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Fionnan Sheahan: One year on and it's no time for a party


IN hindsight, Fine Gael would have been better off letting Peter Mathews mark the one-year anniversary of the party's entry into government.

The Dublin South TD produced a candle out of his pocket at the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday night and passed it up to the top table.

After moving from banking to politics, he declared himself to be "the youngest person in the room politically".

By all accounts, he was full of praise for everyone for their assistance over the past year, including his constituency colleague, Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

Given his penchant for lecturing his colleagues every week (until Mary Mitchell-O'Connor stood up to him), everybody was relieved he kept his contribution to two minutes and he got a solid round of applause.

The bonhomie within the party was not to last long. Fine Gael TDs were due to appear together the following day for a photo shoot to celebrate the party's first year in office, holding "stars detailing significant Fine Gael achievements in Government".

By the end of the same meeting on Wednesday night, the first warning signs though were flashing about the event.

With the meeting drawing to a close, John Deasy said it was a bad time to be having a celebratory photocall as it was out of touch with the public mood with so many unemployed and emigrating.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was sitting at the top table when Mr Deasy spoke. Over the course of the rest of the evening, other party TDs expressed reservations about the gig and many were saying they weren't going to show up.

The Labour Party were not impressed either by the carry on.

By yesterday morning Pat Rabbitte put the final nail in the coffin, describing the plan as "silly". Mr Kenny pulled the plug, claiming later he didn't know anything about the photocall until that morning.

Fine Gael's official rationale behind the cancellation was bogus, but telling.

"It was presumed that the Labour Party would be planning an event, similar to the one scheduled by Fine Gael, to mark the party's first year in Government. When it was discovered that this was not the case, it was deemed inappropriate to proceed."

The blame game saw fingers being pointed at the party press office for the debacle.

In reality, the party press office does nothing without the sanction of the Taoiseach's advisers in Government Buildings. The second strand of Fine Gael's endeavours to mark the one-year anniversary was a leaflet listing the party's successes in Government.

Nowhere is the Labour Party mentioned in the literature.

Their coalition partners are playing the same game, with a leaflet listing "Key Labour achievements in the first year in Government".

While there's nothing unusual about a party blowing its own trumpet, the message coming from the two parties individually is totally at odds with the theme of the launch of the annual report on the first year in Government: stability.

Mr Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's primary boast from a year in office was bringing an end to the chaos of the previous years.

"Out first priority in Government was to restore economic, financial and political stability, and to rebuild the international reputation of the country."

Mr Gilmore noted during the general election the parties had been "knocking lumps off each other", but that had been put aside to form a coherent administration. The stability stems, not from the arithmetic of an unassailable majority in the Dail, but from the certainty offered by the two parties' willingness to make difficult decisions in power and stick with the task ahead of economic recovery and restoring sovereignty.

The key to this Coalition's success or failure will be the two party's ability to work effectively together.

But Fine Gael's behaviour was a throwback to the partisan Fianna Fail's attitude to their underlings in coalition, be it the PDs or the Green Party.

Fine Gael's efforts to steal the thunder of a year in office is not a way to foster trust with the Labour Party.

Mr Kenny's party also initially lacked the basic cop on to realise the wider public do not see rising figures of those on the dole, continuing redundancies and lengthy queues at emigration information exhibitions as a cause for celebration.

In the end, there was no major harm done by the spat over the photocall. It wasn't a fundamental issue of policy divergence between the parties such as the rift over the reform of the Joint Labour Committee agreements last summer.

But the incident did shed some light on the relationship between the parties.

Fine Gael "presumed" the Labour Party would be going down the same route.

Nobody in Fine Gael bothered to pick up the phone to find out Labour's views. The lack of basic communication between the two sets off alarm bells.

It does not actually augur well for the future of the Coalition, when serious problems arise, if Mr Kenny's advisers are not talking to their Labour counterparts -- and vice versa. A respectful relationship among the behind-the-scenes staff can actually ensure difficulties are headed off before they even emerge and waters are calmed.

But previous administrations have found it is all too easy for the lines of communications to collapse at every level.

The country has had enough of squabbling parties in government and seen the results of inadequate management of inter-party relationships.

After a year of relative stability in office, Fine Gael and the Labour Party have found it's always good to talk.

Irish Independent