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Irish politics – the art of turning big ships while mastering science of slow bicycles

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

The week after the Budget was the quietest and most uneventful week in Leinster House, possibly since the election.

It was not as if nothing was happening. The Government launched its long-awaited strategy on substance misuse, particularly its plan to reduce alcohol consumption in Ireland.

The major event was the EU Summit in Brussels. Taoiseach Enda Kenny was there, with an agenda to ensure that Ireland’s exit from the bailout on December 15 would not come with too many terms and conditions attached.

Instead, the summit was dominated by the admirably-robust response of Angela Merkel to the revelations from US whistleblower Ed Snowden that her personal phone had been monitored by the US’s National Security Agency since 2002.

But for those haunting the corridors of the national parliament, they were very much peripheral to all those events. The one thing of note that happened in Leinster House was Enda Kenny’s appearance in the Seanad for two hours, the first time he has visited the Upper House since the referendum defeat. That said, the conciliatory nature and lack of mutual recrimination made for a kind of nondescript afternoon.

Over the course of the weekend I was rereading The Power Game, the book on Fianna Fáil written by my Irish Times colleague Stephen Collins. The chapter on the arms crisis was fascinating, not least in the events following the sensational disclosure that Government ministers may have been involved in a plot to import arms for Northern militants. Collins described the atmosphere of turmoil and of crisis that gripped Leinster House.

That kind of carnival happened a few times when Charlie Haughey was Fianna Fáil leader, and when challengers heaved against him. The most recent examples of utter chaos came during Brian Cowen’s unhappy reign: the bank guarantee of October 2008; the loss of sovereignty and the IMF intervention in late 2010; and Cowen’s spectacular misjudgement in axing half his Cabinet in January 2011.

But those moments of high drama are very rare events. For the most part, the business of politics is humdrum and incremental: the scrutiny of legislation; the pursuit of policies that are important yet technical; committee work that takes up a huge amount of time yet is rarely reported.

In other words, it is often hard-to-explain and boring. The stuff the media veers towards is personality clashes or process stories – far more alluring, far easier to explain.

Quiet week and all that it was last week, there was one common thread that ran through all the four political highlights. And that is that change in a society, even a small society like Ireland, happens very slowly and very incrementally.

We are all familiar with the cliché about the big ships are the slowest at turning – and Irish politics is a port stuffed with those big ships.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

 

Connacht Tribune

Sinn Féin will discover power brings evolution not revolution

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Taoiseach in waiting?...Mary Lou McDonald with Galway West TD Mairead Farrell on the streets of Galway.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Sinn Féin is not like any other party; even when it enjoyed only a fraction of the support of the SDLP it was still attracting the attention of the world media. During the 1980s and 1990s, just about the only Irish political figure American political journalists could name was Gerry Adams.

There was something about Sinn Féin that set it apart – that smell of cordite was catnip for the media.

So the party is viewed through a different lens than, say, the Labour Party, or the Social Democrats, or even the Greens. It carries original sin in the eyes of a portion of the electorate (generally older) who see its association with violence (which included many egregious murders and massacres) as unforgivable for all time.

For others, the passage of time has taken some of the sharp edges away. For the rest, specifically those born after the 1994 ceasefire, that is just not relevant to their lives. For some of those who remember those years, that attitude of younger voters is hard to stomach. But that’s the reality of how things stand just now.

I was always taken by the phrase of the late historian Ronan Farren that the birth certificates of all nations are blood-soaked. The fact of the matter is that Sinn Féin has been in from the cold for 25 years almost, accepting that it would strive to achieve its goals by exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Áras an Uachtaráin and the constitutional ties that bind

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Making headlines... President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina during their visit to the Galway 1916 Exhibition in the former Connacht Tribune Print Works on Market Street.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Those who become President of Ireland are, metaphorically, provided with a silken gag; for the seven years they reside in Áras an Uachtaráin, they are supposed to keep their opinions and personal political persuasions to themselves.

The relevant Article in the Constitution sets out this rule: “No power or function conferred on the President by law shall be exercisable or performable by him save only on the advice of the Government.”

The President is not allowed to leave the State without first receiving the advice (i.e. the permission) of the Government. Theoretically, every speech they make needs to be run by the government first.

The President is said to be “above politics”. That meant they are not subject to any criticism from parliament or from the government. The other side of the coin is that it is expected the President will not wander into the political forum.

For most of the time since the office of the President was established in 1937, these rules have caused no major problems. With one exception.

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

Trimble leaves a legacy of peace to be proud of

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David Trimble...lasting legacy.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

The death of David Trimble brought back memories of the time he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize almost a quarter of a century ago, along with John Hume, for their efforts in securing the historic Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

It could be argued that others should have been also on the plane to Oslo that winter, namely Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair.

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness also played an important role by steering the hard men of the IRA on a path that saw them end their campaign of violence and accept a political solution achieved by solely democratic means.

Of course, it would have been a blatant contradiction to award a peace prize to Adams and McGuinness given their instrumental roles in a republican movement that prosecuted a ruthless armed strategy for almost 30 years right up to that time. The Damascene conversion in 1998 did not erase what had gone before.

Certainly, Hume and those around him from the SDLP – particularly Séamus Mallon – deserved all the praise they got for their selfless pursuit of a political pathway and their brave eschewal of all forms of violence as they grappled with the unique set of circumstances of Northern Ireland.

That said, Trimble showed a huge degree of personal courage and resilience in facing down his critics and enemies – and there were many loud and bitter voices condemning him on the unionist side – and persevering with the talks that culminated with the historic agreement in Hillsborough Castle on that Good Friday in early April in 1998.

But it would have been unimaginable for him to be in that position three years before hand or even three years afterwards when the UUP began imploding around him. The important thing was that he stayed the course during that crucial period.

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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