Saturday 1 October 2016

Fine Gael panic could collapse this Government

Published 10/07/2016 | 02:30

Cartoon by Jim Cogan
Cartoon by Jim Cogan

Regina Doherty's ultimatum to Enda Kenny, while welcomed by many in Fine Gael, was reckless in its timing and added to the sense that Fine Gael is having a nervous breakdown.

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Doherty was so absorbed by the leadership stakes that she failed do her basic job as chief whip: to get Fine Gael members into their Dail seats in time.

But Doherty, whom I mentally call Mother of All Dragons, will not suffer, being one of the party's favourite fighters against Fianna Fail.

But far from helping Fine Gael ministers to get a grip on a government in flux, Doherty's distracting call added to the appearance of a party in panic.

The current panic was prompted by the Irish Times Ipsos poll which showed that Fine Gael had fallen behind Fianna Fail.

The fevered media speculation that followed concerned an early exit by Enda Kenny and distracted from three more important lessons in the polls.

First, the poll was good news for the future of Irish politics. It signals the end of the electorate's foolish fling with Flash Harry Independents who want casual political sex without strings, but won't commit to the binding fidelity of a coalition marriage.

The Independent Alliance immediately confirmed public cynicism about that individualistic breed by behaving like a tantrum of Trots.

Shane Ross and Finian McGrath have been roundly - and rightly - criticised for their self-centred actions. But it was John Halligan who damaged his halo the most by stating: "I don't know if this bill is anti-constitutional. And I don't care."

This is only the latest example of Halligan seeking the status of left-wing luvvie. Looking after the liberal agenda rather than the wider working class is the political equivalent of social climbing.

Alas, Halligan is not the only leftie who wants to impress the PC liberals - and this brings me to my second point which concerns the Labour Party.

The Ipsos poll had no good news for Labour or Brendan Howlin, and confirmed my belief that Alan Kelly would have made a more dynamic leader.

Choosing Howlin over Kelly also smacked of political social climbing

Thirdly, the poll is a mixed blessing for what I am careful to call Micheal Martin's Fianna Fail.

That's because of the fact - which some factions in the party still have not faced - that without Martin the party would still be languishing beside Sinn Fein.

But the poll poses its own problems for Martin. For one thing I do not believe the figure of Fianna Fail at 33pc provides a true picture.

Last week's Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll gave FF 26pc, which suggests the current true figure is around 28pc.

Second, the poll has put critics of Fianna Fail on the lookout for triumphalism like Conor Lenihan's crowing cry of "We're back".

Accordingly, Fianna Fail's media critics presented Joe O'Toole's resignation as the result of the party throwing its weight around.

The plus side, which must amuse Joe, is that his resignation produced accolades he never received in his long public career. He is now officially a national treasure.

Finally, the Ipsos poll is only bad news for Fine Gael if it foolishly follows the same fatal social climbing agenda as Labour by prematurely driving out Kenny so as to install Leo Varadkar.

In warning about the danger of dumping Kenny in a panic, I am not trying to defend his recent record.

Floating a North-South body to deal with Brexit before he had done his homework was a perfect example of the shallow spin Kenny prefers to the steady and substantial politics practised by ministers like Charlie Flanagan, Simon Harris and Simon Coveney.

Coveney & Co are among the few Fine Gael ministers keeping the battered boat of the New Politics regime afloat in spite of storms and heavy seas.

Alas, far too many in FG fail to see that the leadership race creates confusion at a time the public craves stability.

Apart from the public not wanting a general election this year, the longer the Government lasts, the more the Independents are exposed, to the benefit of both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.

Accordingly, a minister like Coveney who stays at the wheel is reinforcing a return to the more healthy two-and-a-half party system and helping to abolish the anarchy of Trots and wayward Independents.

Coveney is that rare thing in Fine Gael, a hard grafter who sticks to the task. His head-on attack on the housing problem is typical of his dynamic, detailed approach.

So I am baffled by Ipsos showing he lags 10 points behind Leo Varadkar in the leadership stakes.

Daniel McConnell in The Examiner told us he was "a man of conviction and has shown a tenacious streak in some of his policy announcements".

But in his two years in Health, Varadkar left no lasting mark, settling for a semi-detached approach.

Nevertheless, his many media fans claim he has a charisma that Coveney lacks. But personal charisma does not last as long as charisma of character.

Leo Varadkar is a likeable man, but much of his political character is caught by that useful word "velleity", which means "a mere wish, unaccompanied by an effort to obtain it".

***

The chorus of criticism aimed at Tony Blair after the Chilcot report has drowned out dissenting voices apart from Michael Portillo and loyal Alastair Campbell.

Let me too make three points in defence of the best Labour party leader of modern times, a colossus who makes Corbyn look like a political pygmy, and in defence of the just war to remove Saddam Hussein.

First, Tony Blair was no warmonger. Without him we would not have had peace in Northern Ireland.

Second, Saddam Hussein was a sadistic dictator who had long waged a cruel war on his own people.

Last week, one of those people, Hayder-al-Khoei, an Iraqi, and associate fellow at Chatham House, told us a few home truths.

Referring to the amnesia about pre-Saddam Iraq in Britain today, he wrote in the Irish Times: "People either do not know or have too quickly forgotten the horrors of the Ba'athist regime."

On WMDs: "Whether or not Saddam Hussein actually had WMDs in his possession by 2003 is irrelevant because, for most Iraqis, Saddam was the WMD."

Hayder al-Khoei, while critical of the lack of planning for the aftermath of the allied invasion, challenges the current canard that Iraqi anger is aimed at Blair and Bush.

In a generous, if bleak, summation, he says: "Much of it (the anger) is being directed towards the corrupt Iraqi political class who killed our dreams and aspirations, not the clueless, sometimes well-intentioned, foreign invaders."

Finally, I want to challenge the claim by relatives that brave British and American soldiers died for no good reason.

Like the glib dismissal of Great War Irish soldiers as 'cannon fodder', this demeans their sacrifice.

Like the Irish soldiers in World War One, the American, British and Irish soldiers who died in Iraq fell in the cause of freedom.

Surely that should be their proud epitaph?

Sunday Independent

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