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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

Labour’s awakenings will take time to reap any real reward

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Passing of the baton...Michael D Higgins with his successor Derek Nolan at the Galway West count at Leisureland.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

The film Awakenings was based on the experience of the psychiatrist Oliver Sacks with patients who had contracted a disease called encephalitis lethargica during and shortly after World War I.

Thousands contracted it around the world. How they got it has remained a mystery but it could have been connected to the Spanish Flu outbreak at the time.

It essentially left them in a catatonic state, sleeping, unmoving, like zombies for decades. By the time Sacks came across a group of them in New York, they were all residents of an institution called the Beth Abrams Home for the Incurable.

That did not leave much to the imagination. Some of these people had been essentially sleeping for over 40 years.

He experimented with a drug called L-dopa, which had been used successfully for the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease.

The effect was extraordinary; the drug was like an electric shock that jolted the patients back to life and to sentient existence.

The ‘miracle’ had its drawbacks, however. After a while, it became difficult to control the patients as they became increasingly manic. Ultimately a tough decision was taken to withdraw the drug and the patients relapsed into their catatonic states.

All of that is a bit of a stretched way of saying ‘flash in the pan’, but life sometimes teaches us that success can be very temporary indeed.

There is a long pattern in Irish politics, for example, of a winner in a by-election going on to win a seat in the subsequent general election. However, less than six months after winning a by-election in Wexford, Malcolm Byrne of Fianna Fáil got turfed out in the general election.

Look at it the other way. Sinn Féin were the big losers of the 2019 local elections but turned the ship around completely less than nine months later. The lesson to be learned is success or failure is never a permanent phenomenon in politics.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Changing political landscape fast becoming Double Dutch

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Big winner...Ivan Bacik after her by-election victory.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Holland is so used to enduring a perennial political log-jam – where every election just digs you deeper and deeper into a rut – that they’ve actually come up with their own name for it.

It’s called Dutchification – when society has become so urbanised, and globalised, and fragmented, and lacking cohesion, that no party, or parties, can expect to win any more.

The former RTÉ journalist Peter Cluskey wrote a very interesting article last week about this continued electoral limbo they have in Holland, where he’s been based for many years.

And truth be told, the same is happening here; the day of overall majorities is long gone.

We have gone from having two large parties to having three medium sized ones (and with the demise of Fianna Fáil it could even by two medium sized ones, or one large and one medium).

The reality is that it will be difficult for the foreseeable future for any two parties to form a coalition, and it could be difficult for any three parties to do the same.

The old fealties to the three long-established parties have been blown out of the water.

The biggest pool of voters now has no permanent loyalty. They are the floaters.

And there is a growing ‘none of the above’ contingent too, possibly spurred on by the cynicism, empty populism and downright lies, of social media.

They will vote for a party that opposes the government. And once that party they support goes into government, they immediately withdraw their support for it. Short of coming up for an elixir that guarantees everlasting joyous life, these voters will never support a party in government.

I know it sounds cynical but if you talk to enough people around the country – as I always try to do – the person with a deeply cynical disposition and a hate of politicians is no longer a rarity.

Sinn Féin is the growing party at the moment and – from this vantage point – looks like it will be in government for the next spin.

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

Toughest of first years for the three at the top

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Tough year...Coalition leaders Eamon Ryan, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Taoiseach Micheal Martin.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Just a year ago, we got a new Government. It contained two parties who had separately led governments throughout the history of the State but had come together for the first time. Then there were the Greens. It was formed during a once-in-a-lifetime crisis, caused by a Coronavirus pandemic. It came after an election of huge churn where the first time no single party won over 50 seats or, indeed, 40 seats. Seven of the Ministers were new to Government and two were recently-elected TDs.

Almost all of the collective effort in the past year has gone into addressing the enormous challenges of Covid-19. It has meant unprecedented levels of spending, of support, has led to extended lockdowns, huge percentages of people without employments, and whole sectors shut down for 15 months and counting.

Every new government has teething problems. Given those additional challenges, this coalition was not going to be an exception. Many of the Ministers had lousy starts and looked out of their depths, or out of sorts.

The administration of late is on a more even keel but the big challenges lie ahead when the huge financial supports currently in place begin to be dismantled.

I interviewed Eamon Ryan last week. He does not do negative. Most others would see the jagged internal Green Party rows and squabbling as a huge drag; the bitter divisions detracting from the achievement; the reputation of both Ryan and deputy leader Catherine Martin being damaged in the process.

Not for Ryan. While he acknowledges there will difficulties this is the prism through which he viewed the Greens’ first year in government and its response to Covid.

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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