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Is era of blind loyalty to the party finally giving way to more sophisticated voting?

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

The then-political editor of The Irish Times Dick Walsh had a gem of an anecdote in his book on Fianna Fáil, ‘The Party’ written in 1986.

It concerned an old man who was a neighbour of the Walshes in County Clare. He fell into conversation with Walsh’s father who asked him how long his family had supported Fianna Fáil.

“Ever since the Rising,” he said.

The 1916 Rising? asked Walsh’s father.

No, replied the old man, the 1798 rising.

We are all familiar with the notion of people having a blind fealty to one or other of the two main parties in Ireland. It is also true that that loyalty is probably not as pervasive or as  ‘sticky’ as it once was, but like the old fellow in Walsh’s anecdote there are lots of people out there who are Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael because of family tradition and because it’s built into their double helix.

Loyalty to the organisation becomes an all-consuming thing, even when it involves flip-flops, or u-turns or betrayals of principle. The notion of organisation at all costs irrespective of values was brought home to me when Maire Geoghegan-Quinn (as a leading figure of the so-called country and western set) challenged Charles J Haughey’s leadership of Fianna Fáil in the early 1990s.

She spoke about the organisation as being paramount, of loyalty to it being more important than anything else. ‘What about values?’ I thought to myself. Do they even get a look in? As I listened to her, I felt like she was talking about a cult.

Conformity is a strong factor in the Irish political party tradition. The whip is rarely defied and when it is, the consequences can be devastating. Sinn Fein, a party which hasn’t fully cast off the psychology of its paramilitary past, is a good example.

The party has adopted a position on abortion legislation that is somewhat at odds with its position pre the 2011 election. The party does not encourage any divergence at all in its public utterances and positions. Of all parties, diversity of opinion is never an option.

Peadar Tóibín’s defiance of the whip over the abortion issue will result in strong disciplinary measures, though nothing as radical as de-selection.

Sinn Fein is not alone in its disciplinarian approach. All the main parties have a zero tolerance attitude to disobedience. If a TD or Senator votes against the party, it means automatic expulsion from the parliamentary party and a suspension, that can sometimes be permanent.

The gravity of defiance is illustrated by Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s warning that any Fine Gael TD voting against the abortion legislation will be deselected and will not be allowed be a Fine Gael candidate in the next election. It’s a sobering choice.

At the time of writing this, it is uncertain which way Lucinda Creighton will vote. But I would be astonished if she supported the legislation, given the all-out battle she has waged with the party leadership over this issue.

When Minister for Health James Reilly claimed on the radio that Fine Gael’s intentions on the matter were made clear in the 2011 election, she responded with a haycutter of a tweet.

“Sorry Dr Reilly. Please do not mislead people. Our manifesto and programme for govt DID NOT commit FG TDs to this. Read it. Don’t make it up.”

And that, as they say, was that. For her and for others it boils down to sacrificing their principles to show unquestioning loyalty to the organisation.

How will Creighton and the other abortion rebels fare if Kenny remains true to his word and refuses to allow those TDs stand in the next election?

With two 2011 candidates in Galway West in the dissident camp, Brian Walsh and Fidelma Healy-Eames, the obvious person to stand in the ‘bearna bhaol’ is Hildegarde Naughton, a candidate herself two years ago.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

O’Malley left a lasting mark on Ireland’s political stage

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Bridie O’Flaherty with Des O'Malley and Bobby Molloy at the Progressive Democrats launch in Leisureland.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Desmond O’Malley was not a typical politician. He was never a glad-handler; not a fan of canvassing or indulging in small talk or being all things to all people.

He smoked like a trooper until he had to give up. He could be abrupt with people, to the point of rudeness.

When his successor Mary Harney was a Minister in the Coalition that banned smoking in pubs and other indoor areas, he told her straight out: “I never thought you would become a member of a Taliban government.”

But he was a remarkable politician. They talk of the best hurlers and footballers who never won All Irelands; O’Malley was certainly among those select few politicians who could have been – and perhaps should have been – Taoiseach.

He entered politics as a young man, succeeding his enigmatic uncle, Donagh O’Malley as a TD for Limerick East at the age of 29. And from the outset, he was a favourite of Taoiseach Jack Lynch and was made government chief whip in 1969.

