to their advocates, is a commitment to change.
This simple fact goes against the grain of our popular conception of the electorate as self interested and conservative. It also contrasts sharply with the electoral behaviour of the same electorate when they come to choose a government.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence, a quirk of the TV voting system, into which we can read nothing of any great importance. Or maybe it is an indication of a potential change in what our society is looking for in its leaders.
Weighed down by the strains of the economic crisis and angry at the failure of our establishment politicians to provide a sense of hope and vision for the future, maybe the voting public on RTE’s Irelands Greatest are trying to tell us something.
After years of playing it safe, maybe –just maybe- the electorate are looking for change, for political leaders who want to take our country in a new direction.
And again if the values that motivated the five finalists of Ireland’s Greatest are anything to go by maybe – just maybe- that direction is one guided by principles of equality, justice, democracy and solidarity.
My vote went, unsurprisingly enough, to James Connolly. I can think of plenty of people who were more deserving of a place in the finals than Bono. But my own prejudices aside, and irrespective of who the winner is, just imagine the kind of government we would have if the same voting behaviour motivated people in the next general election.
Republicans, socialists, social-democrats, feminists and global justice campaigners taking up the reigns of power in the Oireachtas, determined to change the politics and economics of this state, of Ireland and of the wider world. How great an Ireland would that be?
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