Sunday 25 September 2016

Gene Kerrigan: Big changes - Kenny takes off his jacket

The bogus claim of a 'new politics' lets the parties play the same old games

Published 12/06/2016 | 02:30

By Tom Halliday
By Tom Halliday

And who, I hear you ask, is the Abraham Lincoln of Irish gays? Is it Enda Kenny or is it Micheal Martin?

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Which of these political leaders broke the chains of oppression and today stands tall at the Gaelic Gettysburg, "dedicated to the proposition that all men (and women) are created equal"?

You may not know this, but those two gentlemen recently had a public row over which of them did most to bring about marriage equality.

All around us, we hear the term "new politics".

The term was cynically created and is now common currency among politicians and the often rather gullible journalists who report on them.

The "new politics" is spoken of as though it is a real thing - as real as a traffic light or a mathematical formula.

Let us test this "new politics" against the reality we see around us, including that bizarre joust between Micheal and Enda.

In February, neither Fianna Fail nor Fine Gael got enough votes to form a government. Usually, if coming up short, one or other of them could rely on Labour's support in exchange for a share of the state cars. This time, Labour was slaughtered.

To join together was logical, as FF and FG share political positions on most issues, but that would let Sinn Fein prosper as the leading opposition party. Small left-wing outfits might convincingly pose alternative ideas to the right-wing views of a combined FF/FG.

Instead, months went by as the two parties concocted a formula, with the help of Independents, to allow FG to continue in government with FF support while FF controlled the Opposition benches.

They share the spoils of office in the hope that the old domination can be restored.

As a consequence, half the parliamentary year was squandered. The groundwork has not been laid, so the rest of the parliamentary year will also fail to meet the basic needs of the country.

The Ireland that Enda Kenny and Micheal Martin have between them fashioned can't afford such casual neglect.

Endless cruelties are inflicted on the homeless as builders, developers and landlords manoeuvre to maximise their profits. The historically under-funded public health service continues to fail us when we are at our weakest. Promises to end the police scandals are accompanied by measures to ensure that nothing changes. Everyone except the Taoiseach can smell the stink from Nama. Schools are religious training academies first, educational resources second.

Women have to go abroad for medical treatment when their pregnancy becomes unviable. They must suffer that treatment in a foreign land, separated from family. They receive the remains of their foetuses in Jiffy bags delivered by courier.

To put a gloss on all this, one of Enda's highly-paid spinners came up with the concept of the "new politics". Things are done differently now, we're told.

Can we see examples of this? Well, FF and FG did a deal on who should chair the Seanad.

No kidding. Actual journalists, who have actual jobs, with straight faces gave us this example of the "new politics".

Minor reforms of parliamentary process are portrayed as political change.

The media carefully and impartially gets one side of the story from FF and the other side from FG, thereby eliminating any genuine opposition voices. For some journalists, politically committed, this is deliberate. They see genuine opposition as obstructionist.

Others have bought into the "new politics" nonsense, so they see FF v FG as offering a legitimate choice.

Even honest, unbiased journalists have habits that can be exploited. They thrive on the tit-for-tat of daily events and they like a framework into which they can neatly slot those events. Party spinners specialise in providing such frameworks, thus the "new politics".

This drains politics of serious content. Personalised squabbling prospers.

Example: about 10 days back, a row erupted spontaneously when Enda sneered that he never heard Micheal shouting for marriage equality.

Hey presto, we had a row over who was our Abraham Lincoln.

No other leader, said Micheal, was as vociferous on the issue as he.

Your party, said Enda, "was completely invisible" in the campaign.

We took a position in 2011, said Micheal.

"Your party was completely silent", said Enda.

"I do not want to remind the Taoiseach of the Flowerpot Incident," said Micheal, "when he ran away from journalists."

Enda sneered: "Your party was afraid."

"The famous incident when the Taoiseach fell over a flowerpot."

"Your party was afraid."

"I was", said Micheal, "the only party leader . . ."

"Your party was afraid."

". . . who debated it on national television."

"Big deal," said the Taoiseach, his rhetoric as skilled as ever.

This went on for some time.

Ruth Coppinger intervened with a succinct contribution summing up both the squabble and the state of Irish politics. "This is embarrassing", she said.

New politics?

There was Leo Varadkar vigorously denying the supplementary budget was a supplementary budget. "It's a revised estimate," he said.

No, it's not, according to Paschal Donohoe. "It's a bailout."

A new label doesn't make it new politics, lads.

Whatever the party spinners tell you to call it, it's the same old politics. It's called under-funding state services, and in public health it's been government policy for years.

Brendan Howlin, after a period as Minister for Health, admitted as much. "The Government required the public system to be inferior. Why else, if it was first-rate, would people pay for a private system?" he said.

Under-fund, supplement, see what you can get away with and bung in some extra under pressure.

Simon Coveney thinks he's the Minister for Housing, which he would be if there genuinely was a new politics. Instead, under the old politics, Simon is limited to creating incentives to persuade the private market to build houses. He's not a minister, he's a market nudger.

Abandoning the old politics would see Coveney using the powers of the State to end the emergency that has left thousands of people homeless. By building bloody houses.

So, where's the "new politics"? Well, on Friday, Enda Kenny held a "media briefing". He sat down with the political correspondents and answered questions on Brexit and how long he'll stay on as leader of FG and that kind of stuff. It's a great format for waffle. And, inevitably, it was presented to us as evidence of the "new politics".

It was a hot day and the fact that Enda took off his jacket made the TV news.

I kid you not.

So, who is the Abraham Lincoln of the marriage equality achievement?

There was none. Decades ago, gay men and women and supporters committed to human rights took a stand on equality that was morally, politically and physically courageous. They did it. The politicians joined in for the final lap.

In their heads, they've been doing laps of honour ever since.

Sunday Independent

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