FOR forty years, Gerry McKeever has been quietly listening to stories being shared in his barbershop on Letterkenny’s Main Street.
Sports, politics and family life are common themes. Then there’s stories about affairs, engagements, and divorces, people’s children and their mothers-in-law.
Last year during lockdown, Gerry had a light bulb moment: why not write a book… on politics?
That book ‘Benocracy – Democracy’s Last Change’ is now on sale in Gerry’s Barber shop and a number of outlets across the town.
“I have always felt that someone who has written a book or an album of songs or built something can look at it and say that they have actually accomplished something.
“If you can spend weeks, even months, and put together a coherent and honest project with a clear message, to the best of your ability, then you can say that you have accomplished something,” he said.
The barbershop has always been a space where people can talk honestly about themselves. Over the past year or so, Gerry has been bouncing ideas around with his customers.
“Different versions of the book have been read to customers – both young and not so young. Not everyone is into the subject but the feedback has, in general, been very positive.
“I want people to say that it’s a interesting read. I want it to be thought provoking. I want Benocracy to be accepted as an ocracy,” he said.
Benocracy is a term which incorporates the word Benevolence and the suffix ocracy which means form of rule.
“What I am suggesting is a type of meritocracy – a form of governance that is overseen by those who deserve their positions by way of earning their right through education, experience etc.,” he said.
Gerry started working on the book while at home during the Covid-19 lockdown but it’s something that has been stirring for more than a decade.
“One Friday evening back in 2010 I was looking out the window of the shop and saw the late Jim McCormick (proprietor of Magees Chemist and Chairman, Letterkenny Tidy Towns) walking up the street. We were in the depths of a recession and here was Jim picking up rubbish in his fine, tailored suit, and I thought that’s the sort of boy you want leading the country,” he said.
“He was a man who had succeeded in the world of business and yet still found the time to give that community based commitment.
“If only we could elect individuals who satisfy both of these qualifications I believe that would quickly find ourselves with a coherent, intelligent and fiscally responsible body of representatives,” he added.
From their chair at Gerry’s Barber Shop, his customers have a clear view of pictures of talented cross-channel footballers adorning the walls, as well as multiple images of Roy Keane and members of the Republic of Ireland squad.
“As a barber you find yourself in a pretty privileged position in society. People speak to us about everything and we’re learning so much from them at the same time,” he said.
“Initially, there were two reasons for writing the book. I was in lockdown and decided that if I was not going to go stir crazy I had to do something constructive. Therefore, reason number 1 – the maintenance of sanity.
“This book is a best effort from what you might call an enthusiastic and genuine amateur in the field of politics. The next question was: ‘if you write a book, is it a book if no one can read it?’.
“Ultimately I hope that Benocracy gets a grip on a global scale. If we can have mature, fair and sensible leaders we can hope that problems on a global scale can be tackled.
“If you don’t want the next generation to be enslaved by zero and minimum hour contracts, to have no hope for a future and to live under regimes that have no intention of tackling global warming or the plight of those in the third world, do something,” he said.
Although he’s not affiliated to any political party, Gerry does remember canvassing for two members of Letterkenny Urban District Council thirty-five years ago.
“Jim Lynch and Lawrence Blake represented different parties but I think they both wanted the same thing. They wanted the best for their town and they freely gave their time – there were no expenses back then – to help Letterkenny and its people,” he said.
“This book is as much about fair play as it is politics. The idea is to elect intelligent humanitarians to government and that applies to countries all over the world. There’s no point looking back at mistakes made in the past we should be looking at what we can do in the future,” he said.
Looking at the current government, Gerry feels that it gets a lot of stuff right and some stuff wrong.
“It’s always the right time to do the right thing and if you can improve any government it’s not a bad idea to make changes.
“I think the UK is incredibly dysfunctional as are Brazil and the US while Denmark appears to be doing things well. If this book gets people talking then it will have served a purpose,” he said.
Admitting to being a complete “troglodyte” when it comes to technology, Gerry paid tribute to his wife Theresa who typed up his longhand notes and Stevie Toye, Logopix.ie, who formatted the book.