Wednesday 25 April 2018

The political merry-go-round

1 Mna na hEireann The term breaking the mould is used too often -- but in Mary Robinson's case it's perfectly justified. After a dramatic campaign, the lawyer and former senator became the country's first female President. Fine Gael's weak candidate Austin Currie and Fianna Fail's disarray over Brian Lenihan's "mature recollection" contributed. Padraig Flynn's attack on her "new-found interest in her family" was the final push for the Labour Party nominee.

2 Scrap Saturday scrapped It wasn't just the sharp satire. It wasn't just the irrepressible impersonations. The script of Dermot Morgan and Gerry Stembridge was incisive and captured a turbulent period in politics at the tail end of the Haughey-era. None of the great and the good of politics, the media and society were safe. After two years of lampooning, the show was scrapped amid allegations of political interference.

4 Downing Street Declaration The terms in power of Albert Reynolds and John Major are clouded. But the Downing Street Declaration is an often underrated step towards the stability now experienced in Northern Ireland. The 1993 agreement recognised the right to self-determination and mutual consent in decision-making on the future of the North. The first IRA ceasefire followed and there was hope the Troubles were coming to an end.

5 Spring Tide The Labour Party's prospects of breaking out of the traditional two-and-a-half party State were advanced by the 1992 swing under Dick Spring's leadership. The growing volatility of the electorate saw the party's TDs rise in numbers from 15 to 33 on the back of the 'Spring Tide'. A chunk of those voters immediately felt betrayed when Labour went into government with Fianna Fail. The coalition collapsed in acrimonious circumstances within two years.

6 Bruton's Over The Rainbow Earlier in the year he survived a leadership heave, but John Bruton became Taoiseach of a Fine Gael, Labour Party and Democratic Left coalition in late 1994. Despite the ideological gaps between the parties, the Rainbow coalition went on to become a quite effective government. Bruton governed with transparency and accountability. But the resignation of Michael Lowry as a result of Irish Independent revelations of payments from Ben Dunne was a massive blow.

7 Bertie Bounce The defining general election of a generation in 1997 with the country making its choice on the management of an economy on the rise. In an evenly matched battle, the Fine Gael, Labour Party and Democratic Left coalition sought another term against the pact of Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats. In his first general election as Fianna Fail leader, Bertie Ahern proved to be a significant electoral advantage.

8 The Mighty Healy-Rae Between Fianna Fail and the PDs, Ahern didn't have the numbers to make up a majority government after the 1997 general election. He turned to a group of four Independents, including the mighty Jackie Healy-Rae. Healy-Rae ran as an Independent in Kerry South after Fianna Fail wouldn't nominate him as a candidate. His shrewd style became a byword for parish-pump politics. He was often underestimated, but beneath the cloth cap lay a canny political brain.

9 There's Something About a Mary An institution was created when Mary McAleese became the eighth President of Ireland in November 1997. Arguably her toughest challenge was getting on the ticket. She was selected as the Fianna Fail candidate ahead of Reynolds in an acrimonious convention, where she had the private backing of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. The theme of her presidency was "building bridges". Nobody realised she meant between Aras an Uachtarain and Buckingham Palace.

10 Good Friday Agreement After tortuous negotiations in Castle Buildings and many sleepless nights for politicians and observers alike, a deal to end all deals was struck on Good Friday 1998. The agreement reached would see a power-sharing government between Republicans and Unionists. The Omagh bomb that summer reminded everyone of the fragility of the peace and the willingness of a few to murder and maim to break the agreement.

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