More from the orthodoxy… June 20, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
There’s an irritating piece by Stephen Collins this last weekend in the Irish Times. In it he takes the Technical Group to task over the Wallace affair – all of this on the way to making a broader point about ‘the shallow’ and ‘vacuous nature’ of ‘what passes for Opposition politics in Ireland’. Let’s address the first before considering that latter point.
His gripe with the TG?
The very people who generate so much sound and fury in the Dбil day in and day out about the ills that beset Irish society were left speechless when one of their own members found himself with some serious questions to answer.
And he continues:
Luke Ming Flanagan was honest enough to admit that his reaction would have been very different if a member of Fianna Fбil had been in the firing line. “I suppose I am being a bit of a hypocrite. There’s no point denying it. It is that bit more difficult when you do know the person and I feel I know him quite well and I get on very well with him,” he told Seбn Moncrieff on Newstalk.
While it is a natural human reaction to have sympathy for a friend in trouble, the fact that the normally righteous members of the technical group could not see the bigger picture about standards in public life doesn’t say much for their judgment.
Bringing Ming Flanagan into the equation is irrelevant. His fellow feeling for a colleague impacts on that in no way. Furthermore Collins does not appear to have read what Flanagan said. ‘It is that bit more difficult…’ not… ‘it’s impossible [to criticise] when you do know a person’.
And there’s the small problem that the members weren’t entirely left speechless (albeit this came as a complete bolt from the blue and they were only informed about it on the Tuesday morning) though he seems to think so and to have thought so from the off. The issue came to light on the Thursday morning. The Independents met on Thursday afternoon as a group at the first available opportunity. They issued a statement on Thursday afternoon (albeit this seems to have come out after 6 pm thereby missing the news). In that statement as reported in Collins’ own paper:
Fellow members of the Dáil technical group last night joined in the condemnation of his €2.1 million settlement with the Revenue Commissioners, while Fine Gael and Labour TDs called on him to consider his position.
What’s curious is that the day after this intervention Collins himself appeared unaware of it and in a piece filed on the Friday wrote:
The 16-member technical group, of which Wallace is a member, seemed to have taken a vow of silence on the issue and started off Dáil business yesterday as if nothing had happened.….Most of the group’s TDs, who normally respond to the media without too much persuasion, were mysteriously unavailable for comment yesterday.
Except they’d released a statement on the matter which he didn’t reference despite it being in the same edition of the paper he wrote those words in.
There’s more. The Technical Group as an entity at no time issued a collective response. Hardly surprising due to the distinctions within it in terms of the ULA/Independents, and even within both the Independents and the ULA. On that latter note the response to Wallace across the Friday, Saturday and Sunday was such that it saw Independent TDs and a TD from the ULA call for his resignation outright from the Dáil.
But there’s a curious article on the Monday which says:
The apparent early political support for Mr Wallace among his technical group colleagues began to fade at the weekend, with some of them calling for his resignation from the Dáil.
It’s very hard to square that with the piece quoted above from the Friday.
What also happened was a push in the media and from some political sources that Wallace should be ejected from the Technical Group. This was problematic – at least in technical terms, but by the Monday in the same edition of the newspaper as the quote directly above there was this report:
Meanwhile, the Dáil technical group has issued a statement saying Mr Wallace is leaving the group. ”After requests from Independent members of the technical group to Deputy Mick Wallace that he step back voluntarily from the group forthwith as a result of last week’s revelations regarding his tax affairs, he has today agreed to do so,” the statement said. The whip of the group, Independent TD Catherine Murphy has formally requested that the Government Chief Whip schedule time this week to address this matter, after hearing Mr Barrett turned down Mr Wallace’s appeal to make a personal statement. The statement from the group was signed by 10 Independent deputies in the group: Stephen Donnelly, Luke “Ming” Flanagan, Tom Fleming, John Halligan, Finian McGrath, Mattie McGrath, Catherine Murphy, Maureen O’Sullivan, Thomas Pringle, Shane Ross. The United Left Alliance members of the group are not signatories to the statement.
Note though that that was not the ‘Technical Group’ but a subset of individuals in it. Indeed it is hard to divine any single approach by the TG on all this, and again that’s unsurprising.
