“School’s out for Summer Schools”: The Week In Irish Politics

So that’s it. The political term over and done with. Politicians off on their holidays and the lights all off in Leinster House. They’re all in Marbella, Magaluf or Corfu. At least that’s the impression you get any time you read the papers upon the rising of the houses of the Oireachtas for any recess. In reality, the political world keeps turning and politicians are still at work, be it in the constituency, developing policy, meetings with various groups, or work relating to Oireachtas committees. The most powerful of these committees is the Public Accounts Committee and they certainly didn’t go on holidays last Friday.

Yesterday, they published their report into issues at the Garda training college in Templemore and in doing so, they could not have been more scathing. The scale of the lack of corporate governance and the Commissioners obstruction of the financial issue from the Comptroller and Auditor General’s office took many aback. As Chris O’Donoghue said on his Newstalk Drive program, as a member of a board of a charity, if a similar report came out about his charity, the entire board would be sacked immediately. Due process, however, must be followed but with yet another scandal being leveled at the feet of Nóirín O’Sullivan, surely we are now in a situation of when, not if, the Commission will be forced out. Fine Gael, the Independent Alliance and Fianna Fáil are all playing their cards close to their chest initially but all other parties have called on her to go. It’s apparent, to this author anyway, that the issues in the force cannot be solved from within but that someone from outside An Garda Síochána needs to be put at the helm after O’Sullivan’s tenure is ended in order to bring about the cultural and governance changes the force badly needs. Too many great rank and file Gardaí are having their good name tarnished by association at this point and the frustration of the Garda Representative Association on the same Newstalk program was clear over the airwaves despite not wanting to comment on the issue (their representative was on air to talk about body cameras being issued to Gardaí). This is an issue that will play right through the Summer and into Autumn as the parties will look to find a lasting solution to the crisis our police force finds itself in. Expect it to fester in the interim.

Away from an Garda Síochána, the “do nothing Dáil”, as it has been dubbed in certain corners, did do one thing badly needed for the country this week. James Browne, Fianna Fáil TD for Wexford, introduced two items which received wide ranging support in terms of mental health. The first was the establishment of the first ever Oireachtas committee specifically focused on the area of mental health. The second was the passing of the Mental Health (Amendment) (No 2) Bill through the Dáil. This legislation will give patients far more rights in accessing treatment and is long overdue in a country rocked by suicide over the past decade, particularly. Legislation like this on such vital issues gives some hope to an otherwise cynical electorate. The debate on the Bill saw a marvelous contribution by Browne’s party colleague Lisa Chambers from Mayo. This was the second time in her first year and a half as a TD that she has delivered a powerful speech on mental health in the Dáil chamber. For the third week in a row it would appear that ‘new politics’ is finally delivering some dividends for the people.

This was one of 12 pieces of legislation run through the Dáil on the last Friday that the house sat before the recess. One thing that baffles me is why more of these Friday sittings can’t be used to run through legislation that is, on the face of it, appealing to all sides of the house. For instance the Seanad Electoral (University Members) (Amendment) Bill 2014 was introduced and the heads of bill published 3 years ago. This being a bill to bring the result of the seventh amendment of Bunreacht na hÉireann into effect having been overwhelmingly endorsed by the people by referendum in 1979. The effect of it would be to open the voting for the six University Seats on the Seanad to all graduates of higher education in one six seater panel. This is something all major parties apparently agree with, yet after the initial publication, nothing further happened and the Bill died with the dissolution of the Oireachtas last year before the General Election. What is stopping supposedly popular Bills like this being run through as quickly? In the era of ‘new politics’, surely long needed political reform like this and the introduction of online voter registration could be fast tracked?

