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Provenance of our politicians proves how much we need to widen the net

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

I  was in Kilkenny over the weekend taking part in a debate on political reform as part of its excellent arts festival. My fellow participants were Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, Fianna Fáil grandee Mary O’Rourke and Sarah O’Neill, who runs the dailwatch.ie website.

Given that it was an arts festival and there were far more exciting things to see and hear, I though only a smattering of people would come in to listen to us share our wisdom and insight or lack of it. Surprise, surprise, there was a fair crowd there and a very lively and engaged debate it turned out to be.

I have droned on to the point of terminal boredom in this column about political reform, the need for it, and the lack of real appetite for it by governments who realise it leads to a diminishment of their power and influence – that’s why the loss of the Seanad, a peripheral and marginalised institution, is palatable to this Coalition because it does not attack the core.

But the most interesting question asked by a member of the audience was a simple one for which there is no simple question – how do you get into politics in the first place?

If you look at the composition of the Dail you will see that its 166 TDs are not really representative of wider society. The first obvious imbalance is the paucity of female Deputies.

There are 25 women in the Dail, which is about a seventh of the total assembly. Even though that seems to be pathetic, it is actually the highest ever female representation in parliament. The pendulum is swinging towards more equal representation of the sexes but it is happening much too slowly.

There are two other factors that are immediately obvious. The first is the high number of teachers and lawyers relative to the population as a whole and the underrepresentation of people representing the large blue collar section of society.

The second is that Ireland has a high proportion of hereditary TDs compared to other countries (though you find them in virtually all places).

With the collapse of Fianna Fáil in 2011 that number has halved but it’s still significant, 15 TDs elected to the current Dail (Brian Lenihan has since passed away but Helen McEntee, who won the Meath East by-election filled the vacancy left by the death of her father Shane).

Of the professions, teachers dominate. For example, the two Ministers in the key economic areas are teachers; one a former primary teacher (Brendan Howlin); the other a former English teacher (Michael Noonan) who was a specialist on Shakespeare.

In all there are 33 teachers, almost a fifth of all members. The next highest category is business (25) followed by farmers (14); industry and employees (12) lawyers (11) accountants (8); clerical workers (3); doctors (3); engineering science (3); publicans (3); trade union officials (3); voluntary sector (3); one architect (Ruairi Quinn) and one journalist (Shane Ross).

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Sinn Féin will discover power brings evolution not revolution

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Taoiseach in waiting?...Mary Lou McDonald with Galway West TD Mairead Farrell on the streets of Galway.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Sinn Féin is not like any other party; even when it enjoyed only a fraction of the support of the SDLP it was still attracting the attention of the world media. During the 1980s and 1990s, just about the only Irish political figure American political journalists could name was Gerry Adams.

There was something about Sinn Féin that set it apart – that smell of cordite was catnip for the media.

So the party is viewed through a different lens than, say, the Labour Party, or the Social Democrats, or even the Greens. It carries original sin in the eyes of a portion of the electorate (generally older) who see its association with violence (which included many egregious murders and massacres) as unforgivable for all time.

For others, the passage of time has taken some of the sharp edges away. For the rest, specifically those born after the 1994 ceasefire, that is just not relevant to their lives. For some of those who remember those years, that attitude of younger voters is hard to stomach. But that’s the reality of how things stand just now.

I was always taken by the phrase of the late historian Ronan Farren that the birth certificates of all nations are blood-soaked. The fact of the matter is that Sinn Féin has been in from the cold for 25 years almost, accepting that it would strive to achieve its goals by exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Áras an Uachtaráin and the constitutional ties that bind

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Making headlines... President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina during their visit to the Galway 1916 Exhibition in the former Connacht Tribune Print Works on Market Street.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Those who become President of Ireland are, metaphorically, provided with a silken gag; for the seven years they reside in Áras an Uachtaráin, they are supposed to keep their opinions and personal political persuasions to themselves.

The relevant Article in the Constitution sets out this rule: “No power or function conferred on the President by law shall be exercisable or performable by him save only on the advice of the Government.”

The President is not allowed to leave the State without first receiving the advice (i.e. the permission) of the Government. Theoretically, every speech they make needs to be run by the government first.

The President is said to be “above politics”. That meant they are not subject to any criticism from parliament or from the government. The other side of the coin is that it is expected the President will not wander into the political forum.

For most of the time since the office of the President was established in 1937, these rules have caused no major problems. With one exception.

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.

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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

Trimble leaves a legacy of peace to be proud of

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David Trimble...lasting legacy.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

The death of David Trimble brought back memories of the time he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize almost a quarter of a century ago, along with John Hume, for their efforts in securing the historic Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

It could be argued that others should have been also on the plane to Oslo that winter, namely Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair.

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness also played an important role by steering the hard men of the IRA on a path that saw them end their campaign of violence and accept a political solution achieved by solely democratic means.

Of course, it would have been a blatant contradiction to award a peace prize to Adams and McGuinness given their instrumental roles in a republican movement that prosecuted a ruthless armed strategy for almost 30 years right up to that time. The Damascene conversion in 1998 did not erase what had gone before.

Certainly, Hume and those around him from the SDLP – particularly Séamus Mallon – deserved all the praise they got for their selfless pursuit of a political pathway and their brave eschewal of all forms of violence as they grappled with the unique set of circumstances of Northern Ireland.

That said, Trimble showed a huge degree of personal courage and resilience in facing down his critics and enemies – and there were many loud and bitter voices condemning him on the unionist side – and persevering with the talks that culminated with the historic agreement in Hillsborough Castle on that Good Friday in early April in 1998.

But it would have been unimaginable for him to be in that position three years before hand or even three years afterwards when the UUP began imploding around him. The important thing was that he stayed the course during that crucial period.

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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