This column appeared on Broadsheet at the end of January 2019. The full original version can be viewed here. This is a shortened version which looks only at Fianna Fáil’s upcoming Dublin European Selection Convention.
Within Dublin the race for the Fianna Fáil party nomination will be critical. On the surface it looks like a four-way competition but, to be brutally frank, the choice is binary.
In Column A you have Tiernan Brady, who many of you may know as an equality campaigner from his leadership in the Irish and Australian marriage equality campaigns.
And if you think Tiernan is not the kind of candidate you would expect Fianna Fáil candidate to field, well think again – because Tiernan is as dyed in the wool Fianna Fáil as any candidate the party has produced over the past decade.
I first met Tiernan back in 1992 when he was one of the Kevin Barry UCD Cumann members who came in to help Ben Briscoe TD on the (in)famous 10 day “long count” to decide the last seat in Dublin South Central – an event referred to by Ben at the time as “The Agony and the Ex TD”.
While there are worse jobs in the world: the worst job in politics is certainly leader of the opposition.
If he didn’t already know this, it is certain that Fianna Fáil’s leader Micheal Martin will know this in just over a week.
The 2014 European and Local Election campaigns for which he and his HQ team have prepared and planned for over 18 months are proving themselves to be a source of unalloyed joy. It is hard to believe that these are the campaigns they wanted.
The latest round of opinion poll findings only confirm this. They suggest that
His Dublin Euro candidate will fail to take the seat
His Midlands North West duo may struggle to win a seat
While his Ireland South candidates have the best part of two quotas between but are so imbalanced as to render a second seat impossible.
If the ballots cast on Friday confirm these poll findings, then it will be hard to make any of this sound like an achievement.
My Evening Herald column from today’s (Thurs May 24th) edition:
With less than a week to go the referendum campaign seems more and more to be about less and less.
On the face of it, if you believe the posters, the choice is to Vote Yes to achieve stability or to Vote No to end austerity.
But do any of us really believe these claims? Regrettably, like previous EU referendums the debate has been conducted at the extremes, not the centre. It was the case in the Nice and Lisbon referendums, remember those “€1.84 Minimum Wage after Lisbon” posters?
Mercifully, we have been spared the malign input of Cóir and Youth Defence this time. The are no loss, especially as most of them wouldn’t know a treaty from a tea-bag (to rob a line I recently overheard)
But this absence of any significant ultra right involvement on the no side does highlight a curious undercurrent to the campaign, one, which I suspect, may be a factor in how some people decide how to vote next week.
While the slogans maybe about the EU and the Euro the referendum has morphed into a proxy battle on the future of left / right politics in Ireland.
From the start the battle front was drawn up along left versus right lines.
On the Yes side you had the right and centre right parties: FG, FF and Lab (more about them later), the employers’ and business organisations, the farmer’s groups and the more established/mainstream trade unions.
On the No side you had the socialist and hard left parties, People Before Profit, Joe Higgin’s Socialists, Sinn Féin, the more radical trade unions.
While the entrance of The Declan Ganley somewhat clouded the the Left/Right delineation, it hasn’t ruptured it.
The sight of him sharing No platforms with irredentist left firebrands is a joy to behold, especially when you consider that they agree on virtually nothing, including Europe. Most on the hard left are euro-sceptic while The Ganley is avowedly Euro-federalist.
While passing the Fiscal Treaty will herald no major day to day changes – mainly because it just restates the centre/centre right economic orthodoxy in place since 2008 – it will cement it into domestic law for the foreseeable future.
It is this that the left fears and opposes most.
Passing the Treaty would recalibrate the centre of the Irish political spectrum a few points to the right. It won’t be a seismic or noticeable shift, but it torpedoes the Left’s ambitions of shifting it the other way.
It doesn’t vanquish them, nor does it make them to tone the rhetoric down. If anything, it will do the opposite, but in their hearts they will know that their ambition to shift Ireland economically to the left has been reversed.
This explains why the campaign from Joe Higgins, Boyd Barrett and Sinn Féin has been so fierce. But not as fierce as when its over and they start to target each other.
I am not predicting that their poll rating drops are set to drop. They won’t. They will probably rise as voters use them to express their disapproval of government parties going pack on pre election pledges.
