A BAD case of “Dublinitis” may yet add to Leo Varadkar’s mounting woes on re-election. Brendan Griffin’s decision to quit politics certainly compounds difficulties for Fine Gael outside the capital and along the western seaboard.
Mr Griffin, just weeks short of his 41st birthday, has credibly cited giving priority to his family over making a round trip of up to 600km each week, and being absent from home on two or three nights each week, as his key reason for not standing for the Dáil again next time out.
He also said that, had he been given the job of government chief whip with a seat at the cabinet table, he would have soldiered on.
However, another stint as junior minister would not have been enough to make him stay. It is fair to note that the chief whip’s job went to a non-Dubliner, Hildegarde Naughton of Galway West. So that was among the tough calls made by the returning Taoiseach in December.
The bigger point here is that many in Fine Gael will say some way should have been found to keep Brendan Griffin on board through a position which allowed him attend Cabinet.
More alarmingly, when Mr Varadkar appointed a successor last month to junior minister Damien English – who left office due to his disregard for planning rules – he chose Neale Richmond. That decision means all three members of the Dáil from the south Dublin constituency of Rathdown are also members of the government team.
And it adds to the huge concentration of ministers – senior and junior – based in the greater Dublin area.
Many voters, especially those in rural areas, believe the lack of a local man or woman in government deprives them of a voice. It was a point made in reverse by Brendan Griffin on Radio Kerry earlier this week when he said that, had he made the cabinet table, the real attraction would be more influence on development in the constituency.
The recurring disquiet about the Cabinet being too “Dublin-centric” does not just raise questions about our political culture and how we order our affairs.
It also feeds into the narrative that outside of Dublin our overly metropolitan politicians simply do not care. That simplistic message is driven home by rural Independent TDs, such as Mattie McGrath and Danny Healy-Rae, who rarely miss an opportunity to denigrate the metropolitan power centre. We have also heard senior coalition politicians like Michael Ring of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea voicing similar concerns.
Even if we accept that this contains an element of self-serving politics, it does also speak to that perception in many parts of provincial and rural Ireland.
Let’s not forget that these outspoken dissidents are proven vote-getters.