The season of stultifying political party think-ins

Former Taoiseach Brian Cowan: when a party political think-in went wrong.
Former Taoiseach Brian Cowan: when a party political think-in went wrong.

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

Autumn, season of mists and mellow fruitfulness … and a series of stultifying political party think-ins. In the Irish political calendar, September is the month of think-ins where parties wow us with their state of knowledge and share their strategic thinking with the world.

Or put more simply, exploit a golden opportunity for cheap publicity.

The think-ins, as they are called, are ritualistic. They allow parties to gather the troops (their elected representatives); discuss the strategy for the coming Dáil; hear from ‘experts’ such as economists and political scientists; and thrash out internal differences.

To the outside world, there will be a couple of media opportunities where the party leader sets out her or his stall for the immediate future, usually by announcing one big initiative.

A few of them over the years have been memorable. In Inchdoney, Co Cork in 2004, Bertie Ahern more or less ditched the Celtic Tiger philosophy of “when I have it I spend it”, as articulated by Charlie McCreevy. However, the embrace by Bertie of “socialism” came too late to prevent the looming storm.

The other memorable one that springs to mind is in 2010 in the Ardilaun in Galway when Brian Cowen had a very late night and gave a very rusty interview on Morning Ireland the following morning. That was another nail in his political coffin, he was already under huge pressure at that stage; and he never recovered from it.

So they have kicked off this week. Sinn Féin was in Cavan on Monday and Tuesday and Fine Gael is in the Galway Bay Hotel on Thursday and Friday.

You can sense from the meetings if there’s an election in the offing. If we are mere months away from polling, there’s always a sense of nervousness and urgency, a mild underlying panic. The party’s loudest people are beating the drum and they are taking pot shots at easy targets.

You might have got that sense this September. Three critical events relating to Irish polics will occur over the next two months: the Budget; the renegotiation of the Confidence and Supply agreement; and the October deadline for UK’s divorce deal on Brexit.

It might not be enough to set the pulse racing. But you would expect at the very least, to hear the distant sound of war drums.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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