Saturday 1 October 2016

The Yates Anthology: Why there's still life left in Labour Party

Published 18/06/2016 | 02:30

Brendan Howlin seems more at ease in himself without the tattoo of austerity on his forehead Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Brendan Howlin seems more at ease in himself without the tattoo of austerity on his forehead Photo: Frank Mc Grath

Not unlike Fine Gael in 2002, or Fianna Fáil in 2011, the Labour Party's final demise was predicted after February's disastrous rout, losing 30 seats. Combined with the loss of 100 councillors in local elections in May 2014, its national network was decimated. Ministers remained in denial, blaming pundits of unfair bias. Having predicted they'd end up with seven TDs, I took no glee seeing polls of 4-6pc proving uncannily accurate.

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The first step to reincarnation is taking responsibility. Joan Burton ultimately stepped down, with a consequent coronation for Brendan Howlin. Smaller parties in coalitions invariably pay the maximum price. Labour's biggest gaffe in government was allowing Fine Gael take it for granted. At no time over five years did Labour TD's credibly threaten to quit to safeguard services for their blue-collar constituency. In controversy, they too compliantly agreed to circle the wagons.

Labour ministers fell into the trap of talking down to people, believing the veneer of authority. The trappings of office can turn the humblest of TDs into empowered, preachy egos. There were early signs that Shane Ross and Denis Naughten were donning this mantle within weeks of their appointments. Civil service briefs train them to adopt haughty, all-knowing, false invincibility. Diaries are dictated by departments; and hectic schedules create a dependency on mandarins. It was ever thus.

The good news for Labour is that human modesty is visibly returning to its leading lights. Alan Kelly seems less angry with the world. Joan Burton can smile without faking it. Brendan Howlin seems more at ease in himself without the tattoo of austerity on his forehead.

Despite the depleted ranks, its TDs still pack credible punches in the Dáil and media. They face an obvious riposte: 'Why didn't you do something about it for the past five years?' That shouldn't deter them from writing new narratives, despite scepticism.

Labour's greatest weakness electorally is succession planning. Previous long-standing retiring TDs like Seamus Pattison (Carlow/Kilkenny) and Seán Treacy (Tipperary) were replaced ultimately by other left TDs. Recent retirees Eamon Gilmore, Pat Rabbitte and Ruairi Quinn yielded zero constituency seats.

Those with age profiles of 60 years plus - Willie Penrose, Brendan Ryan, Jan O'Sullivan and Joan Burton - require commitments to stand again or instant replacement.

A realistic target is 12 seats in the next election. Mark Wall, Ged Nash and Alex White (if moving sideways to Dublin South-West) are reasonable bets to bounce back. The next local elections aren't due until 2019 - after the next general election. A new crop of councillors won't be available. Returning from the wilderness necessitates the slog of endless treks in marginal constituencies, enthusing and energising grassroots.

Three coalition options are open to Labour: with Fianna Fáil; rekindling the flame with Fine Gael; harnessing left-wingers Social Democrats, AAA/PBP and independents. It's tje best placed of any party to form alliances. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil required a two-election recovery strategy.

Red roses could bloom as soon as next Dáil.

Compulsory national DNA database for all

More than 40pc dissatisfaction levels amongst householders for crimes reported, plus one in four victims not even reporting incidents to gardaí, are damning indictments of disillusionment. Obvious excuses of fewer resources, fewer cops on the beat, inadequate technology and station closures are acknowledged, but miss the opportunity to consider radical new measures to improve performance.

Bob Olson, the Garda Inspectorate boss, raised serious doubts about the credibility of CSO/Garda crime statistics. Records of burglaries, fraud and assaults are estimated to be 38pc higher than those recorded by gardaí.

Inexplicably, cases were downgraded to be of a less serious nature. Whistleblowers' allegations suggest massaging events to create dubious 'successes'. Every police force is benchmarked on crime detection leagues.

This all coincides with new crime-solving breakthroughs thanks to DNA profiling. Some 215 cases have been resolved through forensic evidence from crime scenes being matched with suspects, leading to convictions. This innovation was only launched last November. It's a detection game-changer. Forensic Science Ireland carries out technical work under strict protocols enshrined in legislation. Why not introduce a compulsory DNA data bank for every citizen? Tony Blair advocated this a decade ago, but didn't implement it due to the howls from civil libertarians.

Protecting victims requires repeat offenders being caught. Currently, the DNA Act dictates that samples are destroyed after six months if there's no conviction.

Innocent, law-abiding citizens have no fear from providing DNA samples.

Unresolved cases, such as that of Philip Cairns, could be resolved with a new library of scientific files. Kuwait last year enacted laws making it mandatory for all citizens and foreign residents to have their DNA registered after an Isil bombing. Fingerprints represent the best prospect of proof and deterrent.

But there's no chance our political elite will grasp this nettle. Beyond berating gardaí, there's little appetite to confront bogus arguments of privacy.

Cricket curiosity

Amidst the spectacular sport this weekend is a hidden gem. National fervour surrounds Ireland's vital Euro match today against Belgium; it's the final day of Royal Ascot; Limerick take on Tipperary in Munster; and Ireland's rugby heroes can excel in South Africa and Manchester (U20s). What a pity Cricket Ireland chose today for a one-day international fixture against Sri Lanka.

On a sunny day, there's nothing more relaxing and delightful than jumping on a Dart train to Malahide. The cricket grounds are within a few hundred metres of station. The best seat in the house is €25, but lying on grass is grand for €10. The game has a tiny network of dedicated followers, mostly in clubs concentrated in Dublin 4 and the north of the county. The traditional stigma of Englishness should be disregarded. A few beers, a friendly chat with strangers and casual glances at the wicket amount to wonderful entertainment, starting at 10.45 this morning - give it a try.

Irish Independent

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