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Upbeat Labour pay no heed to the prophets of doom

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Labour leader Joan Burton addresses her party conference in Mullingar.

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

It would probably take as something as dramatic as a drunken leader doing a moonie on stage to take the mood levels down a notch at party political conferences.

Long gone are the days when factions came in and sparked off each other in smoke-filled rooms, on policy issues or because of clashes of personality.

Conferences these days are for the members; to give them a sense of belonging; to reinforce in their minds that they joined the right tribe and are doing the right thing.

And when a party has taken a hiding and is licking its wounds, for sure the atmosphere is going to be a mite subdued.

But that’s not the case with any of the big parties going into the election. They are all gung-ho. And none more than Labour, hosts of the last of the political party conferences before the general election, in Mullingar last Saturday.

The real ‘metric’ these days is turnout. And while it can’t match Fine Gael or Fianna Fáíl for numbers, the Labour Party conference still attracted a big crowd of supporters.

Was this an act of solidarity as the party pulls off what it’s never done before, a relatively successful election after coming out of government? Or was it just a particularly large bunch of lemmings marching slowly to the edge of the cliff?

Well, the party thinks the latter and recent polls suggest that it might just be creeping back into contention. There will be no Spring Tide or Gilmore Gael in 2016 but a comparative win for the party would be to take 15 seats or more. That would allow it to go back into government for a second term.

The party is a junior coalition partner so the message is necessarily complicated. It has to show it has achieved in government, for one.

That means elbowing in and taking credit for whole-of-Government successes and not just leaving it to Fine Gael. It has to show that its presence in government has made singular differences.

That is shown by its emphasis on the same sex marriage referendum, on welfare and benefit levels, and on public sector jobs and pays.

They all hone in on the party’s base which tends to be liberal and working in the public sector.

Generally, the party will argue that the only alternative is a chaotic unstable coalition made up of two parties that might fillet most of its votes, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. Returning the coalition is the only “stable” alternative.

So, it’s essentially fighting an election with Fine Gael and fighting an election against Fine Gael. It has to show it is different and can make a difference. But without causing the potential for an unbridgeable gap between both parties.

It’s a tricky one.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

 

Connacht Tribune

No election on the horizon – but no shortage of drama for all that

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Taoiseach Michéal Martin...relinquishing power by year-end.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

There are no elections on this side of the border in 2022 – besides one minor bye-election – but that’s not saying that the year will lack political drama. In truth – even outside of elections – we’ve had our share of drama on any number of political fronts, triggered by the Troika or Brexit and now Covid. Each in their turn dominated everything for a while, until they were normalised.

Right now it’s Covid. I don’t think people have exactly tired of the virus – more wishing that once this Omicron variant has passed through, that will be more or less that.

The Children’s Rapporteur was this week talking about the impact that long-term absence from school has had on children, especially those who live in poorer households, or face a vulnerable or volatile situation at home. At this stage, everybody wants it to come to an end.

Politically, the big event of 2022 will come right at the end of the year. For the first time ever, we will see the leader of one party relinquish the office of Taoiseach to give it to the leader of another party.

That those two parties are Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael has huge resonance. This year will see the 100th anniversary of the first Dáil and on the centenary there is something of a full circle going on when the two Civil War parties combine for the first time in their history.

Micheál Martin has maintained that he will stay on as Tánaiste after the changeover and continue as leader of Fianna Fáil. That is unlikely to happen. Fianna Fáil was meant to complete its recovery from the 2011 general election drubbing in 2020. That did not happen.

Instead it lost seven seats in the election and ended up the largest party by the skin of its teeth. That would not have happened if Sinn Fein had any idea beforehand that the election was going to be a bonanza not a blooper, and had decided to run a few more candidates.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Best of the bunch from 2021 across the political landscape

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Senator Lisa Chambers...good year for her.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

I happened to be doing the annual trawl through the national archives in the run-up to Christmas. And one of the things I came across was a discussion between Albert Reynolds and John Major in the mid-1990’s. The discussion was about Scottish devolution with the British Prime Minister saying he was not a fan of the electoral system they were plumping for in Edinburgh. Which was of course, proportional representation.

His objection? It did not give a clear outcome – or to be more brutal about it, a clear winner.

And that’s one thing that the first-past-the-post Westminster model does.

Proportional representation here produced clear winners for most of the past century. But that was because two parties dominated. Now, with a fragmented political landscape the norm of Irish politics, it’s never going to be like that again.

From time to time, we will have clear winners. But mostly we will have a fudge. Having lots of parties is not necessarily a bad thing. It will mean a lot of consensus and gradualism. And it will certainly make government-formation a complicated chess game in the future.

So, what was the best of politics in 2021 and who were the best politicians, and what were the worse political moments?

Biggest issue

Coronavirus in all its guises. Again. Will it be the biggest issue of 2022 as well? Certainly the second half.

Second biggest issue

Brexit…again. It’s never-ending. It’s worse than the Leaving Cert. And infinitely more boring.

Best Minister

There was no standout like Simon Harris during the early months of Covid-19 last year. That said, a good few Ministers got over their early nerves and had a good 2021.

Roderic O’Gorman made inroads in direct provision, came up with a redress scheme for mother and baby homes (imperfect but still an achievement). Helen McEntee, another new senior minister, came up with a lot of progressive legislation despite between taking six months out for maternity leave. Lately, she has come up with an amnesty for undocumented people in Ireland, long overdue.

Michael McGrath and Paschal Donohoe are solid operators, but neither is spectacular in terms of initiatives. Still, they have thrown Biblical amounts of money at Covid-19.

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

Five political lessons to be taken from year that was

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Michéal Martin...political legacy of two parts.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Summing up the political year that was is easy and difficult – because the long shadow of Covid casts a darkness over everything. But let’s try to sum it up in five succincy points.

Lesson number one – Never Assume Anything

Or put another way, to quote the famous tag-line from the film Jaws: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water”.

There was a sense coming into this winter that we were finally coming to the end of the pandemic experience. We had an enviable record across Europe with 93 per cent of the eligible population aged twelve and over vaccinated.

But then, cases went on the rampage among the unvaccinated. Most of those were kids under twelve. At this stage there is no school in the country that has not escaped an outbreak.

Then we began to see that some things were less certain that we had assumed. For one the vaccines – even gold-star Pfizer Biontech – were not as bullet-proof as we all thought.

As vaccinated parents got Covid from their kids we learned about the “waning effect” and breakthrough infections. Protection from the vaccines only lasted so long. The good news was that waning as the protection was, it was still strong enough to prevent people from getting serious illness.

Still the numbers in hospitals went up. But not alarmingly like they did last year. Except for the unvaccinated and those with underlying conditions. So that direct nexus between cases and hospitalisation had been broken.

While the case number were high, we all felt a little blasé and felt like a ‘meaningful Christmas’ was on the way.

And then Omicron came

This shock is not like the one that brought in the Troika a decade ago

There was a moment during this pandemic when the amount of people relying on the Pandemic Unemployed Payment went over 600,000.

In the first week of May last year, it reached 605,671. The State has paid out close to a mind-boggling €20 billion in PUP, the Employee Wage Subsidy Scheme and other support schemes since coronavirus forced the first lockdown in April last year.

Still, the economy has not been floored like it was the last time. Then a massive bubble burst and the State quickly went from being full of fast money to being stone-broke. This time around, the fundamentals were far stronger. Borrowing was easier and the State was essentially in a position to spend its way out of the problem.

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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