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Covid 19 might finally force parties into grand alliance

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Grand idea .... Coronavirus crisis may force Micheál Martin, Leo Vardakar and Mary Lou McDonald into agreement.

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

Fianna Fáil’s first parliamentary party after the general election was a strange and unreal affair, occurring five days after the poll by which stage the party’s reduced circumstances were apparent to one and all. For four hours, the 38 TDs met in the basement of Leinster House – but what was striking was the calm and the lack of raised voices.

There was no open rebellion nor retribution, nor deep-seated opposition to the decision.

There was some criticism, of course, particularly at the exclusion of Sinn Féín, but they came from expected quarters – known critics of the Fianna Fáíl leader. That formed only a tiny sliver of the meeting.

And it ended with leader Micheál Martin being given an unopposed mandate to try and form a government with any party other than Sinn Féin.

“Nobody criticised Micheál really. Nobody criticised the disastrous campaign we had. We were operating on the basis that we had won the election rather than lost it. It was as if none of that had happened,” observed one TD ruefully afterwards.

Viewed in the cold light of day, the election had been a disaster for Fianna Fáil. Instead of gaining its targeted ten extra seats, it had lost seven – and the popular vote to Sinn Féin. The questions from 2011 cropped up again, of a party that was struggling for relevancy.

By any stretch, Fianna Fáil had a disastrous campaign. Its messages were hard to decipher; it was slow to react to the pension anomaly – and it performed an inexplicable mid-campaign flip-flop on rent freeze which looked awful.

Instead of being seen as the agent of change, the party was seen as part of the government, thanks in part to confidence and supply.

Micheál Martin had a very poor outing and struggled in most of the debates – and the more trenchantly he tried to down Mary Lou McDonald the more her star rose.

What perplexed some colleagues was that, even after the horse had bolted, Martin continued to attack Sinn Féin at every opportunity although the campaign was over.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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One thing is certain – nothing will ever be the same again

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Distance markings painted on the footpath as a reminder to people walking on the Salthill Prom. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

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

It might seem that what is happening in the world right now is something new that has never happened before – but that’s not quite the case. Such biblical outbreaks have happened before and with calamitous consequences.  A century ago in 1918, the Spanish flu reached the shores of Ireland, killing indiscriminately and causing massive disruption in society. It’s hard to get an accurate figure for how many people caught the flu but it could have been between 800,000 to one million. And between 20,000 and 25,000 people died – of all ages, including the very young.

Contemporary reports show that services, hospitals, and residential homes were overwhelmed. Coffins were stacked up eighteen-high in one Dublin mortuary because of the speed of attrition, and also because of the lack of gravediggers.

And then there was TB – a bacteria rather than a virus but that made it no less deadly. In the early part of the last century, it was reckoned to be killing 10,000 people a year in Dublin, many in the overcrowded tenements.

So, such plagues have occurred through the centuries – but, for our generation, outside common memory.

And what is different about this one is the overwhelming speed of transmission and the overwhelming volume of information throughout the world.

We live in a connected universe. There are daily flights from Ireland to just about every corner in the world. And so the virus has spread with mind-boggling rapidity.

It is only four months ago, in December, that the first report came in from Wuhan of an infection, believed to have been passed on by a bat at a live animal market (where they butcher on the spot). At the end of March, over 800,000 people have contracted it worldwide, of whom 40,000 have died.

That connection is also a non-physical one made possible by technology, both a blessing and a curse.

On the upside, it has allowed medical experts to learn very quickly what has worked – and not worked – elsewhere. Irish epidemiology specialists are in WhatsApp groups with colleagues from Wuhan and Lombardy where they share knowledge. Those searching for a vaccine can pool their research and trials.

The downside is that myths have been created and shared on social media, leading to a societal sense of mild panic.

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Coalition formation can’t stay on the back burner forever

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Health Minister Simon Harris and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at one of the daily COVID-19 press briefings.

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

It almost seems churlish talking about government formation in the midst of this awful crisis. But the reality is that things are coming to a head and the caretaker government will not have the mandate to continue after this weekend, even if it gets 100 per cent approval ratings.

The reasons for this are to do with Seanad Éireann. The elections for the Upper House always take place almost two months after the Dáil elections. They are happening this weekend and by early next week we will have a new Seanad. Well, almost a new Seanad.

There are 60 members in the Seanad and they are not elected in a normal way. Six are elected by graduates of the National University of Ireland and Trinity College. A further 43 are elected on vocational panels by county councillors and TDs. The remaining eleven are nominated by the Taoiseach.

And there’s the rub. The only Taoiseach entitled to appoint the eleven senators, according to Article 18 of the Constitution, is the “Taoiseach appointed next after reassembly of Dáil Éireann”.

Essentially, it means the next Taoiseach, whoever he or she is. Leo Varadkar is performing the role in a caretaker capacity.

And that has led to a bit of a limbo situation. We saw it in 2016 when it took 73 days to form the next government. It meant the new Seanad could not sit until a new Government, and a new Taoiseach, was appointed – who could then nominate the eleven senators.

So clearly, there is no new government waiting in the wings and we can’t have a new Seanad until a new government is formed.

Does it make any difference? Unfortunately, yes it does. Under our Constitution, any new legislation must make a full passage through both the Dáil and the Seanad. But if the Seanad is not up and running, the corollary is no Bills can be passed.

Already since the Coronavirus crisis has happened, the Government has rushed through one Emergency Bill with wide-ranging powers. This week with the last gasps of the outgoing Seanad, it is going to try and rush as many Bills as it can through both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Because from next week on, no legislation is possible because it would not be constitutional.

But that situation can’t go on forever. Already we have had legislation severely curtailing people’s freedom of movements – and even giving the State new powers of detention.

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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Steady hand is so critical in time of unprecedented crisis

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar addressing the nation this week.

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

There are really no words for it. I have been writing professionally for 30 years and I’m struggling to find the language to describe this tangled knot. People are absorbing huge volumes of information each day – it’s become a form of online gluttony where no matter how much you consume it’s not enough.

But of course we must. I’m reminded of Francis Fukoyama’s phrase ‘the end of history’. Inherent in the claim was that humans have become peerless. It described the triumph of neoliberalism in the 1990s. It was wrong then. It is wrong now.

There are forces in the world greater than us. A tiny microscopic virus passed from a bat to a single human being in a food market in an obscure Chinese city called Wuhan last November has the capacity to wipe out potentially millions of people.

The other phrase I have been reminded of this week when thnking of the Coronavirus outbreak is an old one: “doctors differ and patients die”.

That has been quite literal over the past month as experts try to curb the spread of a pandemic for which there is no vaccine.

Governments have followed expert advice in Ireland but there was always an element of guesswork and presumption there.

There’s no greater example than the situation in Britain where the government has eschewed widespread closures for the moment and where it promulgated the much-criticised theory of herd immunity.

It is true that when people contract this flu-like disease, they can develop immunity. But then this is a novel virus and different strains can emerge. And the difficulty there is that while the majority of people will suffer mild symptoms, there is a smaller but not insignificant percentage whose lives will be put at risk, or will die.

They are mostly elderly people with underlying conditions but those who don’t fall into those categories should not be blasé – evidence from Italy has shown that while children and young adults are generally okay, people in their 40s, 50s and 60s have ended up being intubated (on ventilators) in intensive care units.

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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