But the Irish electorate is sophisticated. It is overwhelmingly aspirational. This applies across all social classes and communities. They want their kids to do better than they did. That decides voting intentions more than anything.
In the meantime Sinn Féin will continue to do well at Labour’s expense, after all Gerry and Mary Lou are saying now what Éamon and Joan were saying two years ago.
It is Labour who will be the biggest casualty. Polls showing 40% of Labour supporters voting No could have longer term ramifications for the leadership. But whatever they may be, they can be so where near as damaging as Gilmore’s infamous “Frankfurt’s Way or Labour’s Way” slogan.
It may turn out to be the most devastating political slogan of recent times – devastating to its authors, that is.
My thoughts on why I am not impressed with this Fiscal Compact Treaty, but why I will vote for it and urge others to vote Yes too.
A few nights ago I was on the cusp of penning a piece as to how it was possible to be a committed pro European and still urge a “No” vote at the forthcoming Fiscal Compact Referendum.
My reasoning broadly ran as follows.
While the Fiscal Compact does contain some important measures that would have addressed the fiscal problems that others, not Ireland, had experienced in the run up to the crisis – it effectively does nothing about the core issue facing the EU and the Euro: the dysfunctional European banking system.
The EU Council and Commission have wasted over two years taking pointless half measures that tinker about with the symptoms of the problem while studiously ignoring the core problem: the banking crisis.
This fiscal compact is just the latest in a series of well intentioned, but minimalist attempts to assure the markets that it ready to address the crisis. Like the others it will fail.
What the EU needs now is a short sharp shock to jolt it into effective and decisive action. By decisive action I mean tackling the banking and credit crisis head on and bolstering the role of the European Central Bank to become the lender of last resort.
Ireland can not only deliver that shock by rejecting the Fiscal Treaty as inadequate and lacking substance, but it can take the lead – particularly among the smaller, peripheral nations – in demanding that the Commission, particularly President Barroso stop acting as the servants of the French & German governments and get the EU back to being a Union of countries that work together, in partnership and in solidarity for our mutual benefit.
That was my broad theory.
It is not heresy or anti European to say that the Fiscal Compact Treaty does not address the biggest problem facing the economies in both the EU and the Euro.
The point is not that the Fiscal Compact goes too far – it is that it is too one sided. It addresses a secondary problem – not the primary one. It almost completely omits the measures required, specifically on the ECB, to tackle the real problems facing us all.
As I was writing the piece I realised that while I still fully believe in points 1 – 4 the reasoning underpinning Point 5 was fatally flawed.
Ireland rejecting the Fiscal Compact will not be seen as us rejecting it as a half measure. It will be seen as Irish petulance. We have thrown down the gauntlet before – on Nice 1 and Lisbon 1 for reasons that most in the EU failed to grasp.
The Taoiseach and his Ministers have shown not the slightest interest in showing Leadership at the EU Council or of building any consensus among the smaller peripheral countries.
Rather the Taoiseach has been content to roll over and have his belly tickled (metaphorically – I hope) by the big two, and hope that no one will ask him any difficult questions.
He has consistently underplayed his hand for the past year. Stories that talked tough and banged the table at his first Council meeting yielded nothing. Since then he has been content to keep his head below the parapet. The same applies to Eamon Gilmore.
There is nothing to suggest that either are capable of building a consensus across the EU. The reality is that neither have attempted it. Their antithesis to travelling to meet other leaders or hold bi-laterals here is mind boggling, especially when you consider how they howled in opposition that the last Government was allowing Ireland’s reputation to slip.
None of this augurs well for Ireland’s forthcoming EU Presidency, but that’s another story.
Those pointless rejections of Nice 1 and Lisbon 1, are now coming back to bite us. Those who urged us to say No then, are once again in the vanguard urging us to Vote No once more. Their reasoning has not changed. They are as Eurosceptic and anti European as they ever were.
Saying No now would be seen as biting the hand that feeds us – even when that hand has been making a few bob from what its been doing.
Worse still saying No would not gain anything by saying No – except to put ourselves in some undefined limbo beyond the revised European Stability Mechanism. Whereas our saying No in Nice 1 and Lisbon 1 held up the process of ratifying those treaties, saying No now will halt nothing.
