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‘Lobby fodder’ can still shine despite the frustrations of being on back benches

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

A team wins the All Ireland and the captain goes up and says the cúpla focal and then thanks the sponsors and the doctor and the bagman and the back room team and, yerrah, the manager.

And then he goes on to say it’s not the fifteen fellows who took to the field but it was a squad thing. And in his blazingly original way he commends the opposition and, sure, we know what it was like for ye lads, and says hip, hip, hurray.

And when you’re listening to him and you are number 29 out of a squad of 30 and not in the team photograph and not on the pitch and not really remembered and sitting so long on the subs’ bench that your backside is getting numb you know deep down that that is not the way it is.

And if you have any grey matter you also know that your captain is talking a pile of phoney baloney. He can stand up there and say it’s all about the squad until he’s blue in the face.

But the simple undeniable uncomfortable reality is that if you don’t get game time – even for a few piddling moments – it is nothing and you are nothing.

And that is also the lot of your average backbench TD or Senator, especially for a Government party. The most you can hope for is to be told to run up and down the political sidelines to warm up and do a bit of stretching. But for the most part you will get as much involvement in the fray – the cut and thrust of Government – as the average Joe Punter sitting in the stands.

I can’t remember how often I’ve repeated former Fianna Fáil TD Barry Andrews pithy little phrase about the role of a backbench Government TD. I repeat it so often because it’s still the best description by a long shot.

“Lobby fodder” was how Andrews put it.

I was watching the Labour TD for Dublin Mid West Joanne Tuffy on Vincent Browne’s programme on TV3 on Monday night as she got attacked on all sides for her party’s performance in Government. Now, as a point of fact, Labour have actually done much better in the coalition this year than they did in the first two years when they were played by Fine Gael like a cat plays a mouse. That said, Browne and the other guests weren’t thrilled about the self-congratulatory tone of the Labour Party conference (sure, I’ve never been to a party conference that wasn’t self congratulatory).

Anyway Joan took some mild ribbing, particularly over her party’s failure to introduced a third higher rate of tax for high earners. Browne actually quoted a very interesting finding from a recent report from the left-leaning Nevin Institute which showed that the lowest ten per cent of earners in Irish society paid proportionately more of their income in taxes of one kind of another than the highest ten per cent. It was a fair point and Tuffy had no choice but to try to field it.

Her point was that she would have preferred a higher rate of tax but that no increase in tax had been a central plank of Fine Gael’s pre-election manifesto and, as such, she and her colleagues were powerless to get the larger party to shift from that position. Doubly powerless as a member of the smaller party and as a backbencher.

Like the substitute who never gets game time, it can be very frustrating for a backbench TD. Once you are in Government it’s the executive – the Ministers and junior Ministers – who get to call the shots. Some TDs will get a consolation prize – offered the chair of a committee. But for the rest it’s a hard old station. Many spend their parliamentary time making a speech on a Bill they have no feel for, reading from a script that is often written by a party researcher.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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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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

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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Connacht Tribune

Biden brings normality back to world’s most powerful office

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US President-elect Joe Biden celebrates his victory with his wife Jill and his Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris.

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

I did not want to make the same mistake I made four years ago. Then I stayed up until about 1.30am and it looked like it was going okay for Hillary Clinton in Florida. So I said to myself, that big buffoon is done for. When I woke up the next morning Donald Trump was the President of the United States. He had somehow managed to win Florida and dismantled the Blue Wall of Democrat States in the Mid-West by taking Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

This time I stayed up until 4.30 in the morning. And that was a mistake too. For the picture was as unclear then as it was 12 hours later.

It was too close to call but already commentators were talking of a red mirage; most on-the-day voters plumped for Trump but early voters – whose votes were counted last – had steered very sharply towards Joe Biden.

It was historic. It’s really hard to knock out an incumbent president seeking a second term. It had been done only eight times before that in two and a half centuries.

Was it his inept handling of Covid-19? Had people grown sick of his vanity and his self-serving boasts? Did this natural disruption just cause too much turmoil and uncertainty in people’s lives? Did his partisan views, that red-mist madness, repel more than it attracted?

Well, the evidence is in the poll. The answer to all those questions is yes. To me, the outcome was clear. Biden won the popular votes. He also won the electoral colleges.

The majority was small and reflects a very divided society. Trump is the champion of rural, less educated, blue collar white, conservative, Hispanic and white America. Biden is popular among the middle classes, the urbanites, the better educated, and black voters.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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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