Wednesday 26 October 2016

Be afraid - after four years in wilderness FF old guard return

Published 28/05/2015 | 02:30

Tonight, former Fianna Fáil junior minister Martin Mansergh makes a bid for a re-admission to the Dáil
Tonight, former Fianna Fáil junior minister Martin Mansergh makes a bid for a re-admission to the Dáil

Be afraid. Be very afraid. See them step out from the undergrowth. Watch them stretch, sniff the air, and put out feelers about running for election. The Fianna Fáil old guard are emerging again - and as they surface, they cast a long shadow over Micheál Martin.

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Tonight, former Fianna Fáil junior minister Martin Mansergh makes a bid for a re-admission to the Dáil, offering himself as a candidate before the party's selection convention in Tipperary. He was booted out in the Waterloo of 2011.

A few days ago, Bobby Aylward - also a 2011 casualty - won back the seat he lost. He strode into Dáil Éireann at the centre of a gang of TDs, like Wyatt Earp among his deputies going into a Tombstone saloon to put manners on some desperadoes.

You'd swear Fianna Fáil had been struggling to keep the country on the straight and narrow during the boom, while its rivals championed the economic policies that would lose Ireland its sovereignty. Close your eyes. Can't you see Micheál and his party comrades wringing their hands and pleading for prudence? "Come on, lads, let's go easy on the tax breaks for developers."

Both Mary Hanafin and Seán Haughey - heaved out in 2011 - licked their wounds, regrouped and were elected to council positions last year.

They are now eyeing Dáil seats. Former Tánaiste Mary Coughlan has made speculative remarks about a return to Kildare Street - people are begging her to go back into politics, seems to be the gist of it - while Bertie is circling in the background, agitating to have his record re-evaluated. As for ex-minister John O'Donoghue, he has made no secret of his longing to be back in the corridors of power.

With the recovery under way, long-serving Fianna Fáilers are ready to climb back into the saddle. The party has learned nothing. The shock of finding itself in opposition has not been a teachable experience - rather, a waiting game. It's banking on an electorate with amnesia: people smarting over austerity and forgetful about whose disastrous policies led to such rigours.

Listen to the party's equivocations - you'd swear the financial crash was just a bit of bad luck. Sure it couldn't have prevented what happened. What hope did it have against bankers who lied? And regulators who didn't do their jobs? Besides, it was an international crisis - Ireland was buffeted by the shockwaves. And so a sense of 'time served' is apparent. An impatience to see action again. Four years done in the 'sin bin', ready for office again. Emphasise that experience is needed, and you are willing to provide it. So much for new blood and fresh ideas.

Averil Power's shoddy and boorish treatment at Fianna Fáil's hands speaks for itself.

A reformed party? Modernised? Yeah, sure.

Incidentally, Dr Mansergh says he is very much in sympathy with "Micheál Martin's slightly left-of-centre positioning of the party". That left-of-centre positioning wasn't in evidence when Senator Power was scoffed at for daring to suggest canvassers wear 'Yes' badges during the Carlow-Kilkenny by-election campaign. In fact, that left-of-centre positioning looks decidedly tentative. Presumably, this was one of the reasons why she said "courage, conviction and commitment" were lacking in Fianna Fáil.

The laddish culture identified by the senator, and corroborated by the party's petulant and mean-spirited reaction to her valid criticisms, is undoubtedly a problem for Fianna Fáil. But if only that was its primary failure. Arguably, its attachment to all the old faces who haven't reconciled themselves to life after politics is a greater drawback.

The lack of self-awareness these people show in seeking public office again is breathtaking, having already squandered the people's trust.

In government, the party had a policy of runaway expenditure, ignoring warnings not to practise auction politics at the worst possible time. Currently, Ireland has borrowings of €215bn, and only one-third of that is due to the banks. The remaining two-thirds relates to the deficit.

According to the 2010 Honohan report, government spending doubled in real terms between 1995 and 2007, rising at an average rate of 6pc. "And, in a final twist, real expenditure rose by over 11pc in both 2007 and 2008, an unfortunate late burst of spending which boosted the underlying deficit at almost the worst possible time," said Patrick Honohan.

'Unfortunate' is an understatement. 'Reckless' also springs to mind. And who was at the Cabinet table as a series of calamitous decisions were taken? A Fianna Fáil-led team.

Bearing this in mind, any moves to round up the party's old guard sound less like a dream team and more like a nightmare waiting to happen. Unemployment, emigration, mortgage distress and collapsed incomes are their legacy. Yet these people want back into the driver's seat? Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Irish Independent

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