Back at what must seem like the dawn of time around 350 B.C. the Greek philosopher Aristotle, from the age of 28, developed an approach to philosophy based on observations of the natural world and his publication On Rhetoric had a major influence on public discourse to this day.
Aristotle identified three pillars of persuasion, ethos, pathos and logos.
Ethos refers to ethical appeal - the credibility of the speaker and the potential scope for identity with an audience; Concepts such as character, respect, identity, trustworthiness come into play.
Pathos, standing for suffering or experience, refers to the emotional connection with an audience; the emotions and tone of a speaker conveys the essence of the message or what the topic evokes; the emotional chord struck within an audience stirred by, for example language, imagery, sympathy, empathy and appeals to the imagination. Pathos is the foundation for rapport when an audience identifies with the author or speaker’s perspective.
Logos concerns the logical, internal consistency or factual foundation of an argument; the logical appeal and whether it is coherent and makes sense; is it supported with data, facts or evidence. Each of these pillars can be deployed to underpin a dialogue.
In summary ethos establishes credibility; pathos fosters the bond of a relationship through shared experiences, common outlook and mutual interests; while logos appeals to reason and logic.
Last Sunday night, 29 July there was a street protest to support the Quinn family in Ballyconnell Co Cavan which attracted almost 4,000 participants with a platform headed by prominent GAA supporters and personalities. The following day the former President of the GAA, Seán Kelly now a Fine Gael MEP for Munster was interviewed on Radio Kerry and extended his support to the protestors, who displayed banners proclaiming ‘Anglo Steals a Business; Seán Quinn Gets Jail. Why?’, ‘Cowardly Kenny Supports Illegality’ and ‘Let the Quinn Case for to Brussels. There Is No Justice Here’
Are the prominent personalities of the GAA and most particularly Kelly, confusing ethos with pathos in their desire to demonstrate tribal loyalty to the Quinn family and hawking the reputation of the GAA and the State in the process?
While this saga is undoubtedly painful for the family it is also a matter of phenomenal national significance to the economic wellbeing of each taxpayer in the country who is faced with the prospect of bearing a massive personal financial burden as a consequence of grossly dysfunctional investment decisions that are the subject of litigation.
Kelly argues that his demonstration of ‘moral support’ from a GAA perspective is a case of showing support ‘for our own’ and ‘standing behind those in trouble is what the association is about’. That gesture amounts to attaching the ethos and credibility of the GAA to an issue which is before the courts of the State and which involves a massive conflict of interests with the electorate.
This platform of support is based on pathos rather than ethos – an effort to trigger an emotional response from a bewildered community. But the price of this approach is for an officer of the State, a member of the Oireachtas, is to imply that the independence, authority and integrity of the judicial system, as enshrined in the Constitution, may not deserve public confidence.
It surely cannot be possible for Seán Kelly to be partly loyal to the electorate of Munster as their MEP, partly loyal to the Constitution, party respectful of judicial due process and partly loyal to the Quinn family whose interests conflict with those that Kelly is supposed to represent in Europe.
This is not an issue for the forked politician’s tongue, no matter how aggrieved the vested interests concerned may feel. Neither Mr Kelly, nor any elected politician, or political party has any right to bring the judicial process of the State into question.
The reputation and stature of the GAA might be better preserved were its leading lights not to become a spontaneous cheerleader, stooge or pain-bearer at the head of public expressions of sympathy by neighbours and friends of a vested interest.