| 18°C Dublin

We need a Ganley without baggage

We are sorely lacking in new voices along the mainstream of the left-right spectrum, says Daragh McDowell

LAST week Irish politics saw the return of Declan Ganley, who after declaring at the start of the referendum campaign that he would join it with gusto once he had picked a side, predictably declared he would be voting No. This adds much-needed balance to a campaign that has thus far been Sinn Fein and the ULA against everyone else. There was a threat that the treaty would be passed simply due to the inability of its opponents to reach far beyond the left of the political spectrum. It is to be hoped that Ganley will be able to bring the arguments for rejection to other audiences, if only to ensure a robust debate.

But Ganley's political stock is now so diminished that it is unlikely he can bring many more supporters to his banner, other than those who were likely to vote No in the first place. I've even heard opponents of the treaty worry that Ganley's presence on their side makes passage more likely. This is a great shame. Ganley, for all his flaws, has consistently shown a keen mind and a willingness to challenge political orthodoxy that is sorely lacking in the State.

Indeed, in contrast to his image as a eurosceptic, Ganley has consistently argued that the net response to the ongoing crisis of economics and legitimacy in Europe is greater political and economic integration, to reinforce the currency and grant citizens more influence over their elites. We need more voices like his -- pro-European, but not reflexively and unthinkingly so. However, Ganley's drift into irrelevance is ultimately due to unforced errors and his own political inexperience.

The first major blow to Ganley's credibility was the attempt to turn Libertas into a pan-European political party. Such a party is vital in bringing greater democracy and coherence to the EU's policy-making structures. The current model of national parties joining political 'families' in the European parliament discourages a needed separation of national and EU level political discourse.

Unfortunately Ganley showed remarkably poor judgement in trying to establish links in other European states. Rather than attempting to fashion a coherent, Union-wide political identity and programme, it became a mish-mash of political also-rans, reduced in some states to advertising for candidates on the internet. Even worse, it based its party-building strategy at least partially on establishing links with some of the most unpleasant political forces on the continent, such as Austria's Freedom Party, or Italy's La Destra -- making it easier for Ganley's opponents at home to mis-characterise him as a creature of the far right. The resulting platform produced by Libertas was almost laughably irrelevant -- one of its key principles was reducing the number of meetings the EU held.

Ganleys' background in business may have been his undoing here. He and Libertas failed to recognise that a smaller, but more cohesive political movement offered a better means of promoting their objectives. I suspect this also played a role in the second major crossroads in Ganley's political career, his refusal to run for the Dail in 2011.

The election of Stephen Donnelly and Shane Ross provided the nuclei for a new centre right movement. If Ganley had run, he could have played a constructive role in its development. But that would also involve sharing the spotlight, and being prepared to undertake a collective enterprise with shared goals and responsibility, and all the compromise that goes along with it. Ganley has yet to show he is capable of working politically in such a manner.

The mainstream Social-Democratic, Christian-Democratic and Liberal parties of Europe have been all but discredited in the eyes of European voters, not due to ideology but due to a perception of incompetence. The people don't think their traditional leaders have the wherewithal to empty water out of a boot with the instructions on the heel, never mind solve Europe's greatest crisis since the Second World War. This has allowed the, at best, semi-reconstructed forces of European communism and fascism to gain traction, and where the crisis has spread furthest, potential political supremacy.

The ULA and Sinn Fein are dominating the debate here because people care that they have got the big questions right -- don't give unlimited money to banks by starving the poor and austerity doesn't promote growth. No one cares that their broader economic policies are only slightly less realistic than switching to an ivory-based currency supported by a network of collectivised unicorn farms. The details aren't important in the context of the big picture.

Ireland is desperately in need of new voices along the mainstream of the left-right spectrum, that can offer both competence and realistic, innovative policies. In other words, we need something a bit like Libertas and Declan Ganley -- just not the Libertas and Declan Ganley we have.

Sunday Independent