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Walsh shows depth of his convictions – but what price will he pay for them?

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Brian Walsh is under absolutely no illusion about the repercussions of the political bombshell he delivered on Monday morning when he became the first TD to state in public that he will not support the controversial abortion legislation being prepared by Government.

“It could herald the end of my membership of the party and of my political career. It does place me in a precarious position but I have done what I believe is right,” he told me earlier this week.

It means that when the Dail finally votes on the Protection of Maternal Life Bill in July (it’s going to take that long for it to go through all stages in the Oireachtas), Walsh will not follow his colleagues up the steep stairs of the Dail chamber and turn left into the Government lobby.

It’s a common enough site in British politics where backbench rebellions are frequent and sometimes lead to Government proposals being defeated. In many instances, there are no sanctions for the mutinous MPs.

But in Ireland it is a rare phenomenon. The culture of politics here is that a much stronger whip is imposed and defying the whip is a much bigger deal. In most cases, it leads to expulsion from the parliamentary party.

Occasionally, a member will be given a warning if he or she abstained. But as we have seen in this Dail, if you are a Government TD who votes against the Government you more or less lose the party whip. The Galway East TD Colm Keaveney knows all about that since last December.
It is rarer still for a TD to vote against the Government on a matter of conscience. In 1985, Dessie O’Malley was expelled for Fianna Fáil after supporting Coalition government legislation that liberalised the availability of contraceptives.

O’Malley was already in the wars with Fianna Fáil leader Charles Haughey, having lost the party whip in an internal party row over the Northern peace process. His decision to back Fianna Fail’s Coalition rivals led to his expulsion from the party, an event that eventually resulted in the establishment of the Progressive Democrats a year later.

The decision by Walsh is a very brave one and has been done in accordance with his own conscience. It took everybody by surprise, not least because he has not been seen as belonging to a prominent group of Fine Gael TDs who had publicly voiced their concerns about the legislation.

As he has made very clear, he has very strong convictions on the matter and rejects the premise of any legislation that includes provisions for a suicide threat, no matter how rigorously drafted. He set out his thinking to me earlier this week:

“The overwhelming medical evidence is that abortion is an inappropriate treatment for mental health issues.

“It looks like we are going to ignore the evidence. I have no problem with anything that gives guidance and clarity to doctors to make sure that a woman’s life is protected. I have no problem either with the repeal of the 1860 Offences Against the Person Act.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Northern stand-off underlines President’s independent spirit

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Roman triumph...President Michael D Higgins meeting Pope Francis last week.

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

There was a time when becoming President was like being sent to the Missions; one day you were here and then you were gone for seven years without a trace.

Patrick Hillary’s 14 years in the office between 1976 and 1990 produced only two particularly memorable events; a disputed phone call from Brian Lenihan asking him not to dissolve the Dáil, and a press conference to deny a rumoured affair of which nobody in the media had been remotely aware.

Otherwise, like many other Presidents, Hillary’s term was relatively anonymous, another prisoner of the very circumscribed Constitutional role of a non-executive president.

The President had few powers but the few powers were important: summoning and dissolving the Dáil, appointing the Taoiseach and members of the Government, as well as referring Bills to the Supreme Court to test their constitutionality.

It was the latter power that brought the presidency of Cearbhaill Ó Dálaigh to a dramatic end in 1976, when a Fine Gael minister Paddy Donnegan slighted him by describing him as a “thundering disgrace” after his decision to refer special powers legislation to the Court.

That all changed after 1990 with the election of Mary Robinson. She enlarged the role of the office as did her successor Mary McAleese. So has Michael D Higgins and while the office is in name ‘above politics’, he more than anybody else has stretched that concept.

Last week, I travelled to Rome to cover the President’s visit to the Italian capital, his first visit abroad since the Covid-19 Pandemic in March 2020.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Parties no longer getting their own way at annual think-ins

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Brian Cowen, Mary Hannafin, and Bertie Ahern at the Fianna Fail think-in at Inchydoney back in 2004.

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

It’s Autumn and leaves are falling from the trees and blackberries are ripe and the party think-ins are in full flow. These away days for parties were originally to bring the parliamentary parties together after the summer break so they could regather their thoughts and come up with their strategies for the new Dáil session.

Then the bigger parties started getting guest speakers in, sometimes to give a contrary and unorthodox view on the economy or society.

It was at one such meeting in Inchydoney Hotel in Cork in 2004 when Fr Seán Healy of Social Justice Ireland addressed Fianna Fáil to explain to them that all the prosperity that had come into Ireland in recent years had led to widening inequalities.

It was out of that that the Inchydoney Strategy emerged, a reorientation by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern of his party’s prevailing ideology. The Fianna Fáil leader declared himself a socialist at the Cork resort and the party began to promote policies in Government that were less about economic expansion, more about the social dividend.

All of this happened during the course of the Celtic Tiger, when the economy was expanding at a ferocious rate, and already beginning to show signs of overheating. Ahern replaced Charlie McCreevy as Minister for Finance (he became EU Commissioner) with Brian Cowen. The Offaly TD was seen as less ‘PD’ than McCreevy. Indeed, he had famously said of the Progressive Democrats at an Ard Fheis: “When in doubt, leave them out.”

That strategy did reorient the economy but it was probably too late even then. The Celtic Tiger was at its height and Cowen pulled his punches when it came to taking the hard decisions between 2004 and 2008, with a series of milk-and-water budgets.

The Fianna Fáil manifesto for the 2007 general election was great for the party to get back into power but awful for the economy and society. The implications were not seen for two years, but when the symptoms of malaise appeared, of course, it was far too late to do anything about it.

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

Coveney gets the mood of the room wrong on Zappone role

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Simon Coveney addresses the Dail Committee over the offer of a UN role to Katherine Zappone.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

When his time came to resign as Taoiseach a long time ago after a series of unedifying crises and scandals, then Fianna Fáil leader Albert Reynolds coined a memorable phrase: “It’s the little things that trip you up.”

An aide of another Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, once told me Kenny’s daily task was like being handed a skipping rope in the morning and told to skip all day. If he tripped up even once, it could have been the end for him.

I was reminded of all that while looking at Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, going through a difficult two hours (for the second time in a week) on Tuesday.

It was all to do with the appointment of his former government colleague, Katherine Zappone (who was an independent TD for Dublin South-West between 2016 and 2020), as a special envoy to the UN.

In the scheme of things, it was a relatively small matter. In the span of Coveney’s career – a quarter of a century as a TD, a decade as a senior minister – he has made, and been subject to, some major decisions.

Even last week, Taoiseach Micheál Martin (of Fianna Fáil, don’t forget) made a huge effort to downplay this. His argument? Zappone was offered what amounted to a part-time role. The row over the appointment was a classic political “bubble” stuff. The reaction was overblown and melodramatic. And so on and so forth, as the Taoiseach frequently says.

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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