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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

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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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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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.

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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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