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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

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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Connacht Tribune

Changing political landscape fast becoming Double Dutch

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Big winner...Ivan Bacik after her by-election victory.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Holland is so used to enduring a perennial political log-jam – where every election just digs you deeper and deeper into a rut – that they’ve actually come up with their own name for it.

It’s called Dutchification – when society has become so urbanised, and globalised, and fragmented, and lacking cohesion, that no party, or parties, can expect to win any more.

The former RTÉ journalist Peter Cluskey wrote a very interesting article last week about this continued electoral limbo they have in Holland, where he’s been based for many years.

And truth be told, the same is happening here; the day of overall majorities is long gone.

We have gone from having two large parties to having three medium sized ones (and with the demise of Fianna Fáil it could even by two medium sized ones, or one large and one medium).

The reality is that it will be difficult for the foreseeable future for any two parties to form a coalition, and it could be difficult for any three parties to do the same.

The old fealties to the three long-established parties have been blown out of the water.

The biggest pool of voters now has no permanent loyalty. They are the floaters.

And there is a growing ‘none of the above’ contingent too, possibly spurred on by the cynicism, empty populism and downright lies, of social media.

They will vote for a party that opposes the government. And once that party they support goes into government, they immediately withdraw their support for it. Short of coming up for an elixir that guarantees everlasting joyous life, these voters will never support a party in government.

I know it sounds cynical but if you talk to enough people around the country – as I always try to do – the person with a deeply cynical disposition and a hate of politicians is no longer a rarity.

Sinn Féin is the growing party at the moment and – from this vantage point – looks like it will be in government for the next spin.

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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