Tuesday 27 September 2016

Averil was mistaken to resign from Fianna Fail

Referendum result shows that change can happen only slowly and the next big bang will be a Fine Gael-Fianna Fail coalition

Published 31/05/2015 | 02:30

"Averil Power, four years a senator, was mistaken to resign from Fianna Fail so soon into a promising career" (Stephen Collins/Collins Photos)

A week on, the outcome of the marriage-equality referendum does not seem to quite herald a "social revolution", but that slight waning of euphoria should not dampen enthusiasm for what still feels like a new beginning for the country.

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When people go to the polls, as they did nationwide and in Carlow-Kilkenny last weekend, a message is always delivered which does not necessarily chime with those who tweet the loudest before or after votes are counted.

The overarching message this time is that change comes dropping slowly - but lands with a bang.

That is why I believe Averil Power, four years a senator, was mistaken to resign from Fianna Fail so soon into a promising career.

In relation to the argument between her and that party, this is what I also believe: both sides are right and both are wrong - but she had time on her side and should have hastened more slowly.

The more immediate message of last weekend is that Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are on course to form the next coalition, itself the most seismic big-bang change of all.

Last weekend, the Health Minister, Leo Varadkar, and the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, referred to a "social revolution" they believed was underway as the country embraced same-sex marriage.

The referendum result certainly shows that social change has taken place, and indicates that a measure of further such change will follow - but at its own pace, and not without careful consideration of the issues involved, for example, in relation to a further liberalisation of our abortion laws.

But I would contend that "revolution" is too strong a word for what has happened in the marriage-equality referendum.

Social change will happen at a pace in tandem with the priorities of new generations as they come of age, but can take place only in agreement with older generations, which have shown again that they can be persuaded but not dictated to, or forced by advocates either way, for or against.

Campaigners for same-sex marriage were persuasive only when they fell in tune with the mood of the nation, which was to conjoin grandparent and grandchild in a spirit of equality, joy and love of a good wedding.

Yes campaigners should not over-interpret the result, and would be well-advised to resist temptation to follow up immediately with demands that the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution be repealed. That is not to say they should not try to, only that they may be disappointed next time out.

Change comes slowly: it has taken 30 years from rejection to a point where a law was enacted to allow for abortion where a woman's life is endangered by her pregnancy.

It may take another 30 - if that soon, if at all - for what is called 'abortion on demand'. Meanwhile, opinion polls suggest there is more scope for successful law change in relation to fatal foetal abnormality, incest and rape.

Here is another lesson from the marriage-equality referendum and by-election: voters are always right, and opinion polls here are seldom, if ever, wrong.

A majority, just over 60pc, voted for same-sex marriage, but that does not make No campaigners wrong to point out that almost 40pc said No. That is more than 700,000 people who came to a decision after an informed debate - which does not make them homophobic - but who can not be erased whatever those who tweet the loudest may hope.

Take the voters of Cork South Central, for example. With Fianna Fail in meltdown, they gave Micheal Martin a mandate as many of his colleagues were unceremoniously dumped in the last election.

That mandate is as valid as any other TD's in Dail Eireann.

In another version of democracy, the voice of the people was evident when, by extension, Fianna Fail TDs, senators and MEPs elected him to lead Fianna Fail.

You are free to agree or disagree, to have your views, to express them, and to act upon them - but you cannot argue in good faith with the validity of the ballot box.

The people of Carlow-Kilkenny used the ballot box to great effect last weekend: more than 56pc voted Yes to same-sex marriage and more than 43pc voted No.

And, offered 13 candidates, almost 28pc voted for a 60-year-old man called Bobby Aylward, one of those Fianna Fail TDs unceremoniously dumped last time - and with a proportion of support higher than national opinion polls suggested.

In an RTE televised debate, Mr Aylward had advocated a Yes vote to marriage equality, although he would be the first to admit that he, like say, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, or the Fine Gael campaign director, Simon Coveney, and many others, had "travelled a journey" from No to Yes.

The former Fianna Fail senator Averil Power had long since travelled that journey, if she had far to travel at all.

In the referendum campaign, she was the only politician to knock on my door, on a sunny Thursday afternoon about a month ago. No other politician in Dublin Bay North canvassed me directly, not from Fine Gael, Labour, Sinn Fein or the various independents, new parties or groupings - just Averil.

Fianna Fail did not canvass door-to-door in a manner Averil Power believed it should, but neither did any other party to the extent she expected. The campaign, as with most such referenda, was largely waged in the media, social and traditional.

That said, Fianna Fail in Carlow-Kilkenny and nationally, and all other parties and none, to a great or significant extent, tried to have it both ways in the referendum until it became clear that grandparents and grandchildren were at one.

But Fianna Fail is also right. Averil was facing an uphill battle to be elected in Dublin Bay North as a Fianna Fail TD.

That is because Sean Haughey has sown up the Fianna Fail working-class vote in the populous Coolock/Darndale area. And that vote which he, or his late father, has not sown up has been well-attended to by an excellent local councillor in the same area, Deirdre Heney. Between them, they will deliver half a quota to elect a Fianna Fail TD.

Averil has also made inroads at the other end of a new sprawling SOAPBOX, BACK PAGE

constituency but would not have been elected to the Dail this time - change happens slowly, after all.

That said, she would have been re-elected to the Seanad, where she could have further enhanced her reputation in time for the election to follow in another five years, by which time Fianna Fail may actually win two of the five seats available.

Here is the real politic. There are two Fianna Fail opinion polls of the constituency - one which contains the names 'Haughey' and 'Power', and the other 'Power' alone - which show only Haughey stands a chance of winning a seat for Fianna Fail in Dublin Bay North.

Now, Averil's many admirers nationwide, those on social and mainstream media, and her supporters in the constituency, may feel that she and not Sean Haughey should represent the people of Dublin Bay North. But who are they to disregard the democratic mandate of the people of Coolock and Darndale who will leave Sean Haughey poised to re-take a seat in this area?

That is a bit like Yes voters saying the voice of 700,000 No voters count for nothing; or more accurately, those Yes voters who also voted for Bobby Aylward got it only half right. They may argue that to be the case, but really, that would be to only argue with the validity of the ballot box.

The argument may follow that the election of Bobby Aylward or Sean Haughey hardly speaks to the spirit of a new beginning heralded by the outcome of the same-sex marriage referendum.

The mood of the country did not change last weekend, but has shifted gradually since 2013.

There is evidence to suggest that people are less pessimistic and more optimistic, but not getting carried away with themselves as some suggested in joyful celebration last weekend.

The CSO last week released data which showed people are better off this year than last, but that the rate of increased income has slowed.

The new beginning is underway, but will not arrive on the back of marriage equality or abortion on demand, as Labour repeatedly seems to believe, but in the pockets of people when they can afford to deliver real change to their own particular set of circumstances.

Increasingly, it seems to me, that new beginning will manifest itself in the most radical shift of all - both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail in power for the first time in the history of the State. So put that in your tweet machine and tweet it.

Sunday Independent

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