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Low poll would reflect a referendum campaign that just failed to catch fire

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

I’m surprised at the lack of engagement with the referendums next Friday. Sure, nobody was ever going to get into a lather of sweat about a referendum on a Court of Criminal Appeal (though it’s not entirely a good thing). But the proposal to demolish one of the pillars of our State, one of the bedrocks of our Constitution, has also left the public underwhelmed… and that’s putting it very mildly.

After all did the idea to hold a referendum on the Seanad not stem from populist sentiment? Wasn’t it Enda Kenny’s response in 2009 to the public mood that politicians and the institutions they had built up around them had fallen into disrepute? So successful was Kenny’s stunt, if it was that, that all the main parties adopted the same position going into the 2011 election.

It’s obvious to anybody who has followed politics in anything more than a cursory way over the past two years that the mood has changed. There may still be anger at the way that the establishment, political and financial, led the country into excess and living beyond our means and then frittered it all away. But that anger has subdued.

What was raw and immediate two years ago is now more resigned, more indifferent. So when politicians now post the question, should we abolish the Seanad, the most coherent response that is coming back is we don’t really care.

The consequence of all that? It looks like the turnout will be low, as low as the mid-twenties, as happened with the children’s referendum and a referendum on bail over a quarter of a century ago. Neither are directly comparable, only to say that the lower the turnout the more unreliable opinion polls are.

So while the polls over the past few months have been suggesting a comfortable gap for the Yes side (the abolitionists) the reality may turn out to be different. A low turnout will mean that only the most committed will vote.

And there are two pieces of conventional wisdom that have been bandied around about those in the past few weeks. The first is that a majority will be middle class. The second is that those middle class voters are strongly veering towards a reformed Seanad, which means a No vote rather than a Yes vote.

The difficulty is they cannot really be tested for accuracy until after the event… in other words, after people have voted.

For many months I have been saying that I think that a No vote would prevail. In recent weeks though, I sense it might be a close run thing. The fact that the gap has not closed in the Red C opinion polls is an important indicator. That surveys all potential voters, not only those who are more or less guaranteed to vote. The very likely voters will include a lot of No’s but lately it seems that the Yes side might shade it.

The other thing that has been slightly disconcerting has been that the debate has rarely been able to go deeper than the superficial.

For most of last week, we witnessed an artificial row with the opposition leaders trying to bait Taoiseach Enda Kenny into a televised debate. RTE even got into the act by extending such an invitation to Mr Kenny and Micheál Martin. But it was clear that once Kenny said No, he couldn’t backslide from that position once he made it.

In a sense it’s a pity that Kenny didn’t consent to the debate. Because a televised verbal duel between the country’s political leader is always an event. That means it is broadcast at primetime with a primetime audience.

The outcome of the poll often turns on them – and parties, therefore, always prep exhaustively, trying to have responses ready for every trick question and issue raised.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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.

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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.

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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

Toughest of first years for the three at the top

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Tough year...Coalition leaders Eamon Ryan, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Taoiseach Micheal Martin.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Just a year ago, we got a new Government. It contained two parties who had separately led governments throughout the history of the State but had come together for the first time. Then there were the Greens. It was formed during a once-in-a-lifetime crisis, caused by a Coronavirus pandemic. It came after an election of huge churn where the first time no single party won over 50 seats or, indeed, 40 seats. Seven of the Ministers were new to Government and two were recently-elected TDs.

Almost all of the collective effort in the past year has gone into addressing the enormous challenges of Covid-19. It has meant unprecedented levels of spending, of support, has led to extended lockdowns, huge percentages of people without employments, and whole sectors shut down for 15 months and counting.

Every new government has teething problems. Given those additional challenges, this coalition was not going to be an exception. Many of the Ministers had lousy starts and looked out of their depths, or out of sorts.

The administration of late is on a more even keel but the big challenges lie ahead when the huge financial supports currently in place begin to be dismantled.

I interviewed Eamon Ryan last week. He does not do negative. Most others would see the jagged internal Green Party rows and squabbling as a huge drag; the bitter divisions detracting from the achievement; the reputation of both Ryan and deputy leader Catherine Martin being damaged in the process.

Not for Ryan. While he acknowledges there will difficulties this is the prism through which he viewed the Greens’ first year in government and its response to Covid.

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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