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Don’t outstay welcome in the corridors of power

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Renewed rivalries...Enda Kenny and Micheal Martin during the TG4 leaders’ debate last time out.

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

Lesson one from the world of modern democracy is this; if you are looking good for a third successive term in office, then engineer a scandal or a crisis – basically anything to collapse support for the government.

Because losing once is the key – if you don’t, people will just get tired of you being a tired government.  The net result will the same. Everything will come to a shuddering halt.

If Fianna Fáil had lost the 2007 election, the likelihood is that they would have returned to power in 2011 or 2012 and would be the outgoing government now.

They would have taken over when the economy was at its lowest ebb, succeeded in deflecting most of the blame onto hapless Fine Gael and Labour, and would now be presiding over a burgeoning economy and a second term in power.

Instead, the party stayed too long at the table, and took one bet too many. The party with the most chips went ‘all in’ and lost heavily and allowed Fine Gael cruise through and take over its mantel.

Now we have an extraordinary situation where Fine Gael is now seen as the natural party of Government and Fianna Fáil is struggling to remain relevant.

There’s still two months to go to the general election and it’s already shaping up to an election where Fine Gael will be out on its own with 25 to 35 seats to spare over its nearest rival, which will be Fianna Fáil.

At this moment on time, my guess is that Fine Gael could win 65 seats. Fianna Fail will be aiming for 40 on a good day but 35 may be a realistic aim.

Labour will go in to the election with over 30 seats and come back with half of that or less. I think the party will have done enough to win ten and may even win 15.

Sinn Féin is harder to guess. A few months ago I would have said 30. But the combination of things have pushed it back. There was Mairia Cahill’s one-woman campaign against the party. Other legacy issues also cropped up.

Its less-than-clever alliance with Syriza also pushed its ambitions back once the Greek party capitulated. It will get 20 seats easily and probably 25 – but getting 30 seats might now be a bit of a push.

So that brings us to about 135 and 140. My guess is that about 25 seats will go to Independents and non-aligned TDs, less than the one per constituency that once seemed possible.

I haven’t been too prescriptive. In all honesty, many of the final seats in the election will be decided by a sliver and you would need to have the combined powers of Nostradamus and Old Moore’s Almanac to divine how they are going to turn out.

Secondly, there is still two months to go and a lot can happen. Fine Gael might continue to gather momentum and come close to an overall majority. But then votes might get cold feet at the notion of that and vote tactically for another party.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

 

Connacht Tribune

Northern stand-off underlines President’s independent spirit

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Roman triumph...President Michael D Higgins meeting Pope Francis last week.

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

There was a time when becoming President was like being sent to the Missions; one day you were here and then you were gone for seven years without a trace.

Patrick Hillary’s 14 years in the office between 1976 and 1990 produced only two particularly memorable events; a disputed phone call from Brian Lenihan asking him not to dissolve the Dáil, and a press conference to deny a rumoured affair of which nobody in the media had been remotely aware.

Otherwise, like many other Presidents, Hillary’s term was relatively anonymous, another prisoner of the very circumscribed Constitutional role of a non-executive president.

The President had few powers but the few powers were important: summoning and dissolving the Dáil, appointing the Taoiseach and members of the Government, as well as referring Bills to the Supreme Court to test their constitutionality.

It was the latter power that brought the presidency of Cearbhaill Ó Dálaigh to a dramatic end in 1976, when a Fine Gael minister Paddy Donnegan slighted him by describing him as a “thundering disgrace” after his decision to refer special powers legislation to the Court.

That all changed after 1990 with the election of Mary Robinson. She enlarged the role of the office as did her successor Mary McAleese. So has Michael D Higgins and while the office is in name ‘above politics’, he more than anybody else has stretched that concept.

Last week, I travelled to Rome to cover the President’s visit to the Italian capital, his first visit abroad since the Covid-19 Pandemic in March 2020.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Parties no longer getting their own way at annual think-ins

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Brian Cowen, Mary Hannafin, and Bertie Ahern at the Fianna Fail think-in at Inchydoney back in 2004.

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

It’s Autumn and leaves are falling from the trees and blackberries are ripe and the party think-ins are in full flow. These away days for parties were originally to bring the parliamentary parties together after the summer break so they could regather their thoughts and come up with their strategies for the new Dáil session.

Then the bigger parties started getting guest speakers in, sometimes to give a contrary and unorthodox view on the economy or society.

It was at one such meeting in Inchydoney Hotel in Cork in 2004 when Fr Seán Healy of Social Justice Ireland addressed Fianna Fáil to explain to them that all the prosperity that had come into Ireland in recent years had led to widening inequalities.

It was out of that that the Inchydoney Strategy emerged, a reorientation by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern of his party’s prevailing ideology. The Fianna Fáil leader declared himself a socialist at the Cork resort and the party began to promote policies in Government that were less about economic expansion, more about the social dividend.

All of this happened during the course of the Celtic Tiger, when the economy was expanding at a ferocious rate, and already beginning to show signs of overheating. Ahern replaced Charlie McCreevy as Minister for Finance (he became EU Commissioner) with Brian Cowen. The Offaly TD was seen as less ‘PD’ than McCreevy. Indeed, he had famously said of the Progressive Democrats at an Ard Fheis: “When in doubt, leave them out.”

That strategy did reorient the economy but it was probably too late even then. The Celtic Tiger was at its height and Cowen pulled his punches when it came to taking the hard decisions between 2004 and 2008, with a series of milk-and-water budgets.

The Fianna Fáil manifesto for the 2007 general election was great for the party to get back into power but awful for the economy and society. The implications were not seen for two years, but when the symptoms of malaise appeared, of course, it was far too late to do anything about it.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

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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Connacht Tribune

Coveney gets the mood of the room wrong on Zappone role

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Simon Coveney addresses the Dail Committee over the offer of a UN role to Katherine Zappone.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

When his time came to resign as Taoiseach a long time ago after a series of unedifying crises and scandals, then Fianna Fáil leader Albert Reynolds coined a memorable phrase: “It’s the little things that trip you up.”

An aide of another Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, once told me Kenny’s daily task was like being handed a skipping rope in the morning and told to skip all day. If he tripped up even once, it could have been the end for him.

I was reminded of all that while looking at Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, going through a difficult two hours (for the second time in a week) on Tuesday.

It was all to do with the appointment of his former government colleague, Katherine Zappone (who was an independent TD for Dublin South-West between 2016 and 2020), as a special envoy to the UN.

In the scheme of things, it was a relatively small matter. In the span of Coveney’s career – a quarter of a century as a TD, a decade as a senior minister – he has made, and been subject to, some major decisions.

Even last week, Taoiseach Micheál Martin (of Fianna Fáil, don’t forget) made a huge effort to downplay this. His argument? Zappone was offered what amounted to a part-time role. The row over the appointment was a classic political “bubble” stuff. The reaction was overblown and melodramatic. And so on and so forth, as the Taoiseach frequently says.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

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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