Thursday 27 October 2016

Independents are skating on thin ice with the voters

Published 17/04/2016 | 02:30


What is the point of a free press if it speaks with one voice, like Pravda in the old Soviet Union?

  • Go To

That is what our media has been doing for months in a doomed attempt to dictate a grand coalition.

Before the General Election, a few Pied Piper Pundits began that campaign which they have continued since without success.

Most of the media followed them down that cul-de-sac. They are still struggling to turn their cars around.

Because the Pied Pipers could not bear to have their predictions disproved they go on beating up on Fianna Fail.

This meant turning a blind eye to the responsibility of Sinn Fein, Labour, Social Democrats, Greens and AAA-PBP for forming a government.

The inflamed egos of the Independents were not examined. All flak was aimed at Fianna Fail.

But Fianna Fail has as much right to pursue its policies as any other party. And its key policy has been to keep two promises.

Before the General Election, Micheal Martin promised he would not go into government with either Sinn Fein or Fine Gael.

The Pied Pipers greeted this promise with cynicism. They told us Martin would change his mind as soon as he did the tots.

To their fury, Martin did not change his mind. So they pig-headedly refused to publicise the merits of his principled position.

Let me repeat the positives of Martin's stoic stance. First, a grand coalition would create a behemoth that would be bad for Irish democracy.

Second, and to my mind more important, it would almost certainly guarantee Sinn Fein in government in the near future.

Unlike much of our media, Martin does not suffer from moral myopia about Sinn Fein's links to IRA supporters. Micheal Martin practises the "ethics of memory" as President Higgins enjoins. He remembers the lethal legacy of the IRA to our crime culture.

Statistics show the Republic of Ireland is the deadliest place to live in the Irish and British isles. The IRA helped create that callous murder culture.

Martin may also be taking note of Sinn Fein's semi-detached attitude to the Irish State.

Last week, Oliver Callan, a man not moved by false emotion, called the State's 1916 commemoration "the best thing we have done".

But not good enough for Sinn Fein, which is planning a separate commemoration on April 24.

This refusal to let the Irish Government and people have the final word on the centenary emphasises Sinn Fein's ambivalence about the status of this State.

Again are we to believe there was no ambivalence about the opening words of Gerry Adams's Arbour Hill speech on Good Friday, as reported on RTE News?

'This State is not the Republic proclaimed in Nineteen and Sixteen." (Applause from the 'Volunteers' of Cabra Historical Society.)

Soft on Sinn Fein, the media melted to marshmallow when it came to putting pressure on Labour, Social Democrats, Greens and Independents to step up to the mark on voting for Taoiseach.

Instead the media preferred to indulge itself in maudlin praise of the febrile histrionics of Catherine Martin of the Greens.

Doubtless the deputy spent a lot of time polishing her speech. But like a lot of overblown speeches, it lacked a good authority call to action.

That kind of call is always about you having to make hard choices, not telling other people to do so.

Take her pseudo- conclusion: "TDs are not elected to be silent, or to take cover when the going gets tough."

But what did she and the Greens do when the going got tough? They abstained. They hurled from the ditch.

Naturally the Pied Pipers missed the best speech, which was made by Noel Rock, Fine Gael TD for Dublin North West.

Rock taunted TDs who had been elected 40 days ago but who were obsessed with "hugging the opposition benches tight".

His rebuke was aimed at Sinn Fein, AAA-PBP and the Independents. All of whom got a cushy ride from a mushy-minded media.

But as Shane Coleman, one of the few pundits to keep up pressure on all parties, pointed out recently, all these groups had the making of a government.

In my view - and it is one shared by every member of the public I met last Friday - only Katherine Zappone showed bottle.

Like most Irish people, I would think less of someone appointed to the Seanad by Enda Kenny if they had sat on their hands. Join the army, wear the boots.

Let me put my cards on the table. I cannot see the point of Independents.

Over the past 50 years, I cannot recall Independents making any incisive interventions that changed the course of Irish politics for the better. But I recall a lot of messing.

But my antipathy against Independents runs deeper than their lack of influence over major issues.

Any Independent, no matter how highly motivated personally, is finally about what Americans call pork-barrel politics.

And if they do succeed in securing a pork barrel for their local supporters, it will be at the expense of equally deserving poor devils.

The proof that principled Independents feel both impotent and somewhat irrelevant is shown by them coming together in groups like the Independent Alliance and Rural Independents.

But the 10 principles of the Independent Alliance -including Oireachtas reform, prioritising small business, remaining in the EU - are also supported by most parties.

These platitudinous principles are only tying pork barrels together - and that flimsy structure can fall apart at any time.

Take John Halligan's call to restore a cardiac unit in Waterford Hospital. Yes, a most worthy cause.

But is it any more worthy or pressing than health problems in other parts of the country?

Call it a cardiac unit if you wish, but politically it is still a pork barrel.

Last week, most of the Independents went around privately whispering they preferred Micheal Martin while keeping their Kenny pork-barrel options wide open.

But when Martin finally called on them to perform or get off the pot, they put a puss on them while a mawkish media murmured 'poor dears'.

At the risk of getting the same sulky response, I am going to give the Independents a fair warning.

Time to stop grandstanding and get behind the only deal possible now that Fianna Fail has flushed out the fence-sitters.

That deal is a minority Fine Gael government, led by Enda Kenny, backed by Labour, Greens, Social Democrats, responsible Independents and supported by Fianna Fail in opposition.

But any further calls for Cabinet posts from the likes of Finian McGrath and I guarantee a lot of Independents will go down at the next general election.

How do I know? First, because I spend my days shooting the breeze with members of the public, not the media.

Second, because Joe Duffy's Liveline last Friday carried the first public carpings about Independents - but not the last.

Finally, because a few hours later Oliver Callan sent up their chieftains corrosively.

Strong straws in the wind. Take heed.

Sunday Independent

Read More