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Election wobbles aplenty but no dramatic falls on the cards for political year ahead

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

How eventful a political year will 2014 be? Well there’s no general election but a local election. The troika has gone and the stabilisers have been taken off the bike. So we certainly expect to see a few wobbles but no dramatic falls.

So on the face of it, it could be a slightly more prosaic mid-term year. But as we have seen so often in politics, the dramatic and momentous often happen when they are least expected.

The biggest events on the political calendar will undoubtedly be the local and European elections which will take place in June. They will be keenly watched as political weather vanes. But the truth is while they will a little about the state of the parties, they will not tell you a lot.

There has been a trend in Ireland and elsewhere for governing parties to be given – to use Enda Kenny’s technical phrase – a wallop in mid-term elections, only to recover fully and consolidate in general elections.

The textbook example is Britain under Tony Blair, where Labour did very poorly in local elections yet romped home in three successive general elections. We saw the same pattern here in Ireland under Bertie Ahern, though not quite as marked.

The problem with analysing this summer’s elections is with what do you compare it? If you compare it with the 2007 general election it showed a number of interesting trends. But then what happened in the general election in 2011 was so dramatic, so extraordinary that all comparisons seem redundant.

Fianna Fáil was the dominant party in 2007 with Fine Gael recovering somewhat from the 2002 debacle, and Labour treading water. Sinn Féin – which had been mooted as the up and coming party for a decade – actually suffered a reverse, losing one of its five seats.

The local elections of 2009 signalled a change in the political winds. The recession was beginning to bite and it was clear that steely grip of Fianna Fáil was being prised away.

It lost 84 seats on city and county councils, seeing its support levels fall back to a record low of 25.4 per cent. With 218 seats it was a distant second to Fine Gael which upped its percentage to 32 per cent and won 340 seats.

Labour was also on an upward trajectory under new leader Eamon Gilmore, taking 132 seats (a gain of 31) and becoming the largest party on four councils: Dublin City; Fingal, South Dublin; and Galway City. 

The bad news for Sinn Fein was that its reverse in 2007 looked like it had turned into stagnation. The party won 54 seats and 7.4 per cent of the national vote – exactly the same as it had been in the previous local elections of 2004.

The funny thing now is that Fianna Fáil would be very happy indeed to get the lousy 25 per cent it got in 2009, given that it won just 16 per cent of the vote and few transfers in 2011.

It’s likely too that Fine Gael might get close enough to the 32 per cent it got in 2009, though I’d say it’s more likely to score in the high twenties but could still retain most of the gains it made five years ago.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Ireland must examine new alternatives to lockdowns

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Professor Martin Cormican....social distancing the key.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

As of this week, Ireland had the lowest 14-day rate of Covid-19 in the EU. Our rate of 88.5 cases per 100,000 people beats the next lowest, Finland, which is at 96 cases. Iceland, which is not in the EU, is lower but there are extenuating circumstances there, given that it’s a little like New Zealand and Australia – literally places apart.

Being an island nation is certainly a help to us. But being a small mixed economy, and a huge base for global pharma, agriculture and technology, we had some of the busiest sea and air routes in Europe.

A lot of people come in and leave the country each day in normal times, tens of millions of journeys in and out each year.

Of course, that traffic has subsided greatly. We still have flights and sailings, but the great bulk is freight or essential journeys.

The air industry has claimed there is little connection between travel and Covid-19, as most of the transmission was community. But community transmission must start somewhere.

The first cases in Ireland came mainly from people coming back from skiing holidays in Austria and northern Italy. Many thousands of Irish people went on holidays to the Continent during the Summer – including a substantial number who went to countries like Spain, which were not on the ill-fated green list.

Some of the cases identified here in the Autumn came from a particular Spanish strain of the virus.

It remains to be seen if the new EU traffic light system works and if people take the (relatively expensive) tests before flying – or just ignore it, knowing there will be little chance of being sanctioned.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Best laid plans and programmes can fall foul of political reality

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Debate snub...Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

If architects’ plans were like the Programme of Government,

  1. the country would be full of unfinished buildings
  2. that would look nothing like the plans.

Prospective governments spend weeks – and sleepless nights – working out the programme that will be the blueprint for their term of office.

Some even produce a glossy self-congratulatory report each year, showing how many of its targets have been achieved.

Two things need to be said about that:

  1. They are subjective.
  2. Nobody outside the bubble pays any attention to them.

Some set out ambitious targets for the first 100 days of government. That idea has been around since the 1930s and is designed to show a signal of intent, that the new Government is going to put its money where its mouth is.

More often than not the new regime learns to its cost that it has bitten off more than it can chew. Achieving something in the world of politics within 100 days is like reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace during a lunch break.

  1. Not exactly impossible
  2. But not exactly possible

And do governments learn from these mistakes? Do they realise that it is a bit of a ridiculous concept?

  1. No
  2. No

There is a political problem here. You might achieve the big things in politics, you might get a wobbly economy back on to an even keel, you might create a historic record for employment, you might push through the six referendums you promised to liberalise society.

But it’s a bit like the guy who earns a reputation for not buying a round. No matter if he has devoted his life to the service of others, and has sacrificed everything for the personal good.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Politics and law have been entwined through the ages

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Seamus Woulfe...at the centre of latest storm.

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

I remember when I was a kid there was an Irish rugby tour to apartheid South Africa which caused a huge furore, including a (if I remember correctly) a shouty row on The Late Late Show. One of the arguments used by those favouring the tour was: “Sports and politics should not mix.”

It went down well as a sound bite but was a nonsense; the reality is that politics mixes with everything, including sports. Nothing occurs in a vacuum.

Politicians make decisions over how sport is funded, how it is governed and regulated (look at the recent row over John Delaney’s tenure), and sometimes when it can be played.

All sports organisations have their own internal politics which can be more vicious than the stuff that goes on in Leinster House. And political parties have long ago discovered the benefits of putting a high profile former sportsperson up as a candidate.

Which brings us onto the bigger issue: the separation of powers in the State. Our Constitution draws out a relationship between the three arms of State – the Executive (government), Judiciary and Parliament (the Oireachtas). The impression that has been handed down to us is they are three goldfish in different bowls, all swimming, but in different waters.

It just doesn’t work out like that in real life. For one, for most of the history of the State, parliament has essentially been a chattel of government, with no real separate powers of its own.

In recent years, with less stable majorities for government than in the past, that relationship has changed – but parliament is still very much subservient to central Government.

It’s not just lip service when it comes to relationships with the legal establishment. There is an effort to assert that they operate in separate spheres but real life often intrudes – it’s more or less impossible to maintain the divide, unless you do it artificially.

For one, it is politicians who appoint judges, not other judges. Now, of course, judges have a say in it. There is the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) which assesses the merits of lawyers who are not yet judges.

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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