Wednesday 26 October 2016

A beautiful terribleness has been born

Enda is fixated by a second term; FF is set on returning to its old dominance, writes Gene Kerrigan

Published 22/05/2016 | 02:30

Cartoonist: Tom Halliday
Cartoonist: Tom Halliday

So, how's it going, then - the 'New Politics'? Politicians have listened to what the people have said and they've resolved to "do politics differently". None of the old self-serving manoeuvres, none of the old party-first cynicism.

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Non-stop since 2011, they have told us: "We Have Listened To The People."

And all has changed, changed utterly, a beautiful terribleness has been born (as W B Yeats wrote, before Georgie looked over his shoulder and said: "Do you mind if I make a suggestion?").

Has this brave new political world begun yet to lift the Republic from the swamp into which Fianna Fail's banker and builder cronies ran us? Has this New Way of Doing Things decided how it will produce the dynamism needed to break the economy free from the chains of Fine Gael austerity?

It's now three months since we voted and last week Enda Kenny finally completed the task of appointing too many mini-ministers. Some journalists squandered precious hours trying to figure out the logic behind Enda's choices.

Geographic spread? No.

Internal constituency rivalries? No.

Gender balance? No.

Quotas? No.

Expertise in public service? Hell, no!

And why so many? Fine Gael got fewer votes than last time but they have more ministers than they ever had. And each minister costs us a lot of money.

The key to understanding what's happening is, as this column has quietly noted for some time, that Enda isn't a Taoiseach. He is the leader of Fine Gael.

This isn't about government, it's about securing his position. This isn't about what job needs to be done and who is the best person for the job.

It's about appointments to positions that will ensure a maximum of Fine Gael TDs feeling beholden to Enda and a minimum harbouring resentment and plotting against him.

Happily, Enda has made Fine Gael history by being the first leader of the party to win a second term in office. And, while that might seem a paltry achievement, given the circumstances, do not underestimate the extent to which such nonsense matters to these people.

Look at the price we've paid for this.

Noel Whelan, in the Irish Times, outlined the effects of two months of playing party games and it's quite shocking. I knew Enda and Micheal had paralysed the parliamentary process, but I didn't appreciate the extent to which they've ensured that the work of parliament has been banjaxed for the rest of the year.

And about eight weeks from now, they're off on their summer holidays for the best part of two months.

It isn't just that they're still 'doing politics' just as they always did; it's that they're not even doing that. They've spent two months playing silly buggers when there was a perfectly feasible and means of quickly securing stable government - a FF/FG coalition.

I hate the thought of such a monstrosity, but that's what the numbers add up to.

But that would involve breaking with the civil war enmities of 93 years ago. That would involve FF voting for a FG Taoiseach and/or vice versa; instead of FF refusing to vote against Enda, which is - of course - totally different.

And again, do not underestimate the extent to which such nonsense matters to these people.

The result: we have a minority government with a perilously shaky arrangement with Independents. All it needs is a car crash, a heart attack or a retching stomach after a bad pint and the Government falls.

The bumper crop of mini-ministers is part of the attempt to stabilise this cobbled-together Government. The more of them who will qualify for ministerial pensions in two years, the fewer will rock the boat for that length of time and that's long enough for Enda to convince himself that it won't look like a joke government in the Fine Gael record books.

And once again, don't underestimate the extent to which such nonsense matters to these people. Many of them are glorified county councillors and that includes the man in the Taoiseach's office.

Welcome to the New Politics.

The cost involves not just the €121,000 salary the ministers get.

It's the extra staff, including their two drivers, who can help them water their grassroots, so they can aim to top the poll at the next election.

Mostly it's the hefty pension pots they are amassing - and most of those guys are youngish, so this will cost us millions.

Fianna Fail put on its concerned face as the Garda Commissioner scandal unfolded, then it did an abrupt 180-degree turn, announcing that here was nothing to be concerned about. Its mortgage legislation manoeuvre with Fine Gael took precedence and it had extracted as much benefit from the whistleblower scandal as they needed.

The Fianna Fail historical record on garda scandals since the 1970s has been to display concern up to a point, then drop the matter.

(By the way, Niall Collins needs to practice his political gear changes. When you put on a mournful face and say "We mustn't forget the victims", try not to mutter, it suggests embarrassment and shame. Collins needs to eradicate such human traits.)

So far, FF is managing well to appear to be controlling government, yet dominating the opposition, which is the whole point of its strategy.

The officer class of the media tend to go to FG for the official line and then take the "opposition" line from FF, neatly cutting out any real dissent.

Even the UK Tories elect their leader these days, but our Labour Party has reverted to the 1950s Tory method, whereby a leader "emerges" without an election.

It was necessary to nobble Alan Kelly - the man who perpetually looked as though at any moment he might lose his grip.

That left them with Brendan Howlin, to "emerge" without any taint of democratic endorsement by what remains of the rank and file.

This is awkward. A week before the 2011 election Brendan said: "It makes no sense to spend hundreds of millions of euro metering a leaky system."

He stressed: "We are not in favour of water charges. Our manifesto has clearly set out that we are against water charges."

Labour has installed as leader a man who emphatically said one thing just before the vote and did the opposite immediately afterwards.

And we all know that had the party not been devastated, its cynical old hacks would be supporting all it now opposes.

In short, in office and in opposition, we have deep-dyed old politics, with a media that largely disenfranchises all who voted for change.

Refusing to take part in the sham New Politics is not to "sit on your hands doing nothing", it is to try to build an alternative way of doing things.

In the meantime, the least we can demand is that they turn up to do the god-damn job.

Factories and offices don't close down for a couple of months in the summer - why do we let them run the Oireachtas as though it's a seasonal attraction, open for business only during the bad weather?

Cancel their holidays. Keep the legislature open over the summer. Let TDs use the pairing system to take turns taking a maximum of two weeks off.

Sunday Independent

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