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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: September 13, 2008 @ 12:24 pm

    Will Fine Gael ever get back into government?

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    There is an old radical dictum that, “If voting could change anything, they’d abolish it.” You used to see it scrawled on placards at demonstrations, penned by some obscure anarchists from the fringe. I have a feeling it was on display at the big anti-Iraq War march in Dublin back in 2003.

            The one thing we can do by voting is to change the government. This used to be pretty straightforward, you simply voted for or against Fianna Fáil (depending on whether they were in or out of office, if you follow me). Since FF abandoned what Pádraig Flynn said was one of its “core values” and opted for mixed marriages of convenience, the result of voting for one party or another is less certain.

           It is probably the case that virtually all the people who voted for the Greens in previous general elections, except possibly last year’s poll, never expected them to get into bed with the Soldiers of Destiny. But there they are, working quite happily with their senior partners.

           Sure, there are issues of contention which either Ciarán Cuffe or Dan Boyle, neither of whom are in cabinet, will ventilate publicly. But by and large, the Greens are delighted to be in government; they feel they are achieving things and mirabile dictu party membership has reportedly increased by a third.

            Labour have, as we know, been in and out of government for decades. They finally crossed the Rubicon in 1992 by forming a coalition with FF whom they had portrayed for a long time as something akin to the Devil Incarnate.

             Sinn Féin are in government with their old arch-enemies, the DUP in the North. The party would clearly like to be in office down here as well, on the appropriate terms. The results of the 2007 election showed that an alternative to the FF-led coalition was possible. SF made it plain that it was ready to enter negotiations with other parties about coalition, including Fine Gael.

            On June 10th last year, speaking on RTE Radio’s This Week, SF’s Caoimhghín O Caoláin said: “We are available and willing to speak with all different opinion, including Enda Kenny and Fine Gael; we have ruled out absolutely nothing.” And he continued: “If Enda Kenny is serious, for heaven’s sake, let’s put the question to him, why has he not contacted Sinn Féin, or is all this about Enda Kenny being an alternative a load of nonsense?”

             People with long memories were reminded of 1948, when an extremely-disparate group of parties formed a coalition under John A. Costello and ended 16 uninterrupted years of Fianna Fáil rule. Clann na Poblachta were identical twins of today’s Sinn Féin and their leader, Seán MacBride, had been the IRA chief of staff.

           If you want a government led by either FF or FG, it seems the only way to ensure the outcome of your choice is to vote for one of those two parties. Despite the Tallaght Strategy espoused in 1987 by Alan Dukes, it seems the prospect of an FF-FG coalition remains a most unlikely eventuality.

            Next week we shall have the  “think-ins” of the two main parties followed by the Greens. FF are in Galway on Monday and Tuesday; FG in Limerick on Wednesday and Thursday and the Greens in Tralee on Thursday and Friday. The FF event looks predictable, although you can never be sure.  The announcement of an early Budget showed that Brian Cowen is capable of springing a surprise.

             FG are being somewhat reticent. They may have something up their sleeve. There is talk of proposing a constitutional amendment to protect Ireland’s tax autonomy, especially its low tax rate for corporate investors, from the beady eyes of our European partners.

               FG have a new political director, Michael McLoughlin, replacing Gerry Naughton. The new man is not well-known to the media. He has a simple, straightforward task: get the party back into government.

             How to go about this task is, of course, another matter. Hollywood legend Sam Goldwyn said, “Predictions are very hard to make, especially about the future” but we may see a situation after the next election where FG has a similar choice to last year’s. The price of office may be cooperation with the “Shinners”. They dithered over a similar decision in the past regarding Democratic Left but then pinched their collective nose and took the plunge.

           The one thing we probably won’t hear much about at the FG “think-in” is the party’s 75th birthday. They were founded back in 1933 and their first leader was the Blueshirt chief Eoin O’Duffy. Interestingly, O’Duffy was previously IRA Chief of Staff for a period. Like Seán MacBride. And like one or two Sinn Féin people, perhaps?

    Deaglán de Bréadún, Political Correspondent, The Irish Times

    • “If voting could change anything, they’d abolish it.”

      It’s also – political trivia alert – the title of Ken Livingstone’s late-80s (post GLC) book: “If Voting Changed Anything They’d Abolish It”. He really should write a follow-up now…

    • Deaglán says:

      Thanks, Daithí. Another one that comes to mind: “Don’t vote – it only encourages them!”