The time for making these changes may be limited though. As noted last week, Labour and the Social Democrats have been selecting candidates for a General Election. The latter this week setting new Fianna Fáil convert Stephen Donnelly against his former protege Cllr. Jennifer Whitmore with her selection as the SocDem candidate for Wicklow. Labour have now a total of six candidates selected with Cllr. Nial McNeilis rumoured to become their seventh shortly to contest the Galway West constituency. Tellingly Fianna Fáil have also, this week, begun selecting candidates with Cllr. Paul McAuliffe set to be confirmed to contest the seat he narrowly lost out to Fine Gael’s Noel Rock in Dublin North West at a convention to be held in the coming weeks. Nomination papers have been circulated to members but it’s not likely that this convention will be contested.

Fine Gael also look set to be gearing up for an election if their Summer statement is anything to go by. Minister Paschal Donohoe outlined his breakdown of tax and spending measures to be announced in detail in October’s budget. A focus on capital infrastructure caught the headlines as the Government look to consolidate growth and make capital of generous borrowing conditions. In doing so, giving the air of a Government keen on developing the economy and spreading the wealth, they hope that votes will follow. It’s a tried and tested strategy as seen with Fianna Fáil in the past. In an era of ‘new politics’ though, all the old bets are off. Even the seasoned hacks don’t know exactly what the future might have in store. Perhaps it’s as good a time for a recess as any to let the rest of us catch our breath. Make mine a frozen strawberry daiquiri and I might be ready for it all again when the Summer holidays are over! In the meantime, expect to see your TD, Senator or General Election candidate a lot more locally or at a talk at your nearest Summer School.

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  • El Daddy

    I wonder if it’s all over for Labour as they once were, the perennial third party in the State, or could they wrangle out a some kind of reimagining or reincarnation?

    SF and to a much lesser extent, Solidarity, seem to be eating into their core voter base. A large part of the founding of the Soc Dems was as a reaction to Labour losing their centre-left grounding during the austerity-ridden coalition with FG where they got the brunt of the blame – could some agreement between these parties be arranged in a number of years, alá the Democratic Left? SF have long moved away from their further-left view in the 70s, but their now centre-left credentials in the Republic that they are trying to promote, have yet to be proven through a stint in power, leading some to decry them of populism. Is SF the future of centre-left politics in Ireland, or is that just their current vehicle that they are trying to use to achieve their ultimate aim of being voted in and a push for reunification?

  • Granni Trixie

    Do you think it possible that sf failure to govern in Ni will hit them in the South in that it suggests they would not be responsible partners in the Dail?

  • El Daddy

    I would say a lot of the support they get in the republic is for their “populist” policies they put out (not the best word to use – basically it’s very easy to be in opposition the whole time), rather than their overt republicanism, which for a decent proportion of their voter base (and increasing in amount the more south you go), would be something they would be content with but would not consider necessarily essential.

    I say this by means of explaining that the goings-on of SF in NI might not mean very much to many SF voters here in the republic. People are obviously aware that SF is considerably more influential in the north than here, and that there has been a recent financial scandal, and that SF want an Irish language act, but that would generally be the extent on it – even non-SF supporters like myself would find them much more palatable than the DUP – so the failure to govern that you speak of would more be on the DUP’s shoulders than SFs.

    Of course this depends on who you are talking to – the likes of Kenny/Martin/Varadkar are only itching to bring up the lack of a functioning assembly in NI to Adams in the Dáil and blame it on SF – but the average person may not see it as their fault.

  • Granni Trixie

    I blame Sf and the DUP but for differnt reasons. I also find it depressing that Sf seem only to be driven by their goal of UI and not to make Ni work. Which is why I was interested in how their record in Ni might impact in Ireland – in the hope it would be I’m their interest to deliver here.
    I am also interested in your answer as I am all too aware of my ignorance of Southern Politics and culture.

  • El Daddy

    Partition (though specifically, the Anglo-Irish Treaty after the War of Independence) effected politics here much more than people realise, though obviously not as much as in the north, but still to the extent that it effects the makeup of our political parties to this day.

    While all contentious aspects of the Treaty are now done away with (partition being the sole exception), we are still left with two parties that at their basis are descended from the split of the original Sinn Féin between Pro-Treaty and Anti-Treaty.

