(Very) small empires fall, an epoch ends as the PDs move from South Frederick Street and Jackie Healy-Rae announces he will not stand again. June 27, 2008Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
Lachrymose tidings reach the CLR. For it is reported this week that:
THE PROGRESSIVE Democrats have decided to quit their Dublin headquarters, following cuts in State funding and lay-offs since the last election.
And Mark Hennessy in the Irish Times suggests that…
The party’s South Frederick Street offices were the backdrop for some of the most exciting events in Irish politics from the mid-1980s onwards.
Hmmm… ‘most exciting’? I wonder. Surely they’re not talking about the stupid chair through the window incident some years back. Oh no, they’re talking about the ideological turmoil of the late 1980s. Was that exciting? Not to me. In fact I thought there was something pretty effing horrible about the ‘mass’ meetings around the time the party was founded, I remember the TV shots of the one in the Shieling Hotel in Raheny, and it spoke of something very nervy indeed in the Irish polity at that time. But, that first flush of enthusiasm over the reality of the PDs was rather pedestrian. Utterly wrong, politically, but nowhere near as extreme as they were painted. Sure, for some they were the epitome of political evil, but a telling anecdote was told by a friend of how when meeting a PD in Dun Laoighaire and when said PD was asked what they intended to do about childcare provision the answer came ‘well, of course, we want to see it increased…’. My friend as it happens is from a different jurisdiction and is economically and socially on the right, but was amused to see how he produced near incomprehension from the PD when he pointed out that he actually wanted to see childcare and all the pomps and works of the state reduced. But, I guess the PDs were what passes for excitement amongst the somewhat rightward thinking bien pensants in our society (For some reason Stephen Collins name springs to mind), not least due to the rhetorical dust kicked up by McDowell during and before his leadership.
Since those heady days for generally polite, but sometimes unpleasant, rightists, there have been changes… for the worse (or better, dependent upon taste).
However, just two party staff work daily in the offices, compared to at least eight when the party’s fortunes were at their height.
Now, the owner of the building has decided that he wants to sell up, for €2.75 million, and the party has decided that smaller premises are required.
An interesting fact is revealed in the story:
The party had the opportunity to buy the building for approximately €1m in late 2001, but the plan fell through. The PDs’ national executive had then agreed, and a number of party members had offered interest-free, repayable loans, but the parliamentary party objected.
One wonders why, particularly since they did rather better than expected at the subsequent election in 2002.
But it can’t be good news for the continued existence of the PDs as a political formation. Their showing during Lisbon and their contribution to debates on the matter almost non-existent, which is quite a feat for a party with a senior government Minister and former Tanaiste at the Cabinet table.
The decision to depart South Frederick Street will be another blow for the party’s membership, following last year’s disastrous election results. In addition, the lack of visibility of the new party leader, Senator Ciarán Cannon, who took over from Mary Harney, is causing increasing concern within the party.
That said, it’s a small party, so overall levels of concern in the society remain minimal.
And yet, I wonder. A small part of me tends to the idea that if Cannon can keep the ship afloat for just a couple of years there is a very very slim possibility that in the face of a weakened Fine Gael vote that the PDs might offer something of an alternative home for their voters. It’s hard to see how it can happen, not least because Cannon is locked away in the Seanad. So I wouldn’t put money on it, but stranger things have happened.
The South Frederick Street offices became nationally known after files detailing donors’ names and contributions were accidentally dumped in a skip outside the building in 1997.
Which is a bit careless. And somehow also tells us something about the disparity between the image and the reality of the PDs. Far from a right wing juggernaut rolling across the Irish political landscape they were a curious collection of divergent strands. Not many though, it has to be said. For which we should, perhaps be grateful. And also grateful for their (mostly) being in power during times of plenty where any tendency to mischief, such as dismantling what we have of a welfare state was clearly circumscribed by significant revenues into the public coffers and a Fianna Fáil delighted to play munificent benefactor to the nation. Their time has passed? No harm. Not so nice to see them in action during a recession I would imagine, and perhaps my friend might find them a tad more congenial.
But to add to the general despond consider that:
INDEPENDENT TD Jackie Healy-Rae says he is stepping down at the next general election…
The 77-year-old TD and former director of elections for Fianna Fáil has supported the government since his election in 1997.
He told yesterday’s Kerryman he had won his “three-in-a-row” and that was his final rally.
Good for him. Perhaps not so good for us is the news that…
…[he] expects his son, Michael, a councillor and outgoing mayor of Kerry, to run as a candidate.
Chip and block are the words that spring most readily to mind. Michael has some interesting views on social issues. A it happens he reminds me of nothing so much as certain individuals in the DUP. Which I guess is inevitable in a context where self-promotion is all, and political ideology is rather scant (not that the DUP is an ideology free zone, just that the national/religious issue took precedence over mere economics).
Still, be afraid for:
Michael Healy-Rae confirmed his political ambitions were longterm, and that he would be looking to run for the Dáil at the next election. He would also be contesting the local elections next year.
Interesting to reflect on the way in which two quite remarkably divergent Independent TDs have fared in public esteem when both did deals for the benefit of their constituencies. Whereas Tony Gregory remains highly thought of Healy-Rae Snr. is seen as, well – to turn to a phrase with some currency this week – something of a trickster. Of course Gregory retained a degree of ideological purity, however diffuse, whereas it would be unlikely that even his greatest admirers/detractors would allow Healy-Rae any level of ideological motivation at all…
And ideology isn’t unimportant. When histories come to be written on these events it is unlikely that Healy-Rae will garner too many plaudits, not least because unlike Gregory his participation was not absolutely crucial to a government formation.
But worth reflecting also on how even a very fleeting event such as the Gregory Deal can shape a political legacy. I’m not quite suggesting that Gregory ate out on that subsequently, but his public persona is very much a product of one hugely significant, but transitory conjunction of political circumstances.
Indeed, the thought strikes me that fellow ‘Independent’ Michael Lowry received almost no flak in the media over his support for this latest coalition of all the talents, which is remarkable when one considers his journey from the inner circle of Fine Gael to chief of his fiefdom in Tipperary – and note the brace of Councillors he has as part of his Lowry Team… Although the late lamented Seamus Healy managed a similar trick – in terms of Councillors – in the adjoining constituency. Not sure what that tells us.
Or what of Finian McGrath, surely the luckiest government supporting Independent in history who had the remarkable foresight to seal into his deal with Ahern a derogation as regards the Lisbon Treaty. Now that’s what I call winning, twice over! I’m sure Ahern thought that a minor concession when he signed the agreement, but he should have recognised there is no such thing as a minor concession in politics. People say McGrath lost support by doing the original deal, and indeed he did, with some of his support base detaching, but… no harm for him to shore up his rather tarnished radical credentials by appearing at news conferences with McKenna et al. That this might well produce a certain cognitive dissonance amongst his constituents is neither here nor there.
And in that, perhaps, lies a future model of Independents. Which reminds me, I’m still fairly convinced that should FG remain as weak as it currently is we can look towards an increase in the numbers of Independents come 2012, not least because we’re also potentially going to see a weakened FF in some places. And that’s interesting because it might be that after this little escapade the appetite for FF, in particular, might be to dispense with the Independents entirely and go for a party/parties as partners. What was it Cowen said? If in doubt keep them out, in reference to political parties… Sound advice when applied to a broad range of prospective suitors…