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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

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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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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