Inevitably, when the arms trial erupted, he sided with Lynch and against Charles Haughey and Niall Blaney. Even in the weeks before his death, he vehemently contested claims that Lynch must have known of the arms plot long before the date set out by him in his public statements.

As Minister for Justice from 1970 to 1973, he established the Special Criminal Court, giving him a strong reputation as a politician who was adamantly opposed to the Provisional IRA and all it stood for.

Within Fianna Fáil, O’Malley was intimately associated with the Lynch and George Colley wing of the party. He himself was deeply involved in the three unsuccessful heaves and campaigns against Haughey that took place during the tumultuous years between 1979 and 1985.

But Haughey had the whip hand in the party in those days, no matter how flagrant the abuse or how big the scandal.

Read Harry’s full column in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now – or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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Connacht Tribune

Housing policy can make or break Fianna Fáil’s future

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Faded glory...the Corrib Great Southern Hotel.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

When you approach Galway City from the east, you come across it as soon as you clear Merlin Park – standing out like a sore thumb; a sentinel warning us that buildings like humans fall victim to the ravages of time and to fortune.

The Corrib Great Southern Hotel is the city’s biggest eyesore and has been for many years. It’s a huge hulk of a building; vacant for many years, heavily vandalised, its windows smashed or boarded-up, its once-pristine grounds now overgrown.

Built in 1970, it’s long way away from its heyday when, in an era of optimism, it became the CIE-owned Great Southern Hotel Group’s most modern hotel.

We were kids when it was operating fully and it seemed to be thriving, as a hotel, wedding venue and for dinner dances.

All of that seems a long time ago now. The hotel has been vacant for a hell of a long time (since 2007) and in a way has become a symbol of Galway’s housing crisis.

All the more so because it stands across a roundabout from the gleaming new Garda headquarters and also the wonderfully revamped GMIT.

It’s been due for demolition for a long time and has been on the derelict site register since 2015 – but no action has been taken despite statutory orders on the registered owners.

In one way, the hotel is a symbol of the inertia of successive governments in tackling the housing crisis in Ireland. The inaction in relation to it is replicated across the board in Galway and in all other Irish counties.

The roots of the current housing crisis have its beginnings in the Celtic Tiger years when local authorities stopped developing their own housing and left it to the private market.

A big part of the strategy was Part V housing, where developers had to earmark ten per cent of all new developments for social housing.

The second hammer blow was the recession. When the money ran out after 2009, one of the first casualties was capital funding for housing.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Labour’s awakenings will take time to reap any real reward

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Passing of the baton...Michael D Higgins with his successor Derek Nolan at the Galway West count at Leisureland.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

The film Awakenings was based on the experience of the psychiatrist Oliver Sacks with patients who had contracted a disease called encephalitis lethargica during and shortly after World War I.

Thousands contracted it around the world. How they got it has remained a mystery but it could have been connected to the Spanish Flu outbreak at the time.

It essentially left them in a catatonic state, sleeping, unmoving, like zombies for decades. By the time Sacks came across a group of them in New York, they were all residents of an institution called the Beth Abrams Home for the Incurable.

That did not leave much to the imagination. Some of these people had been essentially sleeping for over 40 years.

He experimented with a drug called L-dopa, which had been used successfully for the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease.

The effect was extraordinary; the drug was like an electric shock that jolted the patients back to life and to sentient existence.

The ‘miracle’ had its drawbacks, however. After a while, it became difficult to control the patients as they became increasingly manic. Ultimately a tough decision was taken to withdraw the drug and the patients relapsed into their catatonic states.

All of that is a bit of a stretched way of saying ‘flash in the pan’, but life sometimes teaches us that success can be very temporary indeed.

There is a long pattern in Irish politics, for example, of a winner in a by-election going on to win a seat in the subsequent general election. However, less than six months after winning a by-election in Wexford, Malcolm Byrne of Fianna Fáil got turfed out in the general election.

Look at it the other way. Sinn Féin were the big losers of the 2019 local elections but turned the ship around completely less than nine months later. The lesson to be learned is success or failure is never a permanent phenomenon in politics.

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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