Sunday 28 December 2014

A few good men and women are all we need for the reform of politics

Published 04/11/2012 | 05:00

John Drennan looks at the niche in the political market for a Reform Party and who might join up

Strangely enough, it was Michael Noonan who summar-ised the putative great tragedy gathering around this administration when, in the wake of the latest "successful" troika review, he suggested we could soon return to governing ourselves in "the normal way".

Such a prospect may appear attractive to a Government which is, after 20 months, as comfortably embedded with the vested interests and social partners who ran us into the ground as the administration it replaced.

Strangely enough, though, that comfort begins to shrivel once you move beyond the enclosed political order that constitutes the Taoiseach and Tanaiste's political retinue.

Though the Taoiseach is as safe as a promissory note, for now, a strange sense of unease is gathering itself around the ranks of the Government TDs who are beginning to indulge in that worst political sin of all, known as "bad thoughts".

Significantly, this new mood is not confined to the ranks of the Government, for similar "bad thoughts" are also present in Labour, Fianna Fail and possibly even Sinn Fein; now that the older methodology of dealing with impure ideological tendencies is gone.

Intriguingly, though, this slowly gathering mistral of discontent is not just about personal place and position.

It is instead centred on the growing fretfulness among thoughtful politicians over the apparent lack of will of their "betters" to find a better way of organising our society.

Such a critique is not just applicable to the Government, for Fianna Fail, despite its recent leap in the polls, is as cognisant of the truth of its situation as a dazed drunk lying in the gutter who thinks he is gently dozing in a four-poster bed.

Meanwhile, even before we examine its psychotic past, Sinn Fein is incapable of doing anything other than appealing to the worst instincts of the Irish electorate in a remarkably similar fashion to Charles Haughey's "stab in the back" style of opposition in the Eighties.

Unsurprisingly, the inability of our political class to chart a better direction for the country means a similar mood to that which stimulated the birth of the Progressive Democrats is beginning to evolve.

To date, the birth of any new party, which might actually aspire to purge the toxins that stop Ireland from thriving has been strangled by the cynicism engendered by the failed journey of the Progressive Democrats.

However, that debacle surely does not mean the final lethal legacy and triumph of Mary Harney is that, when faced by the need to reform ourselves, we simply turn our face to the wall like one of John McGahern's dying bachelor farmers.

Instead, any new party should take as its starting point the fact that the virus that laid waste to the PDs was not that it was too radical, but that the party betrayed its own ideological foundations by becoming the all-too-accepting rump of Fianna Fail.

Any new party should also shy away from failed ideologies of the left and right, and instead inform its positioning with the realisation that the biggest cancer that needs to be cut out of Irish politics is its inability to foster and protect brave politicians.

This means that, unlike the Progressive Democrats, who claimed to be right wing but who, in reality, embraced the pork barrel politics of serving the vested interests, any new party should have as its defining ethos the reform of the Republic.

Of course, the other main hurdle our new Reform Party will face is the claim that it would be impossible to find enough candidates to allow it escape the PDs' fate.

But, is this really the case? For our infamous Cappuccino Kids, aka backbenchers, are clashing far too often, far too early with the 'Dear Leader' for comfort.

And if the eight 'rebel' Fine Gael TDs head off for an awfully big political adventure with our Reform Party -- some would say there is actually a dirty dozen if the quieter ones are included -- that might not be the end of it in Fine Gael for interest would swiftly move to the defeated forces in FG's civil war. In particular, figures such as John Deasy may tire of being the equivalent of some free-thinking aristocratic 19th-Century Whig MP while others such as Billy Timmins, Pascal Donohoe, Damien English and Michael Creed will surely begin to tire of their diet of sackcloth and Enda's ashes.

Ironically when it comes to Labour, in spite of its serial leakage of TDs and ministers, it is unlikely that Tommy Broughan and Willie Penrose will abandon the red flag or, for that matter, that Richard Boyd Barrett and the rest of that less-than-merry socialist gang will join the forces of reform.

But should a Roisin Shortall enter the fray, her personal narrative of resistance to the strokes being played by the good ol' Fine Gael boys would be a compelling one.

Intriguingly, the ongoing state of Fianna Fail offers the new party its best opportunity and its greatest danger -- for the fate experienced by Sean Gallagher illustrates how swiftly support for any Reform Party could gather, but also evaporate, if it was seen to be nothing more than different wrapping paper on the same old product.

However, should Fianna Fail decide to go into voluntary liquidation, a fire sale of its better elements would provide any party with a serious centre of gravity.

The realities of the great Irish narrative is that any figures with a substantial attachment to the Ahern/Cowen era will never be allowed back into power by the electorate.

But, in the wake of next year's local elections, TDs such as Niall Collins, Dara Calleary Timmy Dooley, Sean Fleming, Billy Kelleher, the fellow with the unpronounceable name from Donegal, Michael McGrath and John McGuinness will begin, if Fianna Fail does not advance from its current living death, to wonder if there is a future for them.

Other talented figures from the great slaughter of 2011 such as John Curran, Sean Connick and Mary Hanafin will surely begin to closely observe the shifting sands. While it would be a shame to lose the grand old name, when it comes to acquiring power there are no more pragmatic creatures than the great old FF tribe -- not, of course, that this would exist anymore were Fianna Fail disbanded.

If our new Reform Party is to thrive, however, it cannot simply be the plaything of the political classes. The rise of Simon Donnelly, Shane Ross and Peter Matthews, who with the canny Noel Grealish would provide any new party with a real spine if they joined, proves the electorate, in the current straitened times, is prepared to vote for talented outsiders.

It is probably a bit of a stretch to suggest George Lee would ever return to the ranks of the political herd, but, no party would be weakened by diverse talents like Elaine Byrne, Sean Gallagher, Patricia Callan, Fintan O'Toole (yes, we know, but it would be illegal not to include him), that bogeyman of the left Declan Ganley, Ivan Yates should he ever return and Norah Casey.

There are also figures of worth to be annexed from the Greens for as they survey the wreck of their party, people such as Eamon Ryan, a former Cabinet minister who would now struggle to be elected as a councillor, would be entitled to wonder if they can ever have a relevant political career again under the Green flag.

The political system is not improved either by the exile of former PDs such as the straight-talking Fiona O'Malley, while Michael McDowell could become the political equivalent of an old uncle who would offer quiet, understated advice to any new party.

The SF wing of things is more complex. However, the possibility exists that the new wave of SF TDs such as Peadar Toibin, Eoin O Broin and Pearse Doherty (the SF version of Simon Coveney) could join the new movement.

Our poor disregarded Senate could also be a source of new personnel. For FF, there is the pragmatic Darragh O'Brien, the slightly more esoteric figure of Thomas Byrne, Averil Power and Marc MacSharry.

Defectors from the FG senators are somewhat less easy to find but the radical instincts of the Galway stormy petrel Fidelma Healy Eames are being seriously stifled by the current regime.

Though any new party would also covet the fiery vigour of John Whelan, his loyalties lie with Labour. However, independent senators such as John Crown would bring a degree of rigour to our Reform Party for while Mr Crown would not be the most loveable of fellows, that might actually dovetail with the entire raison d'etre of a party whose central objective is to end the Nice-fellas' culture that guided us straight into the land of "we are where we are".

For now, the political scene appears to be unable to design or sustain the creation of brave politicians.

Should, however, anyone make the first move, there are 40, if not more, brave men and women who would have the capacity to finally reform the Republic.

Sunday Independent

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