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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

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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