THERE is nothing an Irish politician enjoys more than jumping on a sporting bandwagon, assuming of course that contributing to the financial ruination of the country wasn’t an experience they derived fun from.
From the days of cycling enthusiast, Charlie Haughey, turning up on the podium at the Tour de France in 1987 – strangely enough he missed the 1988 ceremony – through to the annual presence of the Fianna Fail tent at the Galway Races, their addiction to self-promotion knew no boundaries.
Similarly, their addiction to bad judgement, and equally poor taste, is fairly spectacular too.
Take John Joe Nevin, Ireland’s first medallist of these 2012 Olympic Games.
Ignored by his home town, Mullingar, prior to his departure to London, Nevin, you can bet, will have a bigger fight getting away from the clutches of self-promoting politicians when he returns home, than he has getting onto the podium in London.
“I hope Mullingar is as proud of me as I am of it,” he said following his quarter-final victory last Sunday night.
He shouldn’t have to wonder. Yet, prior to going to London, there was no civic reception for Nevin as there were for the other members of the Irish boxing teams from their respective home-towns.
Is the fact Nevin is from the travelling community an issue?
We’re only asking the question.
And it is one worth putting out there.
Having lived in the Mullingar area for 12 years, this reporter isn’t blind to the racist divide that exists within a town where travellers are sneered at and subjected to discriminatory behaviour. That may be an uncomfortable truth but it cannot be ignored.
Nor can the scandalous behaviour, where in the run-up to the Games people impersonating Nevin’s family, called to housing estate after housing estate in the Westmeath area seeking sponsorship for Nevin to travel to London.
Claiming to be sisters of John Joe, when they clearly weren’t, they pocketed money and now the subject to a police investigation.
Yet despite using, and abusing, Nevin’s name – the immoral behaviour of others shouldn’t tarnish the bantamweight’s reputation. He has lived a clean life, has mastered a sport, reached two Olympic Games and is the first Irish boxer to win medals at World Championship, European and Olympic level.
Within the ropes, he has as much class as any Irish boxer of his generation. Beyond the ropes, his easy smile is consistent with the effortless way he inspires a generation of people, from all communities, within Ireland.
He is a national hero now – yet it will be sickening the way people will try and grab a piece of him, having continually ignored him up until now. Mullingar will, doubtlessly, celebrate his success – as the town should.
Yet will the deep social divisions within that town disappear? Of course they won’t.
It has taken an Olympic medal for discriminatory bigots to start seeing John Joe Nevin as the sporting genius he is. Irish people don’t like uncomfortable truths.
We prefer to sweep our problems under the carpet and celebrate the clean-looking, white-collar, boy-made-good stories like Sean Quinn’s.
Never mind that Quinn’s actions have cost the tax-payer a fortune. The bottom line – for too many of us Irish – is that the Quinns of this world are okay because they are one of our own.
But Nevin? He’s a traveller and has to win an Olympic medal before he gets accepted as one of ours. Boxing is child’s play compared to the real fight the Nevins of this world have to face in this morally bankrupt country, in order to be handed the respect they deserve.