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Shifting sands steer Fine Gael closer to ‘unthinkable’ Coalition with Fianna Fáil

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The Fine Gaeler on the other end of telephone line said it was difficult, very difficult. The tone of the voice was one of deep frustration – you could visualise him throwing his hands up in a ‘what’s the point’ gesture.

The theme of the conversation was the ongoing difficulties of being in a coalition government with Labour and the headaches of agreeing on things that were called compromises in public but which this senior Fine Gael person viewed as fudges.

The conversation turned to Fianna Fáil and a few of its politicians whom this politician knew well.

“A pleasure to work with, to do business with,” he commented on them. “You know where they are coming from,” he said. “It would be much easier to be in a coalition with those fellas.”

And so it might. Coalitions are messy because what might have been sharp and focused becomes fuzzy when both sides seek a common position. Politics is always about finding the easiest way out, or the least painful possible way of taking a hard decision. That can sometimes turn out to be very messy.

The conversation threw up two interesting themes. The first was the increasing difficulties in retaining a coherent front in this Coalition. The second is the love that dare not speak its name: the possibility of a coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil after the next General Election.

If you look at the usual indicators that measure a Government’s performance, they aren’t all that bad for a Coalition reaching the midpoint of its five year term.

Figures published by the Central Statistics Office this week showed that the Government deficit last year was 7.6 per cent of Gross Domestic Product, a full percentage point better than the target set out for the Troika.

In addition, the Government has secured important deals that will reduce the payment burden on the promissory notes as well as the interest on the loans of €67.5 billion we received from the Troika as part of the bailout.

But you wouldn’t cop any of that from reading or listening to the headlines in the past few weeks. The collapse of the Croke Park II deal with public sector unions was a huge political setback and has thrown a dampener on the Coalition’s soon-to-be-unveiled strategy of telling voters that the worst is now over and things can only get better.

Over the last fortnight, I have had a few chats with senior Ministers on the Fine Gael side. Their message has been that December 2012 Budget was the last of the really hard ones and that the next three Budgets would have as much cheer as jeer in them. The deal on the promissory notes plus a good year last year has given the Government some wriggle room.

According to one very senior figure, that would all give scope to give something back to the hard-pressed middle-income taxpayers . . . a reward or bonus for all the sacrifices they made.

The collapse of the pay deal with the public sector unions has thrown cold water on all of that. With teachers, nurses, Gardaí and lower paid workers in a bellicose mood, the last thing they want to hear is that the Government is planning to give a reward to middle-income earners.

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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