But, it does raise the question as regards Stephen Collins, what was he asking the TG to do above and beyond what actually took place? If he imagined that it would speak with one voice then he was clearly not familiar with its make up. That a majority of the TDs within it sought either Wallace’s resignation from the group or his resignation from the Dáil seems to have escaped him entirely. Did the process take too long? Well yes, it did to some extent. But in fairness these were Independent (or semi-Independent in the case of the ULA) TDs and asking them to agree overnight was always going to be difficult. The agreement eventually reached was probably reached as fast as it could have been.
Which, as noted elsewhere, is not to remove culpability from the TG and the Independents and parties within it for the scale of the mess. Much of this was foreseeable. And hard questions should have been asked, and answers demanded, from the off. The Flanagan quote is telling. Getting on well with people is a good thing. But it’s not the only thing. And in politics it should only be one thing among many.
But again, the TG, or at least a majority of its members were left far from speechless and did act – acted indeed beyond the bounds of Standing Orders in regard to asking Wallace to step aside from the Group. As for further measures, those are for the Dáil itself to determine.
Anyhow, on Collins goes.
At a deeper level it exposes the shallowness of much of what passes for Opposition in the Dбil. A lot of it is simply populist posturing designed to encourage opposition to whatever the Government of the day proposes, taking no account of the prevailing economic circumstances.
The behaviour of Sinn Fйin and most of the technical group of TDs during the recent referendum debate typified this approach to politics but it certainly didn’t begin with them.
In the last couple of years before the watershed election of 2011, Fine Gael and the Labour Party regularly behaved in a similar manner and conveyed the impression that there was some easy way out of the appalling economic crisis facing the country.
And here we see a fascinating phenomenon. Because as always he assiduously ignores anything outside his own frame of reference. One doesn’t have to believe there’s an ‘easy way out’ to believe that there are alternatives to the current course of action taken by this government and the previous one.
Indeed consider the following:
One of the reasons why Labour is now suffering a much greater loss of support than Fine Gael is that its Opposition rhetoric was the more aggressive and its promises more unrealistic. Those voters ill-informed enough to believe that it would be Labour’s way rather than Frankfurt’s way are the ones now most likely to be swayed by Sinn Fйin’s encouragement to follow the Greek road of defiance rather than facing the reality of living within the relatively benign bailout terms.
Social provision and social services stripped away in a manner previously unheard of and this is characterised as ‘relatively benign’? . There’s a sort of lofty detachment to this which is quite bizarre.
With Sinn Fйin and most of the technical group of TDs pursuing populist fantasy politics, there is an opportunity for Fianna Fáil to refashion itself as a responsible party of government. Living down its past mistakes will remain a huge problem. While there is no escaping the party’s irresponsible behaviour in power between 1997 and 2007, over time there may be some acknowledgement that it did its best to wrestle the country back from the brink in its final two years in office.
It is a moot point whether Fianna Fáil suffered such a crushing defeat last year because of the gross mistakes during the boom or its efforts to impose economic discipline from 2008 onwards. The task facing the party now is to resist the temptation of competing in the indignation stakes on the Opposition side of the Dáil.
And this in a sense is Collin’s approach writ large. There is no alternative, and the alternative he sort of kind of presents is really no alternative at all – a ‘responsible’ Fianna Fáil. This is the most perfect summation of the orthodox position imaginable. A sort of cosmetic democracy where there is but one solution and therefore only one reasonable and ‘responsible’ way forward. It is quite something coming from a political correspondent, even one who is right of centre. A disavowal of the idea that there can even be alternatives. And in that respect it is the antithesis of political activity and in some respects of democracy.
And therefore there’s something almost disingenuous about the rest of the piece:
With the future of the euro again in the melting pot, big decisions on the future direction of the EU will have to be made over the next year. They will pose a real challenge to the political system and that is assuming a benign scenario in which the common currency survives.
If it does not, the consequent economic catastrophe will test Irish democracy to the limit but hopefully a challenge on that scale will not arise.
Of course, it is not only the politicians who are responsible for the health and quality of our political system. Ultimately the people decide who should serve in DáilÉireann and if the voters don’t require high ethical standards from their TDs or reward those who make a serious contribution to politics they have to accept the consequences.
But all that is moot if one believes there’s but one way out. And bringing in the Irish people, that most convenient of whipping boys, is irrelevant.
And yet remember, this is the man, who with no hint of irony but a week ago argued that the Government had but two choices, cut public sector pay or cut services. And not a mention of increased taxation.