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Now he tells us… The curious political journey of Noel Grealish of the PDs… November 20, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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You may remember articles such as this in our beloved media over the past year or so.

Progressive Democrats Galway West TD Noel Grealish has confirmed he has discussed the possibility of quitting the party with a Fianna Fáil minister.

“There has been a certain amount of discussion taking place, which has taken place between myself and a particular minister in Fianna Fáil, to be quite honest,” he told Galway City television.

And not only, but also:

“I’ll be frank. We have discussed my political future: where am I going to go, what am I going to do,” he said, in the interview, which will be broadcast tonight on cable television in Galway.

However, Mr Grealish said further talks had been postponed until he and his supporters saw the outcome of efforts within the PDs to breathe life into the party.

“We have agreed to park the negotiations for a while to see what is going to happen to our own party first.”

Noel Whelan noted in January that…Noel Grealish is openly flirting with Fianna Fáil.

By April, despite having a new leader, Ciarán Cannon, in place, Harry McGee of the ITnoted that:

…the loyalty of one of the two remaining TDs, Noel Grealish, is conditional – he has admitted to having played “footsie” with Fianna Fáil in the wake of the 2007 election.

Even as recently as September Grealish was releasing carefully parsed and neutral press releases on his future, the sort of texts that can be decoded whatever way one wishes

Mr Grealish in a statement described media reports about his political future as speculative and inaccurate.

He said he understood that the PD national executive was undertaking a root and branch review of the future of the party.

He said he intended to consult his constituency membership, his parliamentary colleagues and the wider party membership as part of this review.

Mr Grealish added that in the meantime he remained a member of the Progressive Democrats parliamentary party.

Note the careful economy of language and the reliance on facts, just facts.

A couple of days later a series of articles appeared like a rash under the headlines “Grealish to clarify his position in the PDs tomorrow night” and then… “Grealish to clarify his position with PDs tonight” . Exciting stuff, I think you’ll agree.

Of course no such clarification was forthcoming, and in any case had it been it would have been swamped by the decision of the PD parliamentary party to recommend winding up the party with the proposal that the party was ‘no longer politically viable’.

Still as recently as September 18th Stephen Collins was writing that… “The harsh reality was cloaked for a while by the fact that Mary Harney continued to serve as a senior Minister but the speculation of recent weeks over Noel Grealish’s departure plans presaged the end”.

So there one has it. Not merely did the studied air of detachment lend utter ambiguity to Grealish’s plans, but it also assisted in the sense that the party had no future and that the only route away was to join the big battalions.

So, by contrast, what a fascinating piece of news reported yesterday. Noel Grealish, of the Progressive Democrats, or is that late of the Progressive Democrats – who can tell as that party continues to expire very very publicly but also very very slowly – has announced that

“more than likely” he will become an Independent after the party closes down early next year, and he will not be joining Fianna Fáil.

Pardon? What’s that you say there Noel?

Because this news is a bit of a surprise considering, as noted in the Irish Times:

Speculation about Mr Noel Grealish’s future with the Progressive Democrats had been attributed to speeding up the demise of the party, which had pledged to continue until after next year’s local elections despite its poor performance in the 2006 general election.

Reports of Mr Grealish’s plans to leave the party began in early September. He neither corroborated nor denied rumours that he planned to join Fianna Fáil.

In fairness to him it’s not like, as quoted previously, there weren’t what we call ‘facts’ to corroborate what the Irish Times reports as ‘rumour’.

So, why the change of heart, or what caused the crablike sideways shift towards Fianna Fáil to come to this jarring halt?

The cynic in me, never far from the surface, suspects that the reason for this apparent change of heart is – as ever with politicians – due to the prospects or otherwise of political longevity. Simply put the Fianna Fáil brand sure ain’t what it used to be. Gone are the heady days where Grealish could claim that the Mahon Tribunal had exceeded it’s remit in investigating then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in the following language:

“I think there is a serious issue . . . the way the Taoiseach, the leader of our country, is treated at times in the Mahon tribunal, and I think that a lot of the Irish people out there are tired of this campaign against the Taoiseach.

“It’s going outside the remit it was set up to do.”

“I don’t think the Taoiseach needs to resign, I don’t think he’s done anything wrong,”

Gone, not just the irrepressible Bertie, but also Fianna Fáil as a seemingly overwhelming political formation. It’s far from the end for them, but the Summer has seen more than a few spots knocked off them. Few enough would hitch their star to a wagon mired in the mid to high 20s in the polls following one of the worst Budgets in memory and the prospect of more to come. Grealish is no fool and must see that to cross the floor from one failed entity to one that is faltering, and badly, would be entirely pointless.

And he might well have reflected on how some of his constituents, or more particularly his voters, might receive such political promiscuity… they’re a conservative bunch at the best of times so I suspect not well.

One also wonders how the vote would have gone at the ‘special meeting’ of the PDs in Mullingar earlier this month had the delegates known that, far from FF providing a home, Grealish was destined for the status of Independent. A fair bit tighter it seems reasonable to presume.

I’ve previously noted that a vote to remain extant might have been somewhat embarrassing for a party with the word Democratic in its title. And surely, the situation for them was pretty grim. But, with four parliamentarians, a good number of councillors and a membership activist enough to appear for the ‘special meeting’ the future wasn’t entirely bleak.

There’s also the issue of his future political survival, now without a party apparatus to support him. Sure, it wasn’t the greatest party in the world, but the atomisation of the PD TD’s into Independents (with perhaps Fiona O’Malley and Cannon venturing forth into the larger parties) is hardly a better position. And why did no-one think of the obvious jump across the hurdle the electorate had placed in their way last May twelve months, that old stand-by of political formations in trouble… the name change.

The history books may not be kind about the personalities involved or the turns this story has taken, but there is a certain irony in the way that the Irish media, including those who would often consider themselves to be the PDs cheerleaders ultimately assisted in destabilising that party to the point of it’s demise. Quite some feat.

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