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Apple debacle cuts to core for the big two

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Shake hands...Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin before a TG4 leaders’ debate.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

Every cliché starts off life as a freshly-minted phrase. In the beginning, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee were grotesque twins in Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ before the left turned it around to portray Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael as inseparable and undistinguishable.

Problem is that after a while they used no other phrase to describe the phenomenon. If you allow a Sinn Féin or Alphabet Alliance (the AAA-PBP) spokesperson more than a minute of time these days, you can be as sure as night follows days that Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee will flow from their tongues.

And it’s a ghastly cliché – but is it true? Like a lot of things, a little bit, but not fully so.

Since the foundations of the State, parties of the left have been calling on Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to coalesce, saying there’s not a cigarette paper between their policies or ideology.

By doing so, they argue, Irish politics can finally attain the left/right alignment that is the norm in other countries.

But in some senses, they are missing the point. The two big parties dismiss the ideological scale as arbitrary, and see themselves as essentially centrist, their free market tendencies tempered by a commitment to elements of a welfare society.

Let’s put an end to civil war politics, they exhort us. But it’s more complex than just two competing sides in that war carrying on the fight through the generations.

At the time of the foundations, both parties stood for different things and represented different constituencies. Fine Gael was the party of the establishment, lawyers, big farmers, the officer class in the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces, Dublin’s middle classes.

Fianna Fáil was the party of the small holder, the rank and file members the Garda, Dublin’s working classes.

Their policies reflected that. Fine Gael was a pro-business party, promulgating ‘law and order’ and morally conservative.

Fianna Fáil was a little more to the left and populist – remember De Valera’s famous comment from the 1930s that “Labour Must Wait”. That related to the claim that it was Fianna Fáil that represented the working classes. It was also conservative.

Both parties have evolved – Fine Gael in particular – into something else. That said, both can still trace their roots in their current iterations.

But are they now indistinguishable.

Sure they compete against each other. But more often than one might expect, they compete together against the rest. The name of the game is maintaining the centre.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Fitting farewell for a true giant of Irish political life

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John Hume and his wife Pat at NUIG in 2003. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

I met John Hume quite a few times in the last ten years of his public life in the lead-up to and aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. There were the awful moments and the extraordinary moments. I was sent up to report on the awful ‘trick or treat’ sectarian killings in Greysteel, Co Derry, where Catholics were mowed down in a bar by a Loyalist gang.

At the funeral, a mother of one of those killed approached Hume at the graveyard and told him to carry on his work for peace. He was so overcome with emotion that he wept openly.

Later, he recalled, he was the butt of a lot of criticism and under considerable pressure during that period. Everything – the killings, the grief, the pressure – came to a head at that moment.

The pressure, of course, was continuing criticism for his relentless quest to bring communities together, to replace conflict with dialogue, and to bring a lasting peace to Northern Ireland.

He himself said that meant talking to anybody and everybody. And of course, that had included – secretly – talks with Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin for the previous six or seven years.

He was being attacked mercilessly for having the temerity to ‘sip with the devil’ by anti-Republican media organisations in the south and north – including columnists in the Sunday Independent.

There were highs too. The Good Friday Agreement in April 1988 was the pinnacle, bringing together everything he had campaigned for during a long political life. His deputy in the SDLP Séamus Mallon described it as Sunningdale for Slow Learners, referring to the earlier attempt at power-sharing in 1974 (it was collapsed by strident Loyalist opposition and widespread strikes).

Of course, Hume was instrumental in Sunningdale too.

For more on the life of John Hume, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Schools plan overshadowed by row over Ministerial pay

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Education Minister Norma Foley...busy week on road to recovery.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

The good; the bad; the clever; the stupid – we’re going to get the full mixed bag during this Government’s term. But the past week was a cocktail of sublime and ridiculous.  First up was the dog’s dinner – otherwise known as the row over ministerial pay. There’s nothing that irks people more about politicians than stories about them earning more money. The perception is they are feathering their own nests.

The trigger was the presence of three super junior ministers in the Government, one from each of the three parties – all of them at the Cabinet table but with one crucial difference; they don’t have the right to vote.

The last Government also had three super juniors. But the legislation only allowed for two of them to have the salary of a senior minister – a difference of just over €16,300 from a junior.

When Leo Varadkar was appointed Taoiseach in 2017, he dropped Mary Mitchell-O’Connor as a senior minister. As compensation, a new super junior ministry was created.

But when it came to trying to bump her salary up by €16,000 to the same as the other two super juniors, Fianna Fáil just wouldn’t buy it. Mitchell-O’Connor got an extra stripe on the uniform, but no extra pay.

This time around, there was no such problem. The three government parties have a majority and agreed unanimously to right that injustice, so the third minister would get the extra €16,000.

The problem was that it needed to be legislated. It was tacked on as an amendment to the legislation setting up the new senior ministry of Higher Education – except the Government didn’t bother to tell anyone.

So, when the press found out about it, they unsportingly went to town on it.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Odds already lengthening on Coalition lasting full course

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Euro money...Micheal Martin in Brussels this week.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

Barry Cowen’s departure is proof yet again that, when a politician is under the cosh, what often does for them is the original transgression – aided by new information. When they are hanging on by a knife-edge, even the slightest new controversy will topple them.

Most of the time, when people look at it afterwards, they realise the new information did not stand up to scrutiny. But it doesn’t matter about the substance. It’s all about timing.

In a few months’ time, the Garda internal inquiry might vindicate him (to some extent) in his claim he did not try to avoid a Garda checkpoint. But by that time, politically, it will be water under the bridge. Everything will have moved on.

What’s clear already is it’s going to be a rough ride. By the time you read this, the Green Party leadership contest will be in its final throes.

In a way it’s a replay of the debate about going into government and the vast majority of those who voted NO will vote for Catherine Martin. But the contest won’t be as lopsided as that.

Few people believe she can oust Ryan. But on a lowish turnout, she could possibly run him close. A win is a win – but if the margin is narrow, it might plant the seed of doubts as to whether or not Ryan can survive the entire term in government.

Is the Government going to last five years? That’s very difficult to know.

It has a majority of only four in the Dáil and three of the Greens voted against going into government. We have seen it already – Opposition parties tabling motions or amendments (last week it was on maternity leave, and on rights for low-paid workers) designed to embarrass the Green and put pressure on their TDs.

With Sinn Féin as main Opposition, you can bet the house that they will continuously pummel the smallest of the three Government parties on issues close to its soul, but which they had to sacrifice to the other two parties.

And while some aspects of the economy are ramping up again, everybody knows that everything is just stuttering about.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app

The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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