Monday 24 June 2019

Is Labour seriously ready to be cannon fodder for the Soldiers of Destiny?

Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Tánaiste and Labour Party leader Joan Burton. Despite Labour’s loss of 30 seats in the election, kites have been flown about the party returning to government with Fine Gael. Photo:
Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Tánaiste and Labour Party leader Joan Burton. Despite Labour’s loss of 30 seats in the election, kites have been flown about the party returning to government with Fine Gael. Photo:
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

It appears that the geniuses in Labour who oversaw the loss of 30 seats in the General Election are determined to finish the party off. Instead of taking the hint from its mauling by the electorate and slinking quietly into opposition to try to rebuild, kites have now been flown about Labour returning to government with Fine Gael.

The only people in the party that this would benefit are the seven TDs who retained their seats, who would be spared the indignity of having to mingle with hoi polloi on the opposition benches.

However, it would sound the death knell for any recovery for a party that desperately needs to re-establish its own identity far away from the clutches of Fine Gael - and would amount to an act of political hara-kiri for the oldest party in the country.

The positives from any deal with Fine Gael would be fleeting and benefit just a few.

Some would again enjoy the Mercs and perks of ministerial office, and there would be Seanad appointments for a selection of election losers, keeping their political careers on life support.

As members of a minority government, TDs would also enjoy an increased media spotlight during Dáil debates, while appearances on radio and TV would also be more numerous than if they were part of a large and unwieldy opposition.

The benefits for party leader Joan Burton would be particularly significant, as she would be spared a leadership challenge and remain in situ as boss.

Which is why the notion of a return to government is so insane. The people, having overwhelmingly voted for change, would instead be left with the same faces in a discredited government that will be brought down by Fianna Fáil at the first opportune moment.

You can forget all the guff you're hearing about new politics. Fianna Fáil is hardwired for high office and it is merely biding its time until it can again resume what it sees as its rightful place at the head of government.

The fact that Fianna Fáil TDs have said they would be willing to support a Fine Gael and Labour coalition is evidence of this. If the party was remotely concerned about its supposed mandate to oust the outgoing government, then how could it credibly agree to such an arrangement?

Of course it couldn't, but the party can hardly believe its luck that the cannon fodder in Labour seem eager to climb over the trenches and directly into Fianna Fáil's machine-gun fire.

Securing a change in government would be good, but not nearly as politically expedient for Fianna Fáil as taking out the Labour Party and assuming the mantle of Ireland's major centre-left political party in its place.

The cynicism of the Fianna Fáil position is breathtaking, but what's even more amazing is that it seems to be getting away with it. In the eight weeks since the election was held, all we have heard from Fianna Fáil is that the people voted for change and to get rid of Enda Kenny as Taoiseach.

Now, despite all FF's talk of a transformation in Irish politics, it proposes to prop up the outgoing government and keep Enda Kenny and Joan Burton in situ as Taoiseach and Tánaiste.

Clearly, divining the message that the electorate sent in the General Election is quite a subjective exercise and whatever strained interpretation benefits the Fianna Fáil party most is the one that Micheál Martin and his lieutenants will be going with.

The party pretends it is interested in supporting a minority government that will stand the test of time, but it has been obvious since the day after the election that it will have to work with Fine Gael in order to do this.

Instead, the parties are only this week getting around to discussing policy issues, having not bothered meeting at all over the weekend because apparently there is no sense of urgency about the formation of a government. Meanwhile, crises in homelessness, health and industrial relations are left to fester and deteriorate as this charade continues with no end in sight.

If Fianna Fáil was serious about giving a minority government a chance, then it would willingly sign an agreement promising to keep it afloat for at least three Budgets.

Its obvious reluctance to put anything in writing is further evidence that it is waiting in the long grass.

Having just endured a bruising election, politicians are broke and weary, and fighting another election any time soon would bankrupt many.

So the Soldiers of Destiny will wait until their coffers are replenished, and some calamity befalls the next government - and then they will pull the rug out from under them.

While Fianna Fáil plays the long game, Labour is addicted to the short-termism that saw the party suffer the worst election result in its history.

Responsibility for the disastrous result cannot be heaped solely on the shoulders of Joan Burton. Its fate was secured as soon as it jettisoned the election promises it so stridently made in 2011.

However, someone in the party needs to shout stop before it is led by the nose back into government, against the express wishes of the electorate, by a parliamentary party that seems to have completely lost touch with its grassroots membership.

Life on the opposition benches will be difficult for Labour. The Irish political landscape is more fractured now and it has much more competition on the left.

But all this means is that Labour Party TDs will have to work hard to make their voices heard and contribute meaningfully to Dáil debates. If an Independent TD such as Catherine Murphy, working alone, could make such a significant contribution to the last Dáil, then it shouldn't be beyond the wit of seven seasoned Labour TDs to rise to the occasion.

With just seven TDs, Labour doesn't have the numbers to guarantee the lifetime of the next government. It would still be at the mercy of Fianna Fáil.

Much better for Labour to offer conditional support to a minority government from the opposition benches, in return for deals on a referendum on the Eighth Amendment and social housing - and then to begin the tough job of rebuilding.

Irish Independent

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