Saturday 23 November 2019

Eoghan Harris: Labour Party clouds any silver lining for Fine Gael

Good morning life
Good morning world,
How are you happiness?

That's the Dean Martin ditty I sing down the phone to my spouse on special days. Let's hope the Taoiseach took time out from the Angela-Irish talks in Brussels to croon it down the line to his wife, Fionnuala. No one knows better than he that a politically savvy spouse or partner is crucial to political survival.

Just as Joan Burton can share her concerns with her politically clued-in spouse Pat Carroll, so Kenny, after another bad day of poor publicity, could always count on coming home to a woman who could credibly tell him the tide would turn.

Luckily I did not have to run for my life when the Kenny tsunami swept his critics away. Because I never moved with the media mob that made his life miserable. Again a spouse can claim the credit.

My wife, having done her homework on Kenny for two articles, was convinced that a man who could raise Fine Gael from the dead might be able to do the same for our hopes. Glad I listened to Gwen.

* * *

Last Tuesday was likely the last sitting of the 23rd Seanad. A bread and butter day. Line by line we worked our way through the committee stage of Senator Feargal Quinn's Construction Contracts Bill. This aims to protect strapped subcontractors who have not been paid, but who are still obliged to complete the job.

Sean Gallagher of Dragons' Den, supported by a full house of serious men in sober suits, watched from the public gallery. More of them than us. The General Election had hoovered up many of our members.

Looking around at the depleted benches I was reminded of a line in Alan Bennett's television film An Englishman Abroad, about the spy Guy Burgess, whose old friend, actress Coral Browne (who plays herself), visits him in Moscow and asks him what it's really like.

"Like Cambridge in the Long Vac," comes the lugubrious reply.

* * *

Earlier in the day, I addressed the Fine Gael and Labour benches with some brio on the fraught future of the Coalition. Although it was a slow day for political news -- only the Seanad was in session -- RTE News did not run even a brief clip. Thanks to a free press I can put it on the record here for future reference.

"I would wish the new Government a fair wind if it was a brave Government, be it a minority Government or one governing on a knife's edge. However, a Government with a majority this large is asymmetrical, and holds in itself the seeds of its own dissolution.

"The Oireachtas has one task in hand, namely, the economy. Central to that task is that we cannot do anything about the banks. We are locked into the realities of the ECB, as Mr John Bruton said. That is a straitjacket.

"The only area over which we have control is the domestic economy and the public finances. There is a deficit of €19bn, the bulk of which comes from public sector pay, pensions and social welfare. Far from this Government tackling that task, the Programme for Government is a collusion not to deal with it.

"The Government will never have the full confidence of the people until it behaves like a national Government. It calls itself that, but a national Government is one that takes hard choices, does hard things and administers hard medicine. This is simply a division of spoils between two parties.

"I voted for Fine Gael, wished it well, and hoped it would have the bottle to reach out to Fianna Fail, to count up the independents, and, if necessary, to govern as a minority party and administer the strong medicine to the public finances that was necessary. I regret that Fine Gael has decided not to do this. I hope everything works out for it, but I cannot see how it will.

"After a few months, never mind years, the Labour Party -- the party of soft options -- will look more and more like the national Dublin modernist progressive party and Fine Gael will regret that it did not decide to live dangerously. There are no free lunches in this life. There is no way a Government of this size will have a soft passage.

"I wish that Fine Gael had had the courage of its convictions to govern as a minority. I also wish the Labour Party had the courage of its convictions and went into opposition to give us a decent division in the country ... This is a big, heavy, lumbering Government, which contains in itself the seeds of its own destruction."

* * *

But Wednesday was another day. So I put aside my forebodings -- that Fine Gael will be shafted by Labour using RTE like a private PR firm -- and head for Leinster House with a spring in my step. Already radiated at St Vincent's Hospital, I received another curative dose from simply watching the ecstasy of Enda Kenny's Mayo supporters.

Kenny exudes energy. Fitness is not a necessity for the top job -- think of Winston Churchill. But that boyish bounce is a political bonus -- think of Tony Blair. Let's hope the Cabinet can keep up with him.

For me the high point of the day was the splendid speech of 23-year-old TD Simon Harris. We Harrises are not a numerous clan, so naturally I hope to establish some distant relationship. And then bask in his reflected glory.

Looking around the house I came to three hard conclusions. First, Fianna Fail will find it hard to sustain Micheal Martin's courageous policy of constructive criticism in the face of competition from a formidable Sinn Fein faction. It would be even more formidable if Gerry Adams lifted his leaden hand from the party's neck.

Second, the independents will make little impact, divided as they are into two wings, the Celtic Sages and the Celtic Trots. At least the Celtic Sages have something fresh to say. Deputies Luke 'Ming' Flanagan, Mick Wallace and John Halligan all speak from personal experience.

The Celtic Trots, however, speak like pamphlets. Joe Higgins, as sensitive to competition from Richard Boyd Barrett as any capitalist, cannot meet a noun without adding five adjectives and will soon become a national bore. Shane Ross seems a stand-alone, a radical conservative who should really be with Fine Gael.

Lastly, only half the Labour Party's head is in Leinster House. The other half is rehearsing RTE interviews. This reflection brings me to Pat Rabbitte, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, the man who saved the Labour Party at the last minute.

Most of the male political correspondents failed to comment on the foolishness of Fine Gael putting Labour's chief propagandist in charge of the state broadcaster. It was left to Miriam Lord to point out that Rabbitte "is in charge of RTE, his second home".

To make his monopoly complete, Vincent Browne stupidly said that Rabbitte was being "sidelined". This means Rabbitte will also have the run of TV3 studios. Fine Gael will find out what that means the hard way.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss