Tuesday 25 June 2019

John Drennan: Loose Lips must join forces with McDowell

Is Lucinda Creighton of the Reform Alliance ready to boldly go and follow in the ex-PD leader's footsteps, asks John Drennan

Lucinda Creighton. Photo Ray Ryan
Lucinda Creighton. Photo Ray Ryan

John Drennan

If a modern Rilke, the Bohemian-Austrian poet, were in the business of writing letters to a young politician, like Lucinda Creighton, he would advise her to adopt the great virtue of charity when it comes to her public position on Michael McDowell.

One of the more curious features of Irish politics is the ambivalence that exists in the relationship between the ideological doppelgangers of Dublin South East.

Ms Creighton makes no secret of the fact that she admires and respects McDowell, but, there is something, and it appears to be on Lucinda's side of things, which is preventing a full consummation of the political relationship.

The non-leader of the non-party Reform Alliance finds it hard to resist being drawn to McDowell like a flame to a moth. But when such encounters occur she also feels the need to step away from McDowell's past like a Victorian governess dispensing sympathy at a remove to her fallen sister.

Perhaps we should not be too surprised on one level, for often it is outwardly identical siblings who have the most fraught relations.

And there are many reasons, such as constituency jostling, for Lucinda to maintain a firm hand on her ideological buttons when McDowell is in the room.

In the vexed case of Lucinda versus McDowell it might also be wise to consider all of the evidence about McDowell's past before Lucinda delivers too summary a judgement on the Progressive Democrats defendant.

However, it should be noted that McDowell began his career by singling out the Charles Haughey impulse in Fianna Fail that was the spring which led to the great devastation of this State and Haughey's own party.

Indeed, he stripped away the messianic veneer so successfully even the eternally poised Haughey told McDowell he was the nastiest piece of work to ever enter Leinster House. When McDowell, the political child of Garret FitzGerald, realised Garret did not have the mettle to do that which was correct, in a manner that bears some comparison with Lucinda, he took the hard decision to leave.

Of course, there were always "embarrassments" with McDowell such as that comparison of Richard Bruton to Goebbels, but these were more than balanced by the halt he put on FF's gallop with that "single party, no thanks moment" in 2002.

Ironically, it was the keeping of a promise by McDowell after he lost his seat in 1997 that proved to be his undoing. When he did return, the political landscape was vastly different, courtesy of the exiling of Charlie McCreevy to Europe. The slide could not be halted by his assumption of the leadership for McDowell inherited a self-indulgent party of sole traders which under Mary Harney were more like FF than FF themselves. McDowell played some part in his own downfall for he was certainly seduced by Bertie.

But, it is worth recalling the country was so enchanted by the most popular Irish politician since O'Connell, when the first disclosures in the planning and payments tribunal emerged, the voters turned on the innocent Opposition rather than the Taoiseach.

McDowell has a past, but, don't we all? Except for those who are too bland to leave any mark on the world, and those are hardly appropriate role models for any young politician.

McDowell, in contrast, precisely because of his failings, has much to teach a politician like Lucinda.

Indeed, one of the signs of political maturity consists of the ability to accept political defects in others for the politician who has not made mistakes is fatally dull.

In the wake of his second "departure" from politics McDowell's instincts have not been dulled.

Indeed, if anything they have been sharpened, for it was McDowell and seven former Attorneys General who scuttled the Dail inquiries referendum.

At a time where so many still believed in the bona fides of the democratic revolution this had appeared to be not so good a thing.

But, given the road we have since travelled does it now look so bad that the Government did not, in a local and EU election year, manage to set up an all-powerful banking inquiry into FF's "acts of collusion" with bankers?

And it was McDowell who, oddly enough in tandem with Micheal Martin, did the spade-work that sank a second governmental "power grab" over the Seanad. McDowell may be quite the disregarded one now but in a strange way, even outside of the Dail, he has singlehandedly inflicted more damage on the Government than the Opposition.

It may seem strange given the nature of the trade that one of the most important arts in politics is the cultivation of friends.

Or to put it more accurately -- given that most politicians have hundreds of "friends" -- the wise politician should learn the art of cultivating "appropriate" friends.

When it comes to McDowell, Lucinda would be wise to see

which political faces are grinning most broadly at talks of splits before the new party is even born.

To borrow from Eamon Dunphy, McDowell was merely a good rather than a great politician.

Certainly when it comes to the art of politics a la Paddy, the PD leader leaned too much towards the Bertie Ahern way in the hope this would save his party. But, a core of integrity survived in critical areas such as his dealings with Sinn Fein. Those Sinn Fein cheers at his RDS departure were genuine for those perfect political creatures knew that McDowell was their inveterate enemy.

The reason for this is that the core value of McDowell's political philosophy is that school of egalitarian republicanism that, unlike FF, cannot parley with a Sinn Fein party which confuses tribalism with republicanism.

The Republic that McDowell dreamed of was ironically sunk by the affable corporatism of Bertie Ahern whose amorality did more to fatally undermine the foundations of the Republic than any series of terrorist acts.

Despite McDowell's position in that government -- and his position was weakened by the decline of the FG wing of the PDs which was overcome by the FF shenanigans -- the Republic Lucinda dreams of is, at its core, no different to the one imagined by McDowell. For now, her difficulty in perceiving this may be informed by the residue of the Fine Gael flaw whereby the party cultivated a far deeper hatred of the PDs than their more obvious Fianna Fail, Labour and Sinn Fein foes.

The reasoning behind this was that the PDs, even during their two decades in FF's bed, were that which FG dreamed of and never dared to be. In embracing a right-wing school of economics and a politics of moral probity they became the mirror that FG could not turn their face to for fear of what they would see.

If Lucinda, however, is to cut ties to FG then she should perhaps follow the sage advice of the Supreme Court Judge Adrian Hardiman on one controversial occasion that the farmer and the cowgirl "should be friends".

Whatever about farmers and cowgirls, the former PD leader and the non-leader of the non-party, have far more in common than they would like to admit.

However, could it be the case that when it comes to the cowgirl wing, Lucinda's reluctance to reach a settlement with McDowell is informed by the fear that such an act would represent the final decisive severance from Fine Gael?

Irish Independent

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