Friday 22 November 2019

Come on, lads -- the public expects a couple of token hissy fits at the very least

'And then yesterday from the distant hills came the first faint drumbeat of dissent. Some of the warriors of the Labour Party were up in arms'

WHERE was all the drama which by rights should accompany do-or-die negotiations on the formation of such an important Government? Where were the tantrums and tears, the mid-talk, high-dudgeon departures?

Where were the trays of triangular sandwiches and flasks of coffee being ferried into stuffy rooms to keep the pow-wow going through the wee small hours? Where was all the whispered talk of 'red-line' issues and 'deal breakers' which would send the delicate dance up in a heap?

There was no sense that a cliffhanger end was awaited in the talks between Fine Gael and the Labour Party to put together a workable programme for government.

The only visible tension in Leinster House this week was on the faces of the 76 new TDs as they struggled to navigate their way around Leinster House's mazy corridors and yards of red tape.

Of course, there was the occasional quiet huddle between the sides. On Thursday, Enda and Pat Rabbitte startled a few idling denizens by suddenly emerging from a deep alcove which houses nothing but a large bookcase and a ladies' bathroom.

Assuming that the next taoiseach and the minister in waiting weren't sharing a lipstick, the two men had obviously used the cover of the bookcase to hammer out some point, before re-entering the negotiations.

It was all rather peaceful.

And then yesterday from the distant hills came the first faint drumbeat of dissent. Some of the warriors of the Labour Party were up in arms about the prospect of climbing into the coalition cot with Fine Gael and were readying themselves to do noisy battle at Labour's special conference, which is most likely to be held tomorrow, before the formation of the 31st Dail next Wednesday.

And so a gang of four held a press conference in a tiny room in Buswells Hotel at noon yesterday to explain why they and people represented by them planned to vote against Labour going into government with Fine Gael.

Sitting at a small table (going from left to left) were UNITE's Jimmy Kelly, Dublin councillors Cian O'Callaghan and Patrick Nulty, and Colm Lawless, chair of Labour Youth.

"We feel we'll undo the gains made and the progress made by getting into government with Fine Gael," said Jimmy Kelly.

"The policies of Fine Gael are anti-worker, they're on the side of big business. They're on the side of not taking on the wealthy in this society in the sort of taxation that should be foisted on the rich."

According to the union official, such a coalition with Fine Gael could be "the start of the decline in the Labour Party's strength".

Cian O'Callaghan said: "You can be absolutely certain that you're going to see a very strong vigorous and healthy debate (at the Labour conference) on Sunday".

He said it was about "holding the Government to account -- you've a say when you're in opposition", adding that "a number of TDs" had expressed disquiet to him -- although he admitted the number "is certainly closer to three than 36".

But surely the gang of four was overlooking the fact that the election results showed quite clearly that the voters' preferred option was a stable Fine Gael-Labour coalition, as opposed to a precarious single-party government propped up by a coterie of Independents?

And surely any responsible party would choose to step up to the plate in the national interest, rather than content itself with being the biggest party in opposition?

Surely fixing the country is more important than hoping that Fine Gael will cock it up and so leave the door open for a Labour-led government next time around?

AND finally, surely "holding Fine Gael to account" and having "a say" would be more efficiently done as a coalition partner, rather than as an opposition party?

But the gang of four didn't agree.

"I don't think Labour should be trying to facilitate Fine Gael implement their policies by coalescing with them right now," said Cian O'Callaghan -- apparently ignoring the fact that a coalition operates as a series of checks and balances on each other's policies, offering more influence than simply shouting the odds from the far side of the chamber.

Jimmy Kelly agreed. "I think going in at a time like this -- it's not an economic boom, let's get in and try and get a share of the spoils and get a share of the goodies -- it's absolutely the opposite," he said.

"You're going into a period of further austerity, some people thinking we can't get our way out of this current IMF deal.

"So I think going in there, you'll be very quickly tarnished with being responsible for what's going to be inflicted on working people".

Yes, there's very little fun or spoils or goodies this time around. It's far wiser to duck taking hard decisions and just hunker down in opposition waiting for the good times to roll once more.

That'll get the country up and running again for sure.

Irish Independent

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