The wonder of Twitter. I’m 7,000 km from Ireland at the moment and yet I probably heard the announcement about George Lee, leaving the Irish parliament faster than many of my compatriots. The excitement that this generated was tantamount to an explosion going off at the heart of the Irish political system. It causes no end of problems for Fine Gael, the largest opposition party in the state, and it calls into question the system’s ability to attract the brightest and best the country has to offer.

Successful politicians are grafters. They have an innate instinct for saying the right things to the right people. They have thick skins and they are comfortable in the heat of battle. Most of all, they will do everything possible to keep their constituents happy, helping them to sort out problems with leaking drains and noisy neighbours. They play an uneasy game, always attempting to balance their own needs for power and influence with the concerns of those who elected them. The longest lived politicians are not, perhaps, the best and the brightest, nor the most passionate about leadership and change, but those who know how to play the game the best. The result is a system where the best way to be become the leader is to be born into the right family, and to learn the craft at an early age.

So it is with most occupations in life, professional and amateur. There are rules, both overt and covert. You play them well, you win. You don’t need to be the best or the most able, just particularly well adapted to the rules of the system.

George was well adapted to the rules of journalism. He is an acute observer of politics and statehood, but it doesn’t seem as if the game of politics played to his strengths all that much. It’s a pity, because he clearly had a lot to say. He had passion and a desire for change. He was bright and articulate and he clearly has the abilities of a leader, as many listen keenly to what he has to say.

So we may complain about our politicians, but in reality they are normally only a product of the system that creates them. We can change the leadership or replace the government, but unless that system itself is changed, nothing of substance will happen.

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