Sunday 25 September 2016

Behind the posturing on Lowry, the real pragmatic business of politics carries on

Published 27/01/2016 | 02:30

'Lowry fits the bill of the ideal Independent. He won’t run from the kitchen when it heats up – he’ll do a deal and then stick to it'
'Lowry fits the bill of the ideal Independent. He won’t run from the kitchen when it heats up – he’ll do a deal and then stick to it'

At last, some harmony between all the political parties. Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour, Renua, Sinn Féin and, one presumes, the Social Democrats, are all in agreement on one thing - not doing business with Michael Lowry after the election.

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Lowry has succeeded not only in uniting a broad range of the political spectrum, but also in allowing Gerry Adams to take the moral high ground about who he would be willing to go into government with.

That's quite a feat.

Slab Murphy, a man who has had his issues with the Revenue Commissioners, is a "good republican" but Michael Lowry is not somebody Sinn Féin would be willing to deal with.

The hypocrisy is not confined to Sinn Féin. Before this became an issue in the last few days following questions from the media, one suspects that Fine Gael and Labour would have done a deal with Lowry in a heartbeat if that was required to get to the magic 80 seats.

Why, given Lowry's history of questionable behaviour? Because, in cold pragmatic terms, he fits the bill of the ideal Independent in a way the more highly strung members of the Independent Alliance never can.

As with Noel Grealish or Michael Healy-Rae, Lowry's focus is on constituency issues. He won't run from the kitchen when the political temperature heats up. He'll do a deal and he'll stick to it.

That's why Fianna Fáil came to an arrangement with him back in 2007 and, as Lowry put it yesterday, was "damn glad" of his support when windier party TDs ran for the hills during the economic crisis.

Micheál Martin was being a little Jesuitical yesterday when he said things had changed because back then his party couldn't pre-empt the Moriarty Tribunal Report which, in 2011, came out with strong findings against Lowry.

There had, by 2007, been six years of investigation by Moriarty into the awarding of the second mobile phone licence. And anybody with even a passing interest in what was happening at Dublin Castle would have realised what way the final report was going. It was also 10 years after the publication of the McCracken Tribunal report, which found that Lowry, in his business dealings with Dunnes Stores, was "consistently benefiting from the black economy from shortly after the time he was first elected to Dáil Éireann".

It is worth noting as well that an extensive poll of TDs and senators from all parties was conducted by the 'Sunday Tribune' in 2010. It found that two-thirds of them had no confidence in the Moriarty Tribunal.

Yet a few months later, when the same tribunal published a final report with damning findings against Lowry, the new Dáil passed a motion of censure against the former minister without a vote.

This is not to exonerate or even defend Lowry - it's very difficult to excuse some of his actions and he's well able to do the latter himself - merely to highlight the lack of consistency from most of the political parties on this issue.

But then that's hardly news to people. Political expediency has a way of influencing what politicians do and say. And what could be more expedient than getting into government?

Fianna Fáil needed Lowry in 2007 as back-up. And regardless of what they say now, Fine Gael had a similar contingency plan for Lowry, among others, after polling day.

There is arguably nothing new in this. Politics is a numbers game. Fianna Fáil used to have an unshakeable core value of never going into coalition - until, in 1989, it was six seats short of an overall majority. The unthinkable - coalition with the PDs - suddenly became not just thinkable but doable.

PD leader Des O'Malley must have had massive reservations about serving under Charles Haughey - given what he knew, and no doubt suspected, about him - but he clearly felt he couldn't pass up the opportunity to put PD policies into action by being in office. Old enmities were put to one side in the interests of political pragmatism.

Ditto three years later, when Labour stunned everybody - and infuriated many - by plumping for coalition with FF. In 2006, this writer, based on an analysis of all the constituencies, mooted the possibility of an FF/PD/Green Coalition. It was greeted with indignation by senior figures in the Greens, scornful of the notion they' would inhabit what they referred to at the time as 'Planet Bertie'.

But after the election, when the FF/Green/PD numbers added up to more than 83 seats, attitudes had changed - despite the revelations about Bertie Ahern's personal finances. "What were we supposed to do - stay outside howling at the moon?" was the private response of one Green figure at the time.

He had a point. The Greens could have remained 'pure', untainted by association with Fianna Fáil and the sometimes grubby business of government. But, if the party wanted to change things, it had to be in Cabinet.

The first rule of politics is to get elected. That's why Enda Kenny would have been more than open to the idea of a deal with Michael Lowry.

Perhaps things are changing.

It's noticeable that it's mainly younger TDs over the past day or so who, perhaps surprisingly, didn't play along with Fine Gael's plan B and ruled out a deal with Lowry. If so, that is to be welcomed.

But one suspects the arch-pragmatist Kenny won't be overly pleased with them for doing so.

Shane Coleman presents the Sunday Show on Newstalk.com at 10am.

Irish Independent

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