independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Labour caves in and meekly follows the Kenny agenda

Last week started well for Eamon Gilmore. He gave a robust defence of Labour's record with Sean O'Rourke. Also, according to the Irish Times report, his speech at the British and Irish Association seemed both pluralist and politic.

But a closer scrutiny of Gilmore's speech showed that having apparently reached out to Unionists, he retreated again behind a hedge of qualifications. And his strong interview with Sean O'Rourke was soon subverted by Alex White's Seanad campaign.

Let me pause for a moment to distinguish between Fine Gael and Labour positions on Enda Kenny's effort to abolish the Seanad. Fine Gael has a proud Seanad past: Senators Alexis Fitzgerald and James Dooge are but two of its illustrious names. Many in Fine Gael have no appetite for abolition.

They also know that Enda Kenny's effort to stand down the Seanad was nothing but a personal populist gamble. But with his bet in danger the party faithful are forced to rally round. Whatever Fine Gael members may privately feel, Kenny has to be saved from his growing hubris.

But Labour was under no such pressure to save Enda Kenny's face. Accordingly, it should have seized on Kenny's gamble as a chance to do something it desperately needs to do –assert Labour's separate identity by saying no to the Fine Gael leader.

Labour could have done so calmly by first expressing polite collegial disagreement with Kenny's ploy. Then it should have produced a simple policy for a popularly elected Seanad. But if Kenny persisted it could have shown its teeth.

Faced with fighting a referendum with the sole support of Sinn Fein, Kenny would have caved in. Labour would have been left looking good. So why did it end up looking like a party of Kenny lapdogs?

Sadly, using the Sherlock Holmes system of logical elimination, we can come to only one conclusion. Labour doesn't want to rock the Coalition boat until it has completed its full voyage. As I said before, it all comes down to drawing the full pension.

* * *

Labour's ingratiating image in relation to Enda Kenny is not helped by the persona of Alex White, Labour's director of elections. White always has great welcome for himself. Which is not surprising given the way that welcome is echoed in Dublin media circles.

Last Wednesday, on RTE's Drivetime a dove-like Mary Wilson let White ramble at will. Neither seemed to feel an interview between an RTE presenter and a former RTE producer should have an extra edge. Just to prevent any perception of favouritism.

Now if that were Newstalk, with Ivan Yates and Chris Donoghue, White would have been asked some wry questions. About the alacrity with which he stepped into Roisin Shortall's shoes. Or the enthusiasm with which he, a former senator, accepted Enda Kenny's reasons for standing down the Seanad.

Or even this: "So former Senator Alex White, having provided you with a high profile, and a handy launching pad into Dail Eireann, you now feel the Seanad has performed its primary function and is of no further importance?

* * *

Rather than rubberstamping Enda Kenny's envelope, Gilmore and Labour should have seized on the 100th anniversary of the 1913 Lockout to galvanise the Labour Party. This was the perfect moment to show how the party differed from the civil war parties.

Labour should have used the centenary to mount a strong public challenge to the nationalist agenda as we approach 2016. Far from doing so, Labour has allowed 1913 to be presented as a precursor to 1916. Again, to borrow De Valera's phrase, Labour must wait.

Tim Pat Coogan is always the first to recognise a nationalist revival. In a recent piece in the Irish Examiner he described a notorious Michael Collins killing and appeared untroubled by a more forceful approach to Irish bankers.

"Specifically, where banks and banking were concerned, we know that he (Collins) organised a superbly efficient Dail loan and had a banking inspector who attempted to interfere with it, Alan Bell, shot dead. He did not hesitate to threaten force when banks' policies threatened the newly formed Irish Free State."

For the record: Alan Bell was a 70-year-old civil servant charged with tracking Michael Collins's funds. On March 26, 1920, an IRA squad dragged him from a tram at the Simmonscourt Road stop and shot him dead in front of terrified passengers.

There are two ways of looking at Bell's killing. The majority nationalist view, copperfastened by the cult of Michael Collins, will defend it as a necessary execution in an equally necessary war of Independence.

A minority of revisionists, of which I am one, see it as a squalid murder in an unnecessary War of Independence, which led inexorably to civil wars, and to a prolonged cult of the gun that equally inexorably produced the Provos – and will produce more of the same as long as the cult is not challenged,.

Enda Kenny's Government means to mount no such challenge coming up to 2016. It means to carry on the Cult of Collins, a cult every bit as corrosive as the cult of Pearse. So it will have no moral right to react with law-and-order rhetoric when the centenary results in a revival of militant republicanism.

* * *

Fianna Fail is following the same stupid path as Fine Gael. It thinks it can finish off the Sinn Fein party while at the same time subscribing to Sinn Fein's republican ideology. Chris Andrews' decision to seek a home in Sinn Fein was a perfectly logical result of that split political personality.

Let me refresh your memory. In 2005, Provisional IRA associates murdered an innocent Dublin man, Joseph Rafferty. Most politicians in Dublin South East kept their heads down. But not Councillor Gary Keegan of Fianna Fail, who bravely took the Provisional IRA to task.

In 2006, Councillor Keegan was the hot favourite for the Fianna Fail Dail nomination. But soon it became clear that party chiefs were supporting Chris Andrews, who had no political track record to compare with Keegan's.

In a column at the time, I appealed to Fianna Fail to do the right thing, as follows: "If Fianna Fail nominates Chris Andrews over Gary Keegan it will show it prefers a plummy accent to real ability."

But it was a waste of good advice. Fianna Fail could not resist the Andrews DNA, rich in green double-think. The nomination went to Chris Andrews.

But the bad karma kept following Fianna Fail. And those of us who followed Andrews' activities were not surprised either by the Tweet scandal or his move towards Sinn Fein.

In 2011, in a column criticising Chris Andrews' flotilla antics against Israeli policies, I warned Micheal Martin that he must choose between Fianna Fail and Flotilla Fail. Another waste of good advice. So here's three words for Fianna Fail: Told you so.

* * *

At least Cork can distinguish between a naff nationalist and a true patriot. Last Wednesday, Seamus Murphy's classic memoir Stone Mad was voted Cork's Favourite Book in an entertaining competition run by Cork City Library. Get it, read it, cherish it.

Sunday Independent

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