A little hyprocrisy is a good thing

27th June 2001

BETTER you had murdered your mother with a meat cleaver than to be guilty of hypocrisy. There is no greater crime in modernity than to be caught in a conflict between opinion and action.

Actually, the only people who are obsessed with hypocrisy are journalists and because so many of us read the papers it seems as if everyone else is obsessed as well.

In fact, the vast majority of people are comfortable with the reality of hypocrisy and are adept at its practice when life demands it.

This being the case, I would like my colleagues in the Fourth Estate to obsess about something else.

For it is impossible for civilised life to continue without a modicum of hypocrisy. Why not, indeed, bid your neighbour a good day instead of telling her that you can’t stand the sight of her?

Why not enquire about the boss’ dreary round of golf instead of actualising your dream of placing a mercury-tilt activated pound of semtex under his car?

An old acquaintance of mine who hailed from the left of the Workers’ Party, a serious dialectical materialist, told me how he brought an elderly neighbour to the chapel and would bless himself going in – just so he wouldn’t give offence to his neighbour.

There are some among us who would believe the proper course of action would have been for my friend to look the old man in the eye, tell him to cop himself on and that the God story was just a myth. They would say that my friend was being dishonest. Sad, isn’t it?

It is in the political arena that my colleagues ascend to hypocrisy hysteria. I believe it is because most reporters don’t understand politics at all.

Eamonn O’Cuiv campaigned for the Nice Treaty and then voted no. The strange thing is that he said he voted no because most (probably all) politicians campaign for things they don’t agree with.

Politicians have to. Otherwise it is impossible to be a member of a party or a member of the Government. If they collectively agree a political programme there has to be give and take. They must support the programme even though they don’t agree with every element.

This drives journalists mad. Reporters need the truth and when, in the interests of the overall policy, the politician won’t tell it like it is, the reporter sees red. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like.

So the curious thing is that when Eamonn O’Cuiv revealed his job-inspired hypocrisy, the scribes who are most obsessed with hypocrisy were the most critical. The lesson for other politicians is: never be honest about your hypocrisy.

But it’s not just politicians who have to practice hypocrisy. Anyone who is a team player has to hedge their opinions. What’s the difference between discretion and hypocrisy? What’s the difference between good manners and hypocrisy?

Where the obsession with hypocrisy is damaging is when it leads people to accept bad behaviour because they themselves are not perfect. Thus as I type this column on my computer at home, I notice all the discs that I have taken from work. I didn’t pay for them.

Does this, in turn, mean that I shouldn’t tell my little boy that it is wrong to steal? Is the idea within that caution diminished by my own actions?

I think not but a lot of public discourse is based on the idea that any wrongdoing can be halved by pointing out the shortcomings of the accuser.

Hypocrisy can be nauseating, I’ll grant you that, as in the child abuse scandals. But even in those cases hypocrisy was very much the smaller part of the crime. You wouldn’t think it from the coverage.

So colleagues, it isn’t necessary to be a puritan to get along in this life. And there’s no point in asking for purity because you’re never going to get it.


Last week I mentioned the previous FG/Lab/WP government. Of course it wasn’t WP but DL. Oops.

As well as that…

Only voters can give a mandate

Glad to see Noel Dempsey’s attempt to knobble local democracy backfired. The only people who should decide who represents the people are the people.

The idea that TDs should stand aloft as national legislators is deeply flawed. It is very valuable for national politics that TDs should be rooted in the communities.

Would this city be better off if Tony Gregory was banned from Dublin City Council? In fact, there is a better argument for making the dual mandate mandatory. But not as good as letting voters decide for themselves.

The list system goes well down the list

Dempsey’s defeat puts back change to another of his pet hates, namely the multi-member constituency. Politicians love the continental list system where a meeting in a smoke-filled back office can virtually guarantee who gets elected.

Here in Ireland there is the tiresome business of having to stand before your local electorate. I don’t know how it came about but Ireland has the best parliamentary electoral system in the world. It is proportional, local and voter oriented.

We scuppered attempts by Fianna Fail to change it before and we’ll do it again.