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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

Changes afoot when Electoral Commission begins its work

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Galway West TD Noel Grealish: an expanded Galway East constituency could take his territories in Claregalway, Carnmore or Oranmore.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Once upon a time there was a constituency called Galway South. And until 1961 there was the constituency of Galway North. If you go back to the 19th century it was just Co Galway.

For this generation, the two constituencies that have made up this county have been Galway West and Galway East.

But with each census, and with each population increase, those old divisions have come under threat. It was complicated more during the years of austerity when the number of Teachtaí Dála were cut back to 158 for the 2016 election. That could not be sustained.

The 1937 Constitution provides that the minimum population number for each TD will be 20,000 and the maximum will be 30,000.

There was a marginal increase of TDs in the 2020 election to 160. The Constituency Commission recommended that number based on the 2016 census. However, it gave an average representation of 29,762 of population per member, which was perilously close to the upper limit.

It made for some very messy constituency changes around the country. Galway was one of the counties most impacted. The problem did not relate so much to Galway as much as the surrounding counties, Roscommon in particular.

The Commission is told to try to retain county boundaries as much as possible. As Ireland has changed that has become increasingly difficult, even with the wiggle room afforded by the wide margin allowed: between one TD per 20,000 people; and one TD per 30,000 people.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Donohoe discovers it’s the little things that trip you every time

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Minister Paschal Donohoe...embarrassing revelation.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

When the law finally caught up with Al Capone, it was not for organised crime, or for boot-legging – it was for failing to pay his taxes.

There’s a bit of a leap of imagination required for us to segue to the next paragraph. But stay with me …

We are writing about Paschal Donohoe, and the similarity is in the way that is the fact that it is a minor – and unexpected – fault or omission or act, that has also made his position vulnerable.

Donohoe is the third Minister in the past six months to find himself in hot water – not because of policies or Government decisions, but over omissions on personal declarations.

It might seem like a relatively trivial matter when compared with the huge impact that Government policies have on people’s lives. But governance is important.

Last autumn, the Longford-Westmeath TD Robert Troy ran into trouble when the online investigative site, On the Ditch, investigated his property interests. It emerged that Troy, a Minister of State for Enterprise, had not declared all his properties in his register of interests.

Troy initially did not respond but when he did it was only a partial explanation. Then there was more new information about his properties that was not known before. When you are explaining, you are losing, the American political adviser Karl Rove famously said. Now Troy was explaining and the more he explained the closer he got to the exit door. In the end he had no choice but to go.

Then only last week, the same website broke a story about Damien English and his home in Meath. This one went back a long time, to 2008 when English was a 30-year-old backbench TD.

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

Two Frank Fahys – sharing a name but not ideologies

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Ruairí Ó Brádaigh.... graveside oration.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

This is the story of two Fahys from East Galway. Both were involved in politics. One was a priest; the other a teacher and a barrister. Both opposed the Treaty but from the 1920s their paths diverged radically.   I had no knowledge of either man until very recently. Then a biography of Frank Fahy, written by Michael Fahy, was published last year.

‘Frank Fahy, Revolutionary and Public Servant’ is a fascinating account of how a teacher’s son from Kilchreest, born in 1879, became a leading figure in the Easter Rising, chose the anti-treaty side in the civil war, and became the Dáil’s longest serving Ceann Comhairle, chairing the chamber for 19 years.

Fr John Fahy was 14 years younger than his namesake but was already a militant nationalist by the time of his ordination in 1919. He travelled back to Ireland to attend the funeral of the republican priest Fr Michael Griffin, who was kidnapped and killed by the Auxiliaries.

Like Frank Fahy he took the anti-treaty side but for the turbulent priest there would be no reconciliation. He remained an unreconstructed militant until his death five decades later.

Frank Fahy went to UCG and became a teacher in Castleknock College in Dublin. He was a beautiful Irish speaker and very involved in Conradh na Gaeilge, becoming general secretary for a time.

He took part in the Easter Rising, being second-in-command of the brigade which took over the Four Courts. After narrowly escaping execution, he was one of the new MPs elected to Westminster when Sinn Fein’s won a complete landslide in 1918.

Taking the anti-treaty side, he was an abstentionist TD but joined Fianna Fáil when it was founded in La Scala in 1926. Michael Fahy paints a great scene when Frank Fahy topped the poll in Co Galway in 1932, which ushered in the first Fianna Fáil government.

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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