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End of term brings contrasting report cards for country’s political leaders

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It’s now official – we are into silly season. The Dáil is in recess until September and the politicians, if they have any sense, are abroad on holidays…with their mobile phones turned off.

So who has had a good political year? And who has had a bad political year?

We might as well start at the top this week, looking at the leaders and the wanabee leaders in each party.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has, in the round, done relatively well. He has at times being petulant and blasé in his remarks during leaders’ questions in the Dáil (but that is ultimately not of any great import). Some of his pronouncements seem a little glib and shallow, verging on jingoistic.

However, overall, he has performed well above expectations and shown real political acumen and the kind of steel that is a prerequisite of leadership.

He made a mess of his response to the Magdalen enquiry early in the year but recovered magnificently three weeks later with one of the best speeches he has given during his career. The emotional pitch of that speech, as well as the sense he was speaking for everybody, reflected the overriding public sentiments on that particular matter, though some considered it maudlin.

He also displayed the ruthlessness that’s another essential trait of a political leader (even Garret ‘the Good’ FitzGerald possessed it!) when he made good on his threat to remove the whip from any TD who voted against the abortion legislation.

The steeliness of Kenny was in marked contrast to his Fianna Fáil counterpart Micheál Martin. Although his political reputation is tainted by dint of the fact he was a Minister in the last few Fianna Fáil governments, his party has done well under his leadership, and he has also done well generally as leader.

However, Martin’s weakness as a leader was exposed during the abortion debate. Instead of imposing a whip, he took the easy option of allowing a free vote. It looked very bad for a party that was trying to present a modern image that the vast majority of its members in the Dáil and in the Seanad voted against its own leader.

It also looked bad for him. He has worked hard to negate his image as a Minister who dithered a bit and vacillated – commissioning reports rather than taking hard decisions. Since becoming Fianna Fáil leader he seemed to have confronted this perception very well – his disciplining of Eamon Ó Cuív over the fiscal treaty referendum was a case in point.

For Eamon Gilmore and Labour, after a dismal 2012 and a bad start to 2013 (a rake of defections from the parliamentary party and a disastrous by-election in Meath East, it has not turned out to be at all bad.

After a series of false starts and misfires, some of the policies identified with the party have finally materialised.

Sinn Fein has also been on a bit of a comeback trail in the past few months. The early advantage they enjoyed in the wake of the 2011 election seemed to have been eviscerated by a resurgent Fianna Fáil in the latter half of 2012 and the early stages of this year.

The view among elected representatives of other parties is that Gerry Adams just doesn’t cut it as leader in the Dáil and either misses the point or is out-manoeuvred by other leaders.

And yet Adams is a brand and has a purchase with the wider public that is sometimes not appreciated within the beltway.

For a complete report see this week’s Tribune here.

Connacht Tribune

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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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

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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Connacht Tribune

Biden brings normality back to world’s most powerful office

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US President-elect Joe Biden celebrates his victory with his wife Jill and his Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris.

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

I did not want to make the same mistake I made four years ago. Then I stayed up until about 1.30am and it looked like it was going okay for Hillary Clinton in Florida. So I said to myself, that big buffoon is done for. When I woke up the next morning Donald Trump was the President of the United States. He had somehow managed to win Florida and dismantled the Blue Wall of Democrat States in the Mid-West by taking Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

This time I stayed up until 4.30 in the morning. And that was a mistake too. For the picture was as unclear then as it was 12 hours later.

It was too close to call but already commentators were talking of a red mirage; most on-the-day voters plumped for Trump but early voters – whose votes were counted last – had steered very sharply towards Joe Biden.

It was historic. It’s really hard to knock out an incumbent president seeking a second term. It had been done only eight times before that in two and a half centuries.

Was it his inept handling of Covid-19? Had people grown sick of his vanity and his self-serving boasts? Did this natural disruption just cause too much turmoil and uncertainty in people’s lives? Did his partisan views, that red-mist madness, repel more than it attracted?

Well, the evidence is in the poll. The answer to all those questions is yes. To me, the outcome was clear. Biden won the popular votes. He also won the electoral colleges.

The majority was small and reflects a very divided society. Trump is the champion of rural, less educated, blue collar white, conservative, Hispanic and white America. Biden is popular among the middle classes, the urbanites, the better educated, and black voters.

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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