Wednesday 20 November 2019

Kenny's best bet for polling day remains in November

‘An educated electorate has a duty to balance the boat... and to cross all party boundaries to secure a stable political future’
‘An educated electorate has a duty to balance the boat... and to cross all party boundaries to secure a stable political future’
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Middle Ireland is ready to return this Government. But it wants reasons, rather than bribes.

Meantime, despite his denials, the Taoiseach may have to go for a November election.

That's because the date is only technically under his control. Public mood holds the starting pistol.

As that pistol fires live electoral rounds, it is critical that the Taoiseach reads the public mood correctly.

Last Sunday, I was the sole pundit to ignore the Irish Times poll and to persist with the prediction that there would be a ballot after the Budget.

But on Tuesday I felt less lonely when Ivan Yates on Newstalk's Breakfast show gave us a hot tip for November 20.

The previous day Phil Hogan had told Fine Gael activists in Brussels to expect an early election.

By Wednesday, I was no longer alone. Punters pounded on the doors of Paddy Power, who promptly slashed the odds from 3/1 to 4/5 on.

All this activity made me antsy. Mobs make me nervous. Consensus gives me cold feet.

Last Friday, I felt a touch of frostbite when Terry Prone, reputed to be part of Kenny's kitchen cabinet, called it for February.

Prone rightly reminded us that Irish governments which called snap elections seldom enjoyed success.

But the shrewd Stephen Collins thinks November is still in play.

Surely, on reflection, the Taoiseach will see that he should go now, while the going is good?

The public mood of Middle Ireland will seldom be as positive as it is right now, with the last rays of autumn sunshine still warming the public bones.

True, about 20pc of the electorate is extremely alienated. However, it will be even more alienated next February, the forecast being for a cold winter.

But with the engine of the economy firing strongly, the majority of people are no longer in livid mood.

By now, deep down, many people no longer believe the narrative that the recession was solely the fault of Fianna Fail.

They know it would have been the same story under Fine Gael, from property bubble to banking crisis to bailout.

Above all, by now most people accept that as a member of the EU we were never finally our own masters.

That's the territory Colin Murphy traverses in his brilliant new play Bailed Out! which I saw at the Pavilion, Dun Laoghaire last Wednesday.

It was a South County Dublin audience. The media were well represented.

Many in the attentive audience struck me as public sector types, the class least affected by the recession.

As a result, it seemed to me that the audience was intellectually but not emotionally involved in the events. This was a bonus for Murphy.

Like the playwright Brecht, Murphy wants you to think, as well as feel. An angry audience could not have given him the close attention demanded by a play that is powered by facts and finance.

There is no danger that the superb cast of Bailed Out! will forget their lines because they hold the pages of the script in their hands.

This is a deliberate device by director Conall Morrison. And a brilliant one too because it ensures that everything the actors say sounds authentic.

But that authenticity does not make for a dry experience. There are good jokes, of the grim sort, and all the funnier for that.

But I would like to see the play performed in provincial Ireland. In towns where the wounds of the recession are still weeping.

In recent weeks, victims of the recession have been giving raw testimonies on Vincent Browne's show The People's Debate.

That suffering spawned a sometimes anarchic anger with many erratic outlets, from the water protests to irrational support for Independents.

But doesn't desperate anger put a moral burden on voters who went through the worst of the recession in relative comfort?

Surely an educated electorate - like the audience at Bailed Out! - has a duty to balance the political boat, lest it be swamped by a wave of frustrated anger?

I believe so. I believe we now have a patriotic obligation to cross all party boundaries in the coming General Election to secure a stable political future.

Consequently, we need people who are patriotic enough to put partisan politics aside and carry out two primary duties.

First, to make sure that Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour are left in a position where they can help form a stable government.

Second, to make sure that Sinn Fein does not form the sole opposition, thus setting it up for state power in the future.

Accordingly, in every constituency we should vote coldly and strategically in favour of candidates from the two main parties.

This brings me to the dilemma facing Fianna Fail voters in the effective three-seater of Dun Laoghaire. There are two superb FF candidates but realistically only one seat.

Cormac Devlin beat Mary Hanafin by only two votes at the convention. But in spite of his many merits, even as sole candidate he had only a slim chance of success.

Accordingly, FF HQ has added Mary Hanafin to the ticket. She is a superb candidate with a proven track record.

If Hanafin ran alone, she would be certain to win a seat. But with Devlin running as well, the likelihood is that Fianna Fail will get no seat.

If politics were perfectly rational, Cormac Devlin would do the tots and withdraw. But politicians are a special breed and Devlin will live in hope.

But realpolitik is not the only reason to support Mary Hanafin. Last week, on Sean O'Rourke, she categorically ruled out any relationship with Sinn Fein.

"I will quite clearly say that Fianna Fail, and if I'm a member of that, will not go into government with Sinn Fein and I would absolutely say that."

This resolute rejection shows that, like her leader Micheal Martin, Hanafin has a working moral compass.

That compass is the only item of political equipment which interests the electorate when examining the credentials of Fianna Fail.

That's because Fianna Fail is still seen my many as a party with too many flaky people who are ready to do a deal with far more flaky people.

The flaky wing of Fianna Fail can't seem to grasp that Middle Ireland sees Sinn Fein as flaky too but in a more fundamental way.

Middle Ireland does not share the flaky Fianna Failer's mellow view of Sinn Fein, and with good reason.

Last week, Sinn Fein's paramilitary links to the past were pointed up by the pictures from An Phoblacht that Chris Harper-Mercer posted on his MySpace page.

That is why Mary Hanafin's hard line against Sinn Fein on Sean O'Rourke was a crucial reassurance for Middle Ireland.

She was equally clear about why a FF-FG coalition would not be good for the country. Her words are worth pondering.

"I actually wouldn't like to see Fine Gael and Fianna Fail go into government together because I don't think it would be in the long-term interests of the country. Not necessarily of the party. Because that would mean Sinn Fein would become the largest opposition party and that would give them the platform, enabling them to built up to being in government later on and I would not like to see that."

To which I say, amen.

Sunday Independent

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