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History and family – a winning double act

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

Just about the best anecdote in the late political editor of The Irish Times, Dick Walsh’s book about Fianna Fáil is his recounting of a conversation with a neighbour in Co Clare.

The neighbour professed himself to be a member of Fianna Fáil and said his family had supported the party right back to its origins.

Back to 1927, so? Not at all, replied the neighbour, all the way back to ’98.

Walsh used the illustration to show that Fianna Fáil was something more than a political party, that it was a national organisation, or a political cult. Allegiance to the party was welded into the DNA of successive generations being born into the same family.

You see it frequently in Ireland. You might wrap the red flag around you and proclaim Gort as a Soviet Republic but once the news filters out that “he comes from a strong Fine Gael family” the die is cast and you are labelled.

There’s a famous cartoon from the Dublin Opinion in the 1950s that shows a frail Dail Deputy on his death bed with his family surrounding him. He’s telling them what he’s leaving them in his will – the farm; the pub; the undertaking business. And he then turns to his eldest son and says he is leaving him his Dáil seat.

It’s a wry observation but it was also true. Maybe a little less true these days. Nonetheless, it’s still a phenomenon that’s evidenced very strongly in Irish politics. A fifth of Irish TDs are hereditary: sons, daughters, nieces, nephews or grandchildren of former politicians.

For a political party, there are obvious advantages to running a child of a TD. For one, there is the name recognition – especially in a bye-election.

When people periodically ask Michael O’Leary of Ryanair why he doesn’t go in and run the country, he replies that he would make a lousy politician. I’m not quite sure if he would, but as a general proposition, he is right.

You need a certain type of temperament and outlook to become a successful politician. You need to think and act socially, be generally good with people having a good sense of what they are thinking, and have an outgoing personality.

You also need to believe in something – unfortunately too many politicians believe only in gaining power and holding onto it. There are as many exceptions to that general rule. Generally, the children of politicians grew up campaigning for their parents, answering the door, attending meetings, and being steeped in the tradition. They can slot into playing that role more easily and more comfortably than others.

Look at Enda Kenny, Michael Kitt and Máire Geoghegan Quinn. All became TDs in their early twenties in the 1970s in byelections, after the deaths of their TD fathers. At that age, all were completely unproven. They were all teachers and primarily what got them selected first, and elected second, was the power of the name plus a sympathy factor.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Guard changes but tough calls wait for another day

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Changing of the guard...Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Sic transit gloria mundi. I used to love using that expression when I was a student. For obvious reasons. A. It had the right degree of pretension for a show-off like myself. B. It actually means something.

It should be engraved on the headstone of every politician. Enoch Powell had another way of saying it; all political careers end in failure.

Anyway we have another changing of the guard on December 17, where Micheál Martin steps down as Taoiseach and Leo Varadkar steps in. It might equally be described as moving the deckchairs on the Titanic, if you are an opposition TD.

Unless my political judgement is completely off beam, I think it will be Martin’s last spin as Taoiseach – making him shortest-lived Fianna Fáil Taoiseach, although, in fairness, Albert Reynolds did not last all that much longer than he.

Strangely enough he will remain as Fianna Fáil leader. For how long? Indefinitely. Martin has managed to be a better survivor than many of his predecessors. When he was elected party leader in 2011, many predicted he and the party would be gone by the next election. They weren’t.

Then they said he would be the first Fianna Fáil leader never to be Taoiseach. Then they said he would be gone as Fianna Fáil leader around the time he stood down as Taoiseach. He isn’t and there is a strong chance now he will lead his party into the next general election.

Why? Because there is not a ready-made natural-born Fianna Fáil leader among its parliamentary corps. Not yet, anyway.

If he survives to 2025 he will be actually the second longest serving Fianna Fáil leader after Eamon de Valera, outlasting Bertie Ahern and Charlie Haughey and Sean Lemass.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Greens set the bar high on seats for next local elections

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Eamon Ryan...brave ambitions.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

There we all were thinking the Greens were going to repeat what happened a decade ago and lose most, or all, of their seats in the next election. But then Eamon Ryan told the party’s annual convention last weekend that he wanted the party to grow and increase seats.

He even put a target on it – to double its number of council seats from 50 to 100 at the next local elections in 2024.

It’s a brave claim and there will be some that say the only target we see is the one on Eamon Ryan’s back.

We all know the fate of smaller parties in government in Ireland. And none should know it better than the Greens. They won six seats in 2007 and lost them all in 2011.

Of course, there were extenuating circumstances. They were unlucky enough to be tacked onto a Fianna Fáil party which had pumped up the economy to bulbous levels in the decade before they went into coalition together.

The only party to buck the trend for a smaller party coming out of coalition was the Progressive Democrats in 2002. However, that was only a reprieve; they were s annihilated in the following election in 2007.

Ryan’s argument is that there is always a percentage of the population who will back Green first and it is growing. That is true. But the reality is it’s not ten per cent of the population yet – it is closer to five. And that five per cent is concentrated in middle class urban areas.

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

Only sure thing in politics is nothing stays the same

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Galway in the 1950’s – how different is this to today.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

In less than a month’s time we will witness a first in Irish politics – the first instance of a Government which rotates its Taoiseach half way through the term.

It was due to happen on December 15, but it has been pushed back to allow Micheál Martin have his last hurrah – a final Summit in Brussels.

Then Leo Varakdar will come back for his second go – and if the Government lasts a full term, Varadkar’s two stints in the job will use about amount to one full term of five years.

It’s not the first time that a shared Taoiseach has been floated. Dick Spring suggested it to John Bruton in 1994. There was talk of Eamon Gilmore doing it with Enda Kenny before the 2011 general election. Enda Kenny suggested it to Micheál Martin in 2016.

Now it’s happened and I’m sure it won’t be the last time we will see it in the Irish political context – because the political landscape has altered irrevocably.

A majority of voters in Ireland identified with one tribe or another during most of the 20th century. Memories of the revolution and civil war were still fresh. The parties both represented different sections of society (although there were big swatches of common ground). Ireland was rural, isolated, Catholic, conservative. Even in the 1980s, the two big parties still pulled 80 per cent plus of the vote.

We have a WhatsApp group from my class in the Jes in the 1980s. One of the lads recently posted an aerial photography of Galway taken in the the late 1950s. The city of Galway was nothing more than small town.

Shantalla was a new estate on the far outskirts. There was no Cathedral. Taylor’s Hill was hitting open countryside once you got past St Mary’s Terrace. There were open fields leading from Sea Road down to the shore.

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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