Wednesday 28 September 2016

The Taoiseach should go to the country in November

Published 20/09/2015 | 02:30

Illustration by Jim Cogan
Illustration by Jim Cogan

Chekhov says if you hang a rifle on the wall at the start of a play you must fire it before the end. Otherwise don't put it there.

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The Taoiseach should take note. Stop exciting the electorate with good news unless you're going to call a snap election.

Shane Coleman's Sunday Show on Newstalk today will include a pundit pop whose contributors must call the next General Election, and give reasons, in 30 seconds.

Subject to two provisos, here is my prediction. Fine Gael will form the next government with what is left of the Labour Party, plus some reliable Social Democrats.

The two provisos? First, that the Taoiseach calls the General Election hot on the heels of the Budget.

Second, that trading on his physical fitness, he carries out a non-stop national canvass, leaving Leo Varadkar to front the campaign in Dublin.

That division of labour would play to both men's strengths. Enda is a powerful provincial canvasser and Leo is what leafy Dublin likes.

Fianna Fail will flower again following a fighting campaign led by the equally fit Micheal Martin.

Finally, Sinn Fein. For two years pundits have been proclaiming that scandals do not affect its polls.

Meantime, I was predicting the media pounding would eventually erode its poll position. So who was right?

This time last year Sinn Fein was at 26. Last week it had fallen to 16. Ten points down.

And a snap election, while public memory is fresh, would show that even that support is soft.

But I have no crystal ball. My prediction of a Fine Gael government depends on what the Taoiseach does in the next six weeks.

***

Fine Gael spindoctors have, however, made one major mistake. Tying the tin can of the Labour Party to the back of their campaign bus.

The electorate wants an exit from Labour's politics. That brand now stands for nothing except power and pensions.

Ruairi Quinn was in full retreat from reality in his rambling remarks to the a late-night Labour Party think-in last Monday.

In the course of his speech he claimed Labour's record in government was "a parade of pride and success".

Snuggling up with Fine Gael, leaving the working class to Sinn Fein? Looking after the permanent and pensionable public sector?

Quinn's most quoted quip was a Freudian slip. "Because we don't believe in capitalism, we know how to f**king manage it," he said.

Well they certainly managed the pension part. Quinn will enjoy an annual pension of €85,798, having done nothing about half the workforce who have only the old age pension.

Quinn's retreat from reality was possibly prompted by Conor Brady's supportive piece in last week's Sunday Times.

The heroic heading proclaimed: "Labour should hold its head up - even as it goes down in flames."

But Quinn and his querulous retirees are not going down in flames. They are bailing out from Labour's doomed aircraft.

Floating safely to earth on a parachute held up by hot air, they will land on a large pension pot.

The least they might do is leave without using the red flag to wipe their crocodile tears.

***

I can remember a time when waving the red flag got you grief, not a good pension. A recent lecture by John Bruton brought back one such memory.

Bruton was profiling Kevin O'Higgins, Minister for Justice, and Paddy Hogan, Minister for Agriculture, in the first Free State government.

Higgins has long been a hero of mine. But I knew little of Hogan apart from his famous Soviet-style slogan: "One more cow, one more sow, one more acre under the plough."

Bruton recounted Hogan's achievements -which included setting up the sugar industry - but revealed his greatest gift was for generating civility after a bitter civil war.

When Hogan died in a car accident in 1936, Eamon de Valera and Frank Aiken paid tributes that came from the heart.

This was partly because of Hogan's patriotism; but also, I believe, because of a sweetness of character that was the hallmark of the Hogan family.

Paddy's brother, Professor James Hogan, under whom I studied history at UCC, was certainly an intellectual charmer of iron innocence and ideological fervour.

James Hogan had been the brilliant Director of IRA Intelligence in the War of Independence. Even in old age he had a sound grasp of his students' politics.

As professor and pupil, we were at two poles of the political compass. He was a conservative anti- communist and I was a hardline Marxist.

Hogan was no casual crusader against communism. He was the author of a famous polemical pamphlet, 'Could Ireland Become Communist?'.

So by choosing Marx as the subject of the essay for my finals I was throwing down the gauntlet.

So I was disappointed but not surprised when I did not get a First. And intrigued when Hogan, who was then dying, explained his thinking.

Fixing me with his brilliant blue eyes, he said that he could not in conscience have given me a First. That was because I was clearly committed to Soviet communism, a dogma devoted to mass murder.

Finally, with a twinkle, he told me that if our roles were reversed he believed I would have done the same. I did not disagree.

We parted in perfect harmony, two fanatic hearts. But Hogan was the one who got it right.

***

Early in the year I was the first commentator to publicly call for the Defence Forces to dominate the 1916 commemorations.

So I can't complain about some of the O'Donovan Rossa and Thomas Kent coverage going totally over the top.

Kent's funeral was a moving spectacle, apart from an intrusive RTE television commentary continually telling us what we could see.

But the Taoiseach's well-crafted speech should have reminded us that Head Constable William Rowe, a Wexford Protestant, was as brave as Thomas Kent, and died doing his duty.

So I was glad when Rowe's great-grandson, Ken Wolfe, called for his relative and other members of the RIC to be remembered properly, too.

To its credit, the Irish Examiner's two-page supplement on Kent carried a compassionate piece by Niall Murray, reminding us that Rowe left a widow and five small children, aged between eight and 13.

But Gabriel Doherty, a lecturer in Irish history at UCC, contributed a piece that came to, what was to my mind, a political conclusion.

"They threw down the gauntlet of principle, not just, or even primarily, at the feet of the Crown forces who opposed them that day, but more pointedly to the generations of their fellow countrymen, and women, who would follow them down to the current time."

Who does Doherty have in mind? And what about keeping a distance between history and politics?

Sunday Independent

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