Deaglán de Bréadún
It’s Easter and we’re all too worn-out physically, emotionally and above all politically to enjoy the break properly. What a hectic time! But before we start the annual guilty nibbling at those calorie-rich chocolate eggs, let’s take stock of where we are.
Good Friday 1998: John Hume gives thanks for the peace agreement, with Eddie McGrady (left) and Sean Farren (Photograph by Alan Betson)
The supplementary Budget has come and gone. Its effects on individuals won’t be fully apparent to many until that end-of-May pay-packet which, as I’ve said already, will put people into really good humour for the local and European elections – NOT!
But as I’ve also said earlier, the locals and Europeans don’t matter that much in the context of national politics. If there was a total Fianna Fáil collapse it would be very serious but that cannot be predicted with any real confidence until we get the final polls.
A prominent opposition politician confessed in private conversation the other evening that if FF are seen to be dealing with the crisis, they will more or less maintain their support. The jury is still out on the measures in the Budget, particularly the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA).
If the various measures to stabilise the banking system go horribly wrong then we shall all end up living in caves. Brian Lenihan reminds me of Evel Knievel jumping across the Grand Canyon: if he makes it to the other side, he’ll be canonised; if not, he’ll bring us all with him into the abyss.
While I’m at it, can I say that it’s a pity the overseas aid has to be cut along with everything else. Apparently the Germans have actually increased theirs.
It looks likely the two by-elections will be held on June 5th, in Dublin Central and Dublin South. Given the continuing popularity of Bertie Ahern in ‘Central, it would be unwise to conclude that FF are automatically going to lose there although Paschal Donohoe of Fine Gael is seen as a strong candidate and is working night and day by all accounts.
We still don’t know who FG are running for Dublin South: if they get the right candidate they will be a very strong proposition although Labour’s Alex White is seen as another likely prospect. FF will either run one of the late Seamus Brennan’s children or Senator Maria Corrigan, so could still get a respectable vote even considering the economic situation.
It’s Good Friday and the 11th anniversary of the eponymous Agreement. The North has been quiet for a number of weeks now, after the shock of the three killings by the Real and Continuity IRA’s. I have already speculated about the possibility that some kind of high-profile action could be carried out around Easter and no doubt the security authorities will be on full alert. Who can say for sure that anything will happen, but the dissidents will be looking for a propaganda coup.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams is out in Gaza and the West Bank, spreading the word about the Peace Process. But the air of stagnation that hangs over Stormont needs to be dispelled. Traditionally when the parties in the North couldn’t agree, we had “helicopters on the lawn” as the two prime ministers zoomed in and knocked heads together. Unfortunately, Gordon Brown and Brian Cowen have other things on their minds – a lot of other things! But they may have to turn their attention to this matter before too long.
Knowing Caitríona Ruane, the Sinn Féin Education Minister, from covering other news stories, it is hard not to feel a certain sympathy for her egalitarian efforts to get rid of academic selection for 11-year-olds. But it doesn’t seem to be catching on in key areas, including the Catholic schools. But that’s not the only area where the power-sharing looks more like a power stalemate. People keep telling me nobody is interested in the North. I don’t believe that. The place is still an unexploded bomb that needs to be defused one more time at least.
The big story of the summer could be Libertas and Declan Ganley. He said the other day he wouldn’t campaign on the Lisbon Treaty if he failed to win a seat for Ireland North-West (the old Connacht-Ulster) in the European Parliament. I assume he was concerned about being accused of only using the election to undermine Lisbon and in this regard may have helped his chances of success.
There have been a lot of efforts to link Ganley to the US arms industry. Some of the suggested links look tangible enough. But it probably only makes him more popular. Ordinary Irish people have no hostility towards the US military (Bush got the blame for Iraq) and in the event of a really serious, large-scale Islamic fundamentalist terrorist attack here, the Pentagon would be one of the first places to which this country would turn for protection.
I am not on the ground there in Ireland North-West, but it would appear Sinn Féin could end up as Ganley’s biggest rival for a seat. Local experts feel free to comment!
The Dublin contest for Europe is very interesting with Proinsias De Rossa, Mary Lou McDonald, Gay Mitchell and Eoin Ryan playing musical chairs, now that the constituency has gone down from four to three seats. Libertas will probably run there too, perhaps in the person of Caroline Simons, and we have Senator Deirdre de Búrca of the Greens and Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party to liven up the race even more.
Lisbon will take place sometime at the end of September of early October, at least that’s my guess (although this Taoiseach likes to spring suprises). At the moment it looks like having a much better chance of getting through, provided Brian Cowen and Charlie McCreevy can say they have read it this time! The pro-Lisbon campaign last time was pretty atrocious in almost every aspect and, if you ask me, the Treaty has a lot more to fear from its friends than its enemies.
On a sentimental basis, I was sorry to learn of the demise of the National Forum on Europe. Its chairman, Maurice Hayes, is one of the most distinguished Irish people of our time. Many’s the day I made my way to Dublin Castle to chronicle the views of the participants, from all shades of the political spectrum. There wasn’t usually a big story out of it, but it was a learning experience in a country where there is colossal ignorance about the European Union and its affairs (even worse in Britain apparently.) We need more information on the EU, not less, and in that respect the closure of the Forum was a retrograde step.
My best wishes for Easter to all. Keep those comments coming!