A COALITION of Ireland’s two great centrist parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, now offers the greatest political potential at a time of unprecedented economic challenge.
Veteran broadcaster and long-time Fine Gael supporter, Bill O’Herlihy, used the General Michael Collins oration at Beal na mBlath to urge Ireland’s two largest parties to put civil war divisions behind them and focus on common ground for a future coalition.
His plea came just three years after the late Finance Minister Brian Lenihan became the first senior FF official to be invited to deliver the Beal na mBlath oration, a landmark annual event for FG.
Earlier this year, former Education Minister Mary O’Rourke (FF), argued that the time had come for the two parties to forget historic differences and focus on their common political goals and shared policies.
“I believe a coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil has much to offer at a time of huge challenge for Ireland,” Mr O’Herlihy said.
“I suspect the Irish people would like to see this development I would like to see this development in a new political landscape true to the ideals of Collins.”
Mr O’Herlihy, who served as an advisor to former Taoiseach Dr Garret Fitzgerald, said there was no better place to reconcile civil war divisions than at the west Cork ambush site where General Collins was shot and killed on August 22 1922.
“At Béal na Bláth we cannot forget these events and the tragedy and drama of those years but I would argue here with you today that in most respects these are the preoccupations of yesteryear. For so long in Ireland we have been caught up with past battles.”
“There can only be so many rematches, there comes a time when old fights can no longer teach us any more lessons. That, I hasten to say, is not to suggest that the values of Collins or those who took issue with him in the civil war can be disposed of in the dustbin of history.”
Mr O’Herlihy said that, throughout their proud history, both FF and FG have shared enormous political common ground.
“Does it make any sense to have the major political parties tussling for power where, for so long, the width of a sheet of tissue paper scarcely separated their policies? How much more progress, how much more reform would be possible if senseless old historical divisions were eliminated from our politics?”
“I know the political analysts have been labouring for decades trying to analyse the paradox of having the two best-supported political parties at loggerheads for generations over passions played out eighty years ago.”
Mr O’Herlihy said that the economic, political and social challenges facing Ireland urgently demands change.
“We must learn from the past but we must also be instructed by the mistakes of our own generation. In the short term we have the current loss of our economic sovereignty to remind us that we have a big job ahead of us. It is a time for new politics and a start cannot begin quickly enough,” he said.
General Collins served as Ireland’s Finance Minister from April 2 1919 until his death at age 31 and his achievements in putting the fledgling State on a solid financial footing are ranked alongside his remarkable abilities as the IRA’s military commander during the War of Independence.
The Conakilty native is widely credited with having devised modern guerrilla warfare tactics.
Amongst those who have delivered the Beal na mBlath oration over the years are Taoiseach Enda Kenny, former UN High Commissioner and President Mary Robinson, Lord David Puttnam, former GAA Presidents Peter Quinn and Sean Kelly (now a FG MEP), and historians Tim Pat Coogan, Brian Farrell, Ryle Dwyer, Prof John A Murphy, Dr Pat Wallace and Helen Hoare.