Saturday 24 August 2019

Johnny Fallon: SF protests too much and FF firing blanks ... the sad state of Irish politics

Fianna Fail Senator Averil Power
Fianna Fail Senator Averil Power

IRISH politics is in a sorry state. It lacks drive, enthusiasm, leadership and genuine passion. It has become a game that is played by those involved with the object of lasting as long as possible and scoring some cheap points at someone else’s expense. It contains about as much conviction as a cat dipping its paw in a pool of water.

In a country where the government has such an overwhelming majority one would hope that what remains of the opposition could find ways of proving alternatives and holding the government to account. Sadly it doesn’t appear so. Fianna Fail, the largest opposition party, is still lacking a coherent strategy and still badly lacking personalities.

Two of its best media performers actually come from its senate ranks, Averil Power and Tomas Byrne. Micheál Martin reshuffled his front bench recently and it was hardly noticed, that is how far FF has fallen. A country needs an opposition. however. and Fianna Fail still possesses the largest organisation of any party around the country as evidenced by the numbers attending recent party conferences. But with a mere 20 TDs, FF cannot afford passengers and right now it has far too many passengers.

Everyone has a job but quite a few seem to be just along for the ride with no public recognition factor whatsoever. That work rate must seriously improve. The harsh reality is that quite a few of these guys would never have seen the frontbench of FF in it’s hey day. They need to seriously up their game in the months ahead.

While they are flustering about with the odd policy here and there they still have not addressed the core issue of trust. Meanwhile, they need bigger, bolder personalities that can offer leadership at all levels. Not everything can be routed and approved by the leader. There must be a sense that some of these figures are worthy, strong individuals of conviction in their own right, unafraid to rock the boat.

Sitting beside them is Sinn Fein. For a small grouping they have some formidable performers and this is reflected in poll increases since the last election. However, they have remained locked in battle with FF and Labour in a chasing pack. Why? because SF are terrified of moving away from the politics of protest. They hope to build on the so called anger and hope that massive victories will come their way before they need to take hard decisions.

The embarrassing episode of the ink cartridges showed them no different to others when it comes to expenses. The round about way they fund their party and offices and then claim to be receiving the average industrial wage is wearing thin. Like the debacle that engulfed the independents, SF has fallen for the myth of believing your own hype. Politicians always think the other guy is inherently corrupt, he is diverting resources for his evil agenda and friends and that makes it wrong.

At the same time the politician believes that his own agenda, party and mission is inherently good therefore the use of resources is perfectly legitimate to advance the cause. Of course, the reality is that they are wrong in both cases.

FF is lacking in personality, while SF is lacking in the ability to see or understand any alternative to the word ‘No’. The technical group is just lacking. In decades past opposition was vital to keeping a government in check. Fitzgerald and Haughey swapped sides of the house both always haunting the other with the fear of being replaced. John Bruton was a masterful opposition leader, when viewed with hindsight, as he gradually chipped away at the base of the FF/Labour government always holding out the invitation of an alternative for the Labour party.

Bertie Ahern shadowed the rainbow coalition always reminding them that a general election was likely to see them deposed. From 1997 to 2002, the opposition still held out hope of replacing the government and kept them in check. In the aftermath of 2002 there was a problem however, as the destruction of FG and the division of the opposition led to a much weakened force. The government was not at risk and the opposition was desperately trying to make itself popular and we all paid the price because of the failures of that term. 2007 saw a rebalancing and it was no bad thing that the government had a tight majority and had to tread carefully.

However it's all change again.

Don’t get me started on the failures of the government, I'll save that for another day. However, Ireland desperately needs an effective opposition.

SF, FF and Independents need to take the knife out of each others backs and concentrate not on advancing their own party agendas for a few poll points but on how they can impact the policies of government.

This does not mean that they have to become potential coalition partners or to even like each other, but right now unless these parties can come to some sort of agreement on broadly acceptable policies then the opposition will remain as little more than a few token voices shouting in Leinster house.

Johnny Fallon is a political commentator

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