“Fraying purpose is diminishing Fine Gael’s capacity… [to govern]”

Interesting analysis in the Irish edition of the Sunday Times yesterday from Gerard Howlin on the underlying politics that lead to a climbdown over the ill fated plan to appoint Katherine Zappone as a special envoy…

The indiscipline in Fine Gael stems from a suspicion that not all principal figures remain committed to national politics. Entering government for a fourth successive term hasn’t been achieved since 1969. Whatever their private intentions, there is a question mark in colleagues’ minds about the plans of Leo Varadkar and Paschal Donohoe. In politics, perception is reality. The perception of a leadership vacancy before the election, or the likelihood of change after it, has loosened ties of loyalty and whetted ambition.

In 2024 Ireland will appoint a European commissioner. More importantly there will be a new commission president. If that post is in the gift of the European People’s Party (EPP), and it’s not Ursula von der Leyen, it may go to a small country. By then, Varadkar may be the longest serving EPP head of government.

The leak from cabinet about the Zappone appointment came as the government sat in chamber in Government Buildings. That room is so committed to secrecy that lights signal the opening of outer and inner doors, all to ensure the security of discussions. Those doors are no protection against texting, however. The illicit communication was aimed not at Simon Coveney, who brought the proposal of Zappone’s appointment without telling Micheál Martin, the taoiseach, but at Varadkar. The plan for Varadkar’s own rise to power, including an artful but sometimes obvious undermining of his senior colleagues, is being used against him.

All this is the stuff of the playground, even if it is in the cabinet room. What counts is a slow corrosion of purpose, and a concern about what comes next for Fine Gael ministers. Their sense of the collective is strained, and in the past few days simply feigned. This matters because what began as a parlour game over a petty appointment has become a damaging dislocation of our national plan to manage Covid-19. [Emphasis added]

The standout word for me here is dislocation. Dislocation in FG’s commitment to the government’s own Covid policy, but also in its commitment to a progressive programme forged and led by the Greens and Micheál Martin’s Fianna Fáil.

Fine Gael has not had a successful political campaign since 2011. Contrary to its own initial impulse, it went back into government last year, not as an energetic movement but as a set of ambitious politicians with tightening timelines. “”