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Political polls fail to reflect true impact of Dail’s growing band of Independents

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

Finian McGrath has three claims to fame. One is that he was born and reared in Tuam and is a true sham. The second is that he is the brother of Fergal ‘Red’ McGrath, a major figure in arts in the west of Ireland. The third is that he’s a TD, and an Independent one at that.

On every occasion we publish an opinion poll in The Irish Times, it’s inevitable that one of us will bump into Finian as he congregates with the handful of smokers in the yard of Leinster House.

His moustache, which sometimes makes him look like one of the characters in James Joyce’s Ulysses, is habitually creased into a smile. But that can be a little diverting because there’s also a glint of steel there (he would not have survived three elections in Dublin North Central if that was not so). 

When Finian buttonholes you after an opinion poll has been published, he will say something along the lines of: “You’ve completely ignored the Independents and others again. But they are still on 20 per cent.”

And he has a point. It’s a sign of the continuing volatility in the Irish political landscape that roughly one in five voters say they are voting for ‘none of the above’. They are rejecting Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour and Sinn Féin, to plump for a candidate who is either Independent or belongs to a smaller party.

And being newspaper people and liking everything to be defined – in black and white – we tend to ignore the Independents in the narrative to concentrate on the more graspable narrative of the main parties being up and down.

There is a bit of a problem when you are trying to analyse Independents and how they will fare. It’s the same quandary that Henry Kissinger observed with the EU: “Who do I pick up the phone and talk to when I want to talk to Europe?” he asked rhetorically.

Nonetheless, Independents have done very well in Ireland over the past two decades. Our system of proportional representation in multi-seat constituencies (plus the fact that we are a small society) lends itself to ensuring Independents get elected.

The number elected has fluctuated a lot in recent elections but you cannot deny that Independents have been influential. There was, for instance, the Gang of Four who bolstered the Fianna Fáil-led government from 1997 and got lots of goodies for their constituencies in return.

In the last Dáil, another Fianna Fáil-led government was dependent on a number of Independents of which Finian McGrath was one for a while.

The problem with being an Independent is you cannot be pretend to be anything more. Occasionally you will get a chance to be influential, if you and a few others hold the balance of power.

There were so many this time around – 16, excluding the United Left Alliance – that they were able to form a technical group. And that seemed to be replete with possibilities.

The group has allowed Independent TDs privileges usually only available to parties – rights to representation and chairs of committees; the right to table private member motions; the right to have a whip; and the right to ask priority questions.

With so much guaranteed ‘air time’, a good few have acquired very strong national profiles including McGrath himself, Mattie McGrath, Shane Ross, Catherine Murphy and Stephen Donnelly. It also allows them a slot on the high-profile Leaders’ Questions each week.

But it’s a technical group and when you have right-of-centre people like Shane Ross and Stephen Donnelly in the same team as left wingers like Catherine Murphy and Thomas Pringle, it means it will be hard to achieve coherence.

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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