Could Gaybo rescue us from the tedium of the Presidential election campaign?
The veteran broadcaster is being mentioned as a possible candidate after he romped home as the people’s favourite in a radio poll. As always, Gay Byrne is being coy about his possible career move.
He said that the poll was “kind of encouraging and it is kind of stupefying’’, but he was not prepared to commit himself. “Could we leave this question and come back to it at a later date and see what happens?,’’ he said.
So what was Gaybo up to when he refused to declare his intentions one way or another? Is he genuinely interested, or is he simply availing of the inevitable publicity to boost his current television programme?
There is no doubt that Mr Byrne is a formidable force in Irish life. At 77, he can still pull in big audiences. And he is a national icon.
Admittedly it was a more limited media age, when he dominated Irish radio and television. But dominate it, he did. Every morning on radio, and on Saturday nights, then Friday nights, on television, he entertained and angered the country in equal measure.
He mixed showbusiness with current affairs, always with an eye to the listener and viewer. He did not intrude when a guest was in full flow, and he showed a remarkable ability to bring people out of themselves.
Sometimes he was opportunistic, exploiting those uncomfortable or out of their depth in the electronic media. But he showed courage, too. There is no doubt that he had an ability to push new frontiers when it came to social issues.
That, no doubt, was never his intention. He simply wanted to put out good radio and television programmes, but the end result was that he contributed to Ireland moving out of a dark and inward-looking age.
The possibility of a Gaybo candidacy has given an injection of energy to the Presidential campaign. That is because it is dying on its feet.
Senator David Norris’s exit was inevitable because of his error of judgement in writing a letter to seek clemency for his former partner who was charged with statutory rape. Mr Norris, in fairness, did bring some gaiety to the campaign, given his colourful personality. But would it have lasted?
The other candidates are earnest and, doubtlessly, mean well. The level of rhetoric is hard to take, however.
The outgoing President, Mary McAleese, and her husband, Martin, have done a fine job in terms of North-South relations. From now on, the focus will be on the economy.
And what, realistically, will a President be able to do on that front? Precious nothing.
The President has some constitutional responsibilities of an important nature. And their importance should not be underestimated. Referring legislation to the Supreme Court is a sensitive presidential power, for instance.
But, overall, the office is essentially ceremonial. The possibility of a President moving around the country and making folksy speeches to lift our spirits from the economic gloom will hardly send the Irish people into whoops of joy.
In fact, the prospect of hearing the kind of “touchy-feely’’ rhetoric of a Presidential campaign for the rest of the summer and into the autumn is not a pleasant vista. Things are bad enough without being subjected to that kind of mind-numbing and irrelevant talk.
It is irritating because, essentially, it elevates the office to a status it simply does not have. The Presidency will not save us. It is doubtful even if it will, for one day, revive our spirits.
What will revive our spirits is some light at the end of this dark tunnel as Ireland fights The Economic War.
It might help, too, if somebody was to come out of the woodwork and admit that they wanted the job because of the substantial salary, the large house for seven years, the car and the driver and the pension at the end of it all.
Such a twist to the campaign might help to bring matters back to a more mature level. Otherwise, the way things are going, we might just not be prepared to tolerate this campaign between now and the election in October.
That is where Gaybo comes in. He is a household name. He still retains a significant fan base, even if it is with an older generation. In broadcasting terms, he has been there, done that, worn the T-shirt.
He is Chairman of the National Roads Authority. He knows the vagaries of Irish life. And he could be relied on to be utterly responsible in carrying out the functions of the office.
There would be no embarrassing solo runs under Gaybo. He could also be said to have been part of our long and sometimes painful march to social maturity. He tackled the hard issues when others might have run away.
He has seen the country emerge from the dark 1950s to the hopeful 1960s.
At the start of the latter decade, as Sean Lemass pushed the country forward, Gaybo began his long-running “Late Late Show’’. He mirrored that decade of progress.
He was around for the economic slump of the 1970s, the brief recovery, the slump of the 1980s, and, later, the wretched Celtic Tiger when the country enjoyed an unreal boom.
Along the way, he became a wealthy man, but lost most of his money because of a crooked accountant. He became wealthy again and then lost heavily in the economic downturn.
He reflects the decades since the 1950s. And he reflects the ups and downs of Ireland. He was hugely influential as the country it travelled the long road from the innocent to the real.
Way back in the 1960s, he was in big trouble when a young university student criticised the size of the new Galway cathedral, condemned our educational system and our interpretation of Christianity, said the aspirations of 1916 had not been met, questioned the value of the Irish language and claimed that the Christian Brothers were over-fond of corporal punishment.
And he criticised the then Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Charles McQuaid and the Bishop of Galway, Dr Michael Browne. Horror of horrors!
It was pretty mild stuff when one compares it to Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s hard-hitting criticism of the Vatican in the Dail recently.
Gaybo’s controversy, one of many, led to a statement from the then RTE Director General Kevin McCourt. Mr McCourt pointed out that the “Late Late Show’’ was unscripted and unrehearsed. “In any other form it would fail in its purpose as a spontaneous television programme of discussion and entertainment,’’ he added.
However, he went on to say that he did not countenance lapses in taste and he expressed regret about the remarks made relating to the two members of the Hierarchy. And he added: “The producer-compere of the show is fully aware of my concern that standards of taste and courtesy are maintained at all times.’’
Gaybo had been carpeted! Ah yes, innocent times indeed!
Would a man who has been through all that, and more, not be a suitable occupant of the Aras for seven years?
Yes, in these dog days of August, it has to be said Gaybo should think seriously of running for the Aras.