We have no veto. We have no bargaining chips on this one. There is no point in threatening to pull the trigger when everyone else knows we have no ammo in the chamber. UCD’s Dr Ben Tonra makes this point very clearly in an excellent post on the politicalreform.e page here.
The conclusion is that we must pass the Fiscal Compact treaty and then use that passing of the Treaty to build a coalition of smaller countries across the EU to tackle the real problem facing us.
I would love to think that saying No would urge the EU into actions that are long overdue. The sad reality is that it will not.
So, just like the French Socialists who were compelled to vote for Chirac in Round Two of the 2002 Presidential elections, rather than seeing Le Pen slip through, I may be taking a disinfectant mat with me to the polling station as I vote Yes.
I want a better treaty. I want a treaty that tackles the real problems. This treaty itself even acknowledges the need for a further treaty.
If passing this one is the price we must pay to get to that point – then let us do so – and quickly.
And then there was one. It is just over two and a half years since we elected Gay Mitchell, Proinsias de Rossa and Joe Higgins as our three MEPs.
Within eighteen months Joe had made his way back into the Dáil. He waved goodbye toBrusselshis seat was taken by Paul Murphy. (No, I don’t know much about him either).
Fast forward another twelve months to this week and veteranDublinMEP Proinsias de Rossa announces that he is to stand down and his seat will pass to Dublin City Councillor, Emer Costello. As if to complete the row of falling dominoes, Cllr Costello’s vacancy on the City Council will in turn be filled by someone selected by her local labour organisation.
And so, two of the three people who asked us in June 2009 make them MEPs for a five year fixed term have decided to move on or move out. Thus… and who would have imagined we would ever again hear these words…leaving Gay Mitchell as the last man standing.
Everything that Joe and Proinsias have done is entirely and wholly within the rules. Casual vacancies arising from MEPs dying, resigning or otherwise being disqualified are filled this way. It applies across the EU.
It is arguable that this method of filling occasional vacancies is fairer and more democratic than the by-election route. The people’s decision on the five year mandate of their MEPs made in 2009, by proportional representation, is allowed to stand for the duration.
Nonetheless, it is disappointing that some of those who contested the Euro Election so fiercely can so easily renege on their mandate mid way through the term. I won’t dwell on this point as I cannot claim to be an impartial observer on this aspect having worked on Eoin Ryan’s 2009 campaign.
The point I will comment upon is broader. It is the degree to which these seats are becoming the property of the political party in a manner that starts to resemble the introduction of the party list system.
This may look like a big extrapolation from just one or two co-option processes, but when taken together with recent commentary from Prof David Farrell and others on changing Dáil sitting times to drag TDs away from constituency work, then the leap may not seem so great.
One of the particular features of our multi-seat PR/STV system is the level of personal attachment and connection between Public Representative and voter. This can often transcend party affiliation and may even be said to be on the increase.
Yet there is a curious clamour for this personal connection to be broken. The accusation of the parish pump and cliental-ism is made TDs are said to be so obsessed with getting re-elected that they encourage constituents to think that entitlements they were due were only won thanks to the intervention of the TD.
They argue that TDs should be spending their entire working week legislating and debating. They miss the risk that such a system would just institutionalise the control of party hierarchies.
TDs based in Leinster House Monday to Friday, doing virtually no constituency work for almost five years would be dependent on the national party structure to get them re-elected. Bad news for mavericks.
Not to mention the loss of to our system of representative government. How else can you represent people if you do not spend a good proportion of your time meeting with them and really learning their concerns?
Like all things; there is a balance to be struck. You cannot have TDs who only see life through the prism of how it will affect their re-election chances. But going to the other end of the spectrum is not the answer either.
You don’t learn much by sending out glossy 8 page A3 newsletters every six months. You got to get out and knock on doors. There is no point speaking in the Dáil if all you are churning out is what you found on Google; read from a focus group or what popped into your head over night.
The personal connection between the elected and the elector is important. Anything that diminishes it, undermines the democratic process.
Though I never voted for him (not even a 3 or 4) I will be sad to see Proinsias quit the stage. I wish him well.