Wednesday 26 October 2016

Labour made major mistake not backing Alan Kelly

Published 22/05/2016 | 02:30

Even a week abroad allows you to absorb the bigger political picture. Brian Hayes spends a lot more time abroad than me, so I'll give him first go.

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Last week, Hayes hailed what he called the "courageous" act of Fianna Fail in electing to go into Opposition. His two reasons will be familiar to regular readers of this column.

"Had Fianna Fail gone for the grand coalition, it would have been the end of centre ground politics in Ireland. It would have handed Sinn Fein the mantle as leaders of the Opposition and a presumptive government in waiting."

Coming from anyone else, this reading might raise sour suspicions among Fianna Fail members.

But Hayes has always been his own man. And unlike many colleagues in Fine Gael he has always seen Sinn Fein as a major threat to Irish democracy.

In praising Fianna Fail Hayes is also speaking for the silent majority of Middle Ireland.

That majority is deeply suspicious of Sinn Fein and until recently feared that Fianna Fail might do a squalid deal with that party.

Micheal Martin rejected any such dirty deal after the recent election. And by acknowledging Martin's act of courage, Hayes has helped to finish off any lingering fears of a future Fianna Fail deal with Sinn Fein.

In bravely giving Martin and Fianna Fail full credit for postponing power for patriotic reasons, Hayes is also putting patriotism before narrow party interest.

That's because Hayes is implicitly giving Fine Gael voters permssion to "lend" votes to Fianna Fail against Sinn Fein in tactically suitable situations.

Such tactical Fine Gael support would be crucial in helping Fianna Fail to squeeze out Sinn Fein in Dublin - and clear the way for future minority governments of the sort that will soon seem normal.

Hayes is also correct in singling out the crucial role of Regina Doherty as Chief Whip. She has an acute antenna and does not avoid awkward problems before they get worse.

Doherty has deftly signalled she is not happy with the answers of the Garda Commissioner about the McCabe affair. Pity colleagues like Mary Mitchell O'Connor don't show the same concern.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail should have called on the Garda Commissioner to consider her position. Especially after her unwise February 2015 "letter of comfort" to Sinn Fein.

But while I agree with Brian Hayes in his regard for Martin and Doherty, I disagree with his description of Brendan Howlin as "the unsung hero of the last administration".

Naturally, Howlin is a hero to Fine Gael because of his cosy relationship with Michael Noonan. But that will be a hindrance not a help in Labour's struggle to stay alive on the left.

That is why the Labour parliamentary party's failure to provide a seconder for Alan Kelly is beyond belief. Because Kelly was the only leader who might have lifted that party's morale.

Far from facing the fact that Labour needed a fighting alpha male like Kelly, the party leadership preferred cagey and cautious characters like Howlin and Sherlock.

In fact, it so disliked Kelly's combative style that it brazenly disenfranchised its own rank and file membership, which was looking for someone a lot harder than Howlin.

Why the antipathy against Kelly's honest passion for power? Surprisingly, Patrick Pearse rather than James Connolly can supply an answer.

Pearse sardonically remarked that the greatest fear of the Irish bourgeoisie was to be seen going down Grafton Street with a brown paper parcel.

Alan Kelly is Labour's brown paper parcel. He is not politically correct, not loved by the cosmopolitian media, not in thrall to the liberal agenda, and comes from a humble background.

But Spartacus Kelly was just what the rank and file of the party needed to restore its fighting spirit.

Howlin is yesterday's leader. Just like Labour is now yesterdays party.


Youen Jacob, of Brittany and Baltimore, who died while I was away, was what Dr Johnson would call "a man of parts".

Back in the 1960s, he gave up his safe job teaching science at a French lycee and followed his passion for fishing and the sea.

Engine trouble forced his trawler into Baltimore. So began his twin projects: to win the love of a local teacher and make Baltimore famous for good food.

The first project went well. He wooed and won the heart of Mary O'Neill, from one of the great seafaring families of Sherkin.

She had competition. Youen was a handsome man with a piratical aura. Think Anthony Quinn crossed with Johnny Depp.

Women went mad for him but he only had eyes - and ears - for Mary, who ensured the success of his second project.

That was to set up a gourmet French restaurant in the then fairly remote village of Baltimore, whose high standard would bring the world to its doors.

Chez Youen's was a huge success. Charlie Haughey sailed into Baltimore to eat there. The French Ambassador regularly drove from Dublin to sample its lobster, crab and spring lamb.

Supported by his close friends, Richard Bush and Jimmy Sheehy, Youen also helped set up a fish factory, which today enjoys a thriving export business.

A few years ago, Youen and Richard Bush - who ran pubs at each end of the sea-front - joined forces to create a sunny piazza.

Here, on most mornings for the past 30 summers, Youen and I could be found in sometimes alarmingly animated discussion.

Youen was a polemical polymath and a grump of genius. I looked forward to our daily sparring matches much as his groupies looked forward to a session with Voltaire.

When I first met him, Youen was both a French socialist and a Breton patriot. He kept a beady eye on Breton Vichy collaborators who had found a cosy political refuge in Ireland after the war.

But although politically on the left, Youen was a pragmatist about Irish politics. He believed Fianna Fail was the natural party of the Irish working class - but he had high praise for Simon Coveney.

He also had a deadly eye for personal weak spots in his political sparring partners. This I found out when I met him one day wearing a pair of shorts. "Zey are too short and you are too h'old to wear them."

Although fluent in argumentative English, sometimes an idiom would escape him. Hence his legendary outburst. "You zink I know fugging nozzing, but I know fugg all!"

Sometimes he came across as a French John Cleese. Even compliments could cause an eruption.

A few years ago, two Italian girls told him they had never tasted a pizza as fine since they left Naples. "For fuggs sake you would not get a pizza as good as that in Naples!"

Youen believed that young active people should be given their heads - a lesson the Labour Party has still not learned.

Accordingly, he handed the reins of his restaurants and pub to his son Youen Jnr and his wife Kate, a willowy beauty whose exemplary work ethic earned his highest praise.

Baltimore will miss him badly. Me too. Bon voyage, mon ami.

Sunday Independent

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