Monday 24 October 2016

Kenny's full partnership ploy will only help Adams

Published 10/04/2016 | 02:30

Last week, President Higgins called on Irish universities to foster "a capacity for dissent". I could not agree more.

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Most Irish journalists have a college degree. But they must have been at colleges that confirmed rather than challenged their prejudices.

For six weeks now, the media pack has been following a few Pied Piper Pundits who have led them astray again and again.

Six weeks ago, the Pied Pipers proclaimed that a grand coalition was certain.

Last week they ended up as cheerleaders for a full partnership ploy that was no more than a seedy stroke by Enda Kenny.

At no stage did the pundits attempt to analyse whether a merger of the two big parties would be good or bad for Irish democracy.

Only four journalists - Jody Corcoran, Shane Coleman, Pat Leahy and Stephen Collins - warned against the glib assumption that a grand coalition was either certain or desirable.

The rest got it wrong because they listened to a lobby of male loudspeakers, or what feminists call "mansplainers".

Mansplainers mostly like to explain things to women - although many male hacks seemed happy to nod like metronomes while their mentors were getting it wrong.

Meantime, for the past six weeks, I have been repeating two beliefs which contradicted the media consensus.

First, there would be no grand coalition. Second, there should be no grand coalition. Let's take these two beliefs in turn.

I began by rejecting the media mantra that there would have to be a grand coalition simply because the numbers said so.

Politics is about people, not numbers. Pity the pundits did not act like old-fashioned reporters and ask five members of Fianna Fail.

They would have found four ferociously against coalition and only one wavering.

From which it followed that Micheal Martin was never going to break his promise not to go into government with Fine Gael.

Moving on to my second belief: that a coalition would be bad for Irish democracy.

Here again most of the media never asked whether there were any good reasons to reject a coalition.

In fact, there are three reasons why Micheal Martin is correct in saying that a full partnership is not in the national interest.

First, it would ruin the stable structure of Irish politics - the firm foundation provided by alternating Fianna Fail and Fine Gael governments, with Labour switching between.

Second, a grand coalition would be a domineering dinosaur that would be hard to dislodge and would petrify Irish politics for a whole generation.

Finally, and most fundamentally, a grand coalition would ensure the rapid expansion of Sinn Fein in Opposition.

None of the Pied Pipers asked what would happen five years from now if we ran into another recession.

We would also run into a Sinn Fein party pumped up on the steroids of popularity. A party looking lean and fit compared with the fat cats of the grand coalition.

Why does this grim prospect not bother the media? Some of the answer is that many pundits suffer a moral myopia when it comes to seeing Sinn Fein clearly.

Deep down, most of them know that Sinn Fein is bad news. But they are suckers for the smell of sulphur.

Another part of the answer is that Fianna Fail has failed to say that it fully shares Middle Ireland's fears about Sinn Fein.

But the party is being foolishly macho in not admitting that Sinn Fein is a formidable threat.

Asked by hostile pundits if they are afraid of Sinn Fein, most FF spokespersons strongly deny that is so.

Actually, the correct answer is to say soberly that "all responsible parties should be worried by the rise of a cult party like Sinn Fein".

Certainly the public is worried. The General Election results showed that a substantial majority deeply distrust Sinn Fein.

Accordingly, Fianna Fail should be claiming credit for the fact that it is rejecting the soft spoils of government so as to squeeze Sinn Fein.

Because the brute fact is that Micheal Martin and most of the parliamentary party loathe Sinn Fein.

That distrust is driving their decision not to go into government - and will do them a lot of long-term good with most voters.

Cynics may say this decision suits Fianna Fail in the long term. But it also suits the Irish people.

Furthermore, suppose roles were reversed, and Martin was making the offer, do you really believe Kenny would refuse high office to go and fight Sinn Fein in Opposition?

The media has still to take the measure of Micheal Martin, one of the few politicians with a feel for the big picture and for the national question.

As I keep pointing out, apart from the economy, the national question is the only game in town.

Sinn Fein is the tribal incarnation of the national question with its cancerous obsession with the North and the fourth green field.

The national question goes dormant during good years. But a recession sees it ready to rise again, red in tooth and claw.

Fast forward five years to the 1921 centenary commemorations of ambush and atrocity, and find a grand coalition fighting a general election while coping with an economic crisis.

How would that grand coalition handle Sinn Fein giving us Bloody Sunday every bloody Sunday?

Taunting Fine Gael about how de Valera suckered Michael Collins into going to London. Taunting Fianna Fail with how the Free State government shot 77 republicans.

If you think we have put all that behind us, take a look at the nascent necrophilia of Sinn Fein's early efforts at a 1916 commemoration before the Defence Forces took centre stage.

But none of that would matter if we had a media that did not behave like a pack of penguins playing follow the leader.

Last week, gullible pundits took Enda Kenny's offer of full partnership at face value and sold it as some kind of visionary move to end the Civil War.

It was nothing of the sort. It was an old-fashioned stroke. Regina Doherty, for whom I have huge respect, said that Fine Gael was not good at strokes. But not being good at them is not the same thing as trying to pull them.

When Kenny met Martin, he knew Fianna Fail was firmly against a grand coalition but was willing to talk seriously about supporting a Fine Gael minority government.

Instead of putting flesh on that option, Kenny pulled the full partnership ploy. Dara Calleary put it plainly: "This is political gamesmanship."

So it is. Time the media stopped playing and started to referee the game.

Sunday Independent

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