Interview with Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan… February 3, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Uncategorized.
…conducted by Jason O’Toole in the Mail on Sunday. It’s always good to find the latter dealing with political interviewees, not least because they seem to be perhaps unusually relaxed and forthcoming with him. And there’s a lot in here and no mistake, though Flanagan comes across as someone hardly burdened at all with an inclination to silence on matters personal. So we are told about his dislike and passing use of cocaine and acid and…er… Prozac too.
Though in truth on the political level he doesn’t give too much away as to his baseline opinions. Those who regard him as a populist Independent will find little here to contradict that impression, despite the fact he gives half his wage to charity, but he does make the following observation:
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Flanagan doesn’t expect to garner much support from the Government – not even the younger members. ‘Fine Gael’s latest lot of young TDs have turned out to be far more socially conservative than Garret FitzGerald’s Fine Gael party back in the early Eighties,’ he says. ‘You’d have to wonder why. Some of them are 10 years younger than me and they are more conservative or they are as conservative as Nora Bennis and people like that. It is astonishing. Obviously, they think there is a market for it out there. I don’t think there is.’
And another of his more campaigning planks seems to have run a bit adrift, as O’Toole notes:
One of Flanagan’s main election platforms was his opposition to the ban on turf cutting introduced by the European Habitats Directive. Though the opposition campaign appears to have all but collapsed – with many turf cutters ceasing cutting and taking the compensation payment offered – Flanagan insists that he forced the Government into a U-turn by pushing through some of his proposals on turf cutting legislation. ‘The only time since I have been in the Dáil where the Government went along with a private member’s motion and withdrew its own amendment was on the issue of the turf cutters. I am still the only Opposition TD to get the Government to go hook, line and sinker along with proposals that I put before them in the Dáil.
Matters drugs related take up a fair bit of space:
In 2011, Flanagan vowed to give up smoking cannabis in Ireland while he was a TD. He feared that flouting the drug laws could lead to a Garda raid on his home. ‘I didn’t want that particular hassle. One of my major worries about it was that I would no longer have been in the Dáil and it would have caused a major problem when it came to putting a Bill before the Dáil. It was affecting my ability to carry out my business as a TD. Campaigning for the legislation of cannabis doesn’t mean that you have to have actually use it in that jurisdiction.’ Does he miss it? ‘No, not really. I travelled to Amsterdam on a few occasions every year and I enjoy it – it’s not the be-all and end-all for me, never was.’
Though he’s been to prison for his stance:
Flanagan says he began experimenting with cannabis at age 19. He has four convictions for drug offences and was arrested 16 times in an 18- month period when he was campaigning to legalise cannabis. ‘It was scary,’ he says of being taken into Garda custody. ‘Having to share a prison cell with someone who was in for armed robbery was scary and having “bitch” roared at me across the prison yard by a man who was as close to 7ft as I’ve ever seen before in my life, that was scary. But I’m up for the fight. And as Maggie Thatcher said: “I’m not for turning”.’
And he has words of wisdom as regards some drugs…
‘I found acid disconcerting. Acid, magic mushrooms and psychedelic drugs are drugs that people underestimate at their peril. I think there is a general underestimation of how scary and dangerous they can potentially be for some people. ‘The simple fact is, acid would definitely be the most intense drug that I have ever taken in my life and definitely the scariest experience. I would say to people, “Steer clear of it.”
His view is an essentially liberal one, in every sense of the word,
Is he open to legalising Class A drugs? ‘I think other drugs should be decriminalised and think people who have heroin addictions should be helped by the State and not criminalised because criminalising does not help, no more than turning somebody who is an alcoholic into a criminal helps them. It drives them further into the margins of society and creates more problems in the long run.’
Flanagan explains that he grew his own cannabis plants in order not to have to purchase it from criminal drugs gangs. Did he not feel uncomfortable, then, purchasing Class A drugs? ‘Oh, yeah,’ he nods. ‘I would prefer if that money was given to the State. But unfortunately the Government, through prohibition, has created a situation where the law of supply and demand is out there and people want it and they’ll get it.
There’s also something like a list of complaints:
Though Flanagan is able to joke about the opposition to his pro-drugs stance, it’s something that also has a serious side. In recent months, he went to the gardaí to report a death threat made against him. It’s not the first such threat he’s received – he was once warned that someone planned to shoot him after he spoke about plans to campaign for legalising cannabis – but gardaí took it seriously and an investigation is under way. ‘Gardaí have taken DNA samples from me just to rule out any fingerprints on the envelope so they can see if it’s a group of people they might suspect,’ Flanagan says.
Flanagan’s casual dress in the Dáil has sparked much debate – and he says some of the comments have hurt him. ‘If your national parliament deems it acceptable to abuse someone because of the way they look, we have a major problem. I think the problem is for those people that have those bigoted, narrow-minded attitudes,’ he says. ‘It hurts you. Anyone who says these things don’t hurt would be lying. Just because it hurts me doesn’t mean it’s going to stop me. ‘When your daughter comes up to ask, “Is it true you will lose your job because of the clothes you wear?” you have a difficult situation on a personal level but also on a societal level.
Not a word of his supposed new BFF (plural) in the ULA. And as to his chances for re-election…
Bookies were once so confident that Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan would fail miserably in his efforts to get elected to the Dáil that they were offering him to punters at odds of a million to one. To many, the odds didn’t seem all that unreasonable, given that the candidate in question was a self-confessed drug user with a ponytail and a pointed goatee modelled on Flash Gordon baddie Ming the Merciless. ‘You won’t get a million to one any more,’ laughs the 41-year-old father of two – an Independent TD for Roscommon-South Leitrim – when we meet. ‘In fact, you won’t get a million to one against me leading the country at some stage in the future. So, rule nothing out!’
Well… maybe. We’ll see.