Tuesday 11 December 2018

Shane Coleman: From Creighton to Shatter, all are Fine Gael

FINE Gael is certainly not alone in having divisions in its ranks on abortion, but the party has always shown a unique capacity to embrace differing ideologies and viewpoints.

Perhaps it's down to its origins. FG was originally formed out of a merger of Cumann na nGaedheal (Sinn Feiners who backed the Treaty), the infamous Blueshirts and the Centre Party (which came from a Redmondite/Irish Parliamentary Party tradition, as well as incorporating the old Farmers Party).

And, although generally regarded as a right-of-centre party through its 79-year history, Fine Gael has typically housed a number of different flourishing wings.

Law and order – stemming from its pro-Treaty origins – would historically have been a big Fine Gael calling card, most notably during its 1973-77 spell in government.

Through its Finance Minister of the 1950s, Gerard Sweetman, the party developed strong ties to employers. And it would have been traditionally regarded as the most socially conservative party in the State, personified by the likes of Oliver J Flanagan.

But Fine Gael has also always had a strong social justice wing, best expressed in Declan Costello's 'Just Society' document of the 1960s. Garret FitzGerald's constitutional crusade of the 1980s could be traced back to this tradition, though FitzGerald's outlook was more liberal. FitzGerald, it could be argued, was closer in his values to Labour than many in his own party – something that could never have been tolerated in Fianna Fail.

FitzGerald's influence still remains in today's Fine Gael – cabinet ministers such as Frances Fitzgerald and Alan Shatter would count themselves as members of that liberal wing.

But in ministers such as Leo Varadkar – who in the past has been scathing about Garret FitzGerald – and Lucinda Creighton, it has highly influential figures that would have much in common with the liberal economic approach of Sweetman and, perhaps, also some of Fine Gael's conservative tradition.

It is also possible to draw a line from other ministers back to the party's early days – Richard Bruton's brother, former Taoiseach John Bruton, regards himself as a Redmondite/Centre Party man, while Simon Coveney hails from the pro-business/enterprise tradition.

However, many of the newer deputies don't obviously fit into any of the old wings. Much has been made in the media (and privately in Labour) of the supposed conservatism of newer Fine Gael TDs such as Simon Harris, Terence Flanagan, Michelle Mulherin, Regina Doherty and John O'Mahony.

And there has been huge focus on the activities of the gang of 10 first-time TDs – dubbed the 'Five-a-Side Club' and including deputies Eoghan Murphy, Brendan Griffin, Martin Heydon and Paul Connaughton.

But the right-wing label attached by some to these deputies is an over-simplification. Some of them certainly have deeply held views on abortion, however, veteran Fine Gael insiders say that far from being ideologues, these newcomers are classic products of Celtic Tiger Ireland, many of whom became politicians by accident and who tend to approach issues on a case-by-case basis, rather than the traditional fault lines.

But what they do have, the insiders say, is a belief that this Government should do things differently and a determination that their views will be listened to by the Fine Gael hierarchy. Few, if any of them, are potential dissidents. But, with a latent anti-Kenny faction always hovering, the Taoiseach might be wise to keep them onside.

Irish Independent

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