    Both sides disliked all the contentious aspects of the treaty (Oath of Alliegence to the King, the retention of several ports by the UK, incomplete independence / Commonwealth membership, the King as the Head of State, Partition), but the Pro-Treaty side felt that it was the best possible deal that could be done at the time (bearing in mind that it was signed under duress and they disliked it), while the Anti-Treaty found it unacceptable and wanted to continue the war.

    Long story short, Fianna Fáil descend from the Anti-Treaty, and Fine Gael from the Pro-Treaty side. Over time they both have developed into centrist parties, with both parties taking some aspects from centre-right and centre-left. They do have slight differences, with FF edging that tiny bit more left on some things and FG that tiny bit more right, but not enough to warrant the two largest parties in the state being so similar. My naïve hope would be that if reunification was ever achieved, then we could finally move past these silly politics, north and south, and have an actual left-right spectrum of parties, which would work well with our proportional representation. The unionist parties would form the basis of the centre-right and there would be plenty of FG voters who I could see drawn to certain aspects of their non-union-related policies.

    Culture-wise, it’s basically the same as those who consider themselves Irish in NI, but with much less of a troubled recent past. Nationalists in NI follow the same teams, have RTE radio and television (I think?) and have the exact same musical/folklore/literature traditions – we are the one people. As for the non-nationalists in the north (who I would still consider Irish), personally I have found them very very similar to us, even more than compared to people from Britain, as there is a huge overlap in culture between Ireland the UK – we are exposed to all of their culture and media here, but also have our own.

  • El Daddy

    My last comment has been deleted twice somehow so I will try to repost it.

    Partition (though specifically, the Anglo-Irish Treaty after the War of Independence) effected politics here much more than people realise, though obviously not as much as in the north, but still to the extent that it effects the makeup of our political parties to this day.

    While all contentious aspects of the Treaty are now done away with (partition being the sole exception), we are still left with two parties that at their basis are descended from the split of the original Sinn Féin between Pro-Treaty and Anti-Treaty.

    Both sides disliked all the contentious aspects of the treaty (Oath of Allegiance to the King, the retention of several ports by the UK, incomplete independence / Commonwealth membership, the King as the Head of State, Partition), but the Pro-Treaty side felt that it was the best possible deal that could be done at the time (bearing in mind that it was signed under duress and they disliked it), while the Anti-Treaty found it unacceptable and wanted to continue the war.

    Long story short, Fianna Fáil descend from the Anti-Treaty, and Fine Gael from the Pro-Treaty side. Over time they both have developed into centrist parties, with both parties taking some aspects from centre-right and centre-left. They do have slight differences, with FF edging that tiny bit more left on some things and FG that tiny bit more right, but not enough to warrant the two largest parties in the state being so similar. People whose parents voted for FF or FG will tend to vote for them also, but this is gradually changing with time.

    My naïve hope would be that if reunification was ever achieved, then we could finally move past these silly politics, and of voting for your “tribe”, north and south, and have an actual left-right spectrum of parties, which would work well with our proportional representation. The unionist parties would form the basis of the centre-right and there would be a certain kind of FG voter that I could see drawn to certain aspects of their non-union-related policies. SF would say mission accomplished and dissolve, UKIP-style, with the other centre-left parties to merge with Labour and take that area of the spectrum. FF and FG would hopefully cease to exist in the same way as they do now.

    Culture-wise, it’s basically the same as those who consider themselves Irish in NI, but with much less of a troubled recent past. Nationalists in NI follow the same teams, have RTE radio and television (I think?) and have the exact same musical/folklore/literature traditions as we do. As for the non-nationalists in the north (who I would still consider Irish, it isn’t a monolithic entity with a single tradition), personally I have found them very very similar to us, even more than compared to people from Britain, with whom we also share much, as there is a huge overlap in culture between Ireland the UK – we are exposed to all of their culture and media here, but also have our own.