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Will Reform Alliance become the new PD’s – or just Fine Gael wearing a different coat?

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

Perhaps it’s the political anorak in me, but not alone am I old enough to remember the first ‘monster rallies’ of the Progressive Democrats in 1986 – I have to admit that as a student I actually attended the meeting in Leisureland.

I’d become addicted to current affairs at school and one of my favourite journeys  was the walk up from Glenard to O’Halloran’s shop on Threadneedle Road on the last Thursday of every month to get the freshly minted copy of Magill magazine.

Charles Haughey was always a phenomenon, a figure of intense curiosity and interest… irrespective of whether you hated him or adored him. And with Haughey there were the two states of mind – there never seemed to be any in between.

And Magill had a fascination with him along with everybody else. But what marked it out was its ability to take politics and lift its coverage from the humdrum to the lively, provocative and questioning.

The putsch against Des O’Malley within Fianna Fáil had been a dominant theme in the magazine for months. And in the early months of 1986, a new party was formed comprised mainly of Fianna Fáil dissidents.

But there were a few other key figures from other parties – mainly malcontents – including another phenomenon in the making, Michael McDowell, and the less interesting and less savoury Fine Gael TD Michael Keating.

I have some memories of the Leisureland meeting. For one it was packed to capacity and it looked like a Japanese commuter platform at rush hour with people being physically squeezed in the door.

Of course, the Galway meeting was given an added impetus by the sensational defection of Bobby Molloy to the new outfit. With the likes of Mary Harney and Cork TD Pearse Wyse already on board, each meeting acted as a catalyst transforming a Fianna Fáil splinter group into something else entirely.

It was clear at that meeting that at that particular moment in time those present were fed-up with the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael hegemony, particularly with a very divided Fianna Fáil and there was an appetite for something new – a new force in Irish politics that was not to the left not that owed its beginnings to whichever side you belonged to in the civil war.

Over the subsequent two and a half decades, it has become clear that the need for a new niche party was very much of its time and became less so as time went on.

Although the PDs began as a home mainly for disgruntled Fianna Fáilers, it was Fine Gael from which it stole most of the votes in subsequent elections.

The space it had carved out for itself ideologically over time coalesced with that of Fianna Fáil, especially when the two parties were in government together. McDowell’s choice for the PDs – be radical or redundant – was borne out. It was the latter that was to be its fate.

When it comes to permanence in Irish politics there are the two main parties, the Labour Party, and (unless the party loses its way completely) Sinn Fein.

Is there a need for a new niche party? Well, if there was one, I would say it would have to be slightly to the left as the market to the right of the graph seems to be very well served already. The problem with the left is that it’s not one idea – it’s a myriad of ideas always competing with each other.

That’s one of the reasons you get so many splinters, so much fragmentation, so many hairline cracks. On the right the message is much more simple – capitalism needs no grand or intellectual theorist to explain what it’s about.

On Saturday, the Reform Alliance is holding a day-long conference in the RDS in Dublin. First things first. The group of seven parliamentarians (five TDs and two senators) have gone to great lengths to say they are an alliance, never as a party.

The only real question is, politically, is this alliance the precursor to another new party… PDs for the 21st century.

Again what’s emerging is being formed from a group of dissident from a particular party. All were expelled, with the exception of Denis Naughten, over the abortion legislation.

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.

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

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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