Labour and Shortall redux October 2, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Uncategorized.
Pat Leahy in the SBP this last weekend asks the central question that arises from the Shortall resignation…
So does that mean that Labour will put up with anything from Fine Gael ministers? No. There are circumstances where Labour would insist that a Fine Gael minister must leave the government. But this isn’t one of them.
The harsh truth behind Eamon Gilmore’s decision to back James Reilly is that he believes maintaining the unity and coherence of the government is more important than Róisín Shortall or the delivery of primary care centres.
It’s a matter of priorities. Nothing is more important – those involved believe – to exiting the bailout and achieving economic recovery than maintaining unity and purpose at the heart of government. Everything else is secondary.
This is astounding stuff on some levels. Because while the realpolitik may stack up – from the perspective of Gilmore and the Government – the fact is that the Programme for Government is now determined essentially by Fine Gael’s wishes. That is because government unity will always depend upon Fine Gael’s wishes over those of the Labour Party, the former being the larger element. The idea that government unity is central to economic recovery and an exit from the bailout seems less than a pious aspiration. Where is the evidence that either of those are speeding towards us?
But it also raises the question what is in it for the Labour Party? The outcomes from all this are dismal. The potential for massive losses to Sinn Féin, Others and Independents and a slightly resurgent Fianna Fáil. Their aspects of the PfG sidelined. And making a distinction within the LP between leadership and party TDs and members it would seem that the wishes of the latter are now redundant.
Privately, many Labour cabinet ministers are more than a little irritated with Shortall; bear that in mind when you hear the many eulogies of her which were continuing this weekend. Some Labour ministers, of course, have experienced the odd irritation with uppity junior ministers themselves. They subscribe heartily to the notion that junior ministers should be seen and not heard. Cabinet rules.
But more generally, cabinet ministers deal daily with the budget constraints in their department that the agreement with the troika entails. Exiting from the bailout is, collectively, their top priority. It’s not that backbench TDs aren’t aware of the financial constraints; of course they are. It’s just that cabinet ministers are more involved with it. From this involvement comes their sense of the grim priorities.
But none of this quite makes sense. The shape of the future health structures in this state are not dependent upon the troika, one suspects they are if anything a matter of supreme indifference to that crew. So the reality is that the issue revolves around the attitude of Fine Gael to this.
The problem being if this is waved through by the LP leadership, then what next? Leahy doesn’t say, but the answer seems clear. Whatever it wants. Because realistically if the LP leadership believes the national interest is equivalent to the unity of the Government and that that unity is disrupted even by Labour Ministers or Junior Ministers attempting to implement the agreed Programme for Government then any and all of Labour’s contributions to that PfG are open to question.
And that fact makes Leahy’s parting thoughts somewhat hollow:
Don’t let’s get carried away, though. Gilmore remains unassailable and his coalition secure. It can still do anything it wants. That remains the outstanding fact of Irish politics.
Thing is that it can’t quite do whatever it wants. Fine Gael can. Labour much less so.
It raises a further question. What is the function of the Labour Party in this coalition. In some respects national socio-economic survival is out of its hands, and rests with Europe. But one line has been that it will blunt the rightward impact of Fine Gael in various areas. That rationale – never very persuasive to quite a few of us – looks exceedingly thin if it is not even able to ensure the latter party stands over decisions that were agreed with them when putting the Government together.
Quite some party they’re having.