    • Brian Boru says:

      I would be open to considering voting for FG in a future general eleciton (which I have never done before) were it not for the fact that you get two (Labour as well) for the price of one.
      I am sour with FF at the moment over the economy, the failure of the government to guarantee it will not foist Lisbon on us by parliamentary sleight-of-hand, an overly liberal immigration-policy and the chronic absence of fresh ideas to meet the challenges the now choppy economic waters have brought to our shores.
      I have, however, a profound dislike of the Labour party on ideological grounds, including their fund-raising from the unions, which to my mind makes them largely a proxy for the public-sector unions and vested interests opposed to reform, notably in our health service, electricity and public transport.
      If Labour underwent a UK-style “New Labour” ideological-shift to the centre, I would feel more comfortable voting for FG, as I would know I would not be getting the kind of failed statist policies that compounded the recession under the FG-Lab 1982-87 government, which raised taxes in a recession as Labour would not accept spending cuts.
      I see encouraging signs in how FG has taken up the baton of public sector reform of late, which is a plus for me. We have thrown too much good money after bad there, especially in the health service (a fivefold increase but for what?).
      But will Labour let them push through these reforms? My vote is up for grabs, but as for who it will go to in 2012, I can only say it more than likely won’t be Labour, SF or the Greens. It will more than likely be FF or FG, and I will probably find myself choosing the lesser of the evils, given that I find no one party totally reflective of my ideological-preferences.

    • Steve K says:

      Question: “Will Fine Gael ever get back into government?”
      Answer: Leo Varadkar

      Or as Leo himself might put it, “a shambles, a disgrace, an outrage, a total failure, a complete mess”. Don’t feed the hyperbole monster!

    • Sean says:

      Deaglán. Have you ever heard of the Broy Harriers? Amazingly you never mention these in relation to FF. At least the Blueshirts never killed any one.

    • I quite agree with you, Sean, that the Broys should get more attention. In the meantime, would you care to elaborate? Deaglan

    • Sean says:

      The Broy Harriers engaged in several controversial shootings, which resulted in death. They shot dead a protesting farmer called Lynch in Cork. See Senate Debates-1934. They were detested by sections of the farming community.

    • Deaglán says:

      Those were indeed tumultuous times. As I understand it, the Broy Harriers were Dev’s way of moulding the Garda Siochana to his ends. Given that O’Duffy was the previous Commissioner, this was politically inevitable. The sections of the farming community you refer to were presumably the same sections which formed the backbone of the Blueshirts.

    • Sean says:

      You cannot justify the breaking of the law by some Broy Harriers. A sizeable minority were thugs who broke the law with the connivance of De Valera. I have done huge research on this issue. It is probably best not to open old sores. The Blueshirts killed nobody. Incidentally the Blueshirts would never have been formed were it not for the breaking up of Cumann na nGaedheal meetings by FF supporters and the released republican thugs. Remember their slogan:” No free speech for traitors.” The Army Comrades Association later Blueshirts were set up to protect Cumann na nGaedheal meetings.
      The people who broke up meetings were the real Fascists as were the anti-Treatyites in 1922 who refused to accept the verdict of the people.

    • Deaglán says:

      Thanks, Seán. I would like to hear more on this topic. I have a personal interest in it since my father was a founder-member of the Garda Síochána (joined October 1923) and was there when the Broy Harriers were brought in. I am told a lot of them were anti-Treaty ex-IRA men who had gotten jobs in a well-known downtown department store in Dublin.

    • Sean says:

      I am an FG supporter. I make no apologies for that. The term Blueshirt is often used as a term of abuse. Fianna Fáilers are particularly good at it.. Some Broy Harriers broke the law and shot innocent people. Some farmers in Munster described illegal actions perpetrated against them by Broy Harriers. They described how some Broy Harriers disposed of cattle in a highly- irregular manner and benefited from so doing.
      Unfortunately much of what I have been told was told in confidence. FFáilers have airbrushed the disreputable episode out of Irish history. The Broy Harriers were De Valera’s stormtroopers. You must remember that FF at that time in the words of Seán Lemass was a slightly constitutional party.
      The Broy Harriers were formed in 1934 as an Auxiliary Special Branch. Many of them had a political axe to grind against pro-Treatyites. A sizeable number were ill-disciplined. Their behaviour in counties such as Clare, Limerick, Cork and Waterford besmirched the good name of the Garda Síochána.
      FFáilers need to remember their past history before resorting to the Blueshirt taunt.

    • Thanks for that, Sean. It’s a pity that, seventy-odd years later the details cannot be revealed. I have heard it suggested that the Broy Harriers also bagged the lion’s share of promotions in the Garda Siochana. Indeed, as I was growing up in the 50s and 60s it was widely stated that any job in FF’s gift was allocated to one of their own supporters. Has this view changed, is there a perception of greater equity now, I wonder?
      On the Blueshirts, no doubt there were significant reasons for this political phenomenon but nobody could feel comfortable about a movement which was so similar to the fascists in other European countries, complete with uniform, salute, corporate state philosophy and Irish version of Mussolini’s march on Rome.

    • Micheal says:

      Accusing FG of dirty tricks in relation to George Lee (in today’s Examiner), Shaun (sic) Connolly accuses them of smear tactics. He proceeds to sneer at FG peppered as usual with references to Blueshirts, an organisation that existed 80 years ago. I have never heard the same writer refer to the Broy Harriers, Dev’s secret army of thugs.


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