Taking Stock: Junior Ministers, Lisbon and the ‘Locals’
Deaglán de Bréadún
Whereas Dara Calleary and Áine Brady were delighted recipients of general congratulations in Leinster House last evening, I saw no sign of the 13 who were re-appointed as junior ministers; the seven whose services were dispensed were not in evidence either.
Dara Calleary, Brian Cowen and Áine Brady – and is that Our Trevor in the background? (Photograph: Eric Luke)
One of the the messages coming through in the mini-reshuffle was that loyalty is still highly-valued in Fianna Fáil. Competence, or the lack of it, was also a factor in some cases. But the whole thing was a three-day wonder and, although there is usually some political benefit when a Government changes its people around, this was overshadowed by the publicity over the generous severance payments to the dispossessed. That’s the smidgeon of information that will stay in people’s minds when they go to the ballot-box on June 5th.
There are no prizes for predicting that FF will be hammered in the local and European elections. But how bad will it be? If it’s a total massacre then we could be in general election territory, especially if frightened backbenchers start talking out of the side – or even the front – of their mouths, seeking to distance themselves from the regime. If it’s not a total wipe-out, then FF-types will be quietly putting it about that, “We’ll be all right in the General (Election).”
The signs are that the by-elections in Dublin Central and Dublin South will be postponed. A wise move from the Government’s point of view. By-election defeats are much more serious than the loss of council or even European seats. Up to yesterday, I would have said that Bertie Ahern might be able to swing Dublin Central for the Government, were he so inclined. But the dismissal of his brother Noel has given me pause for thought on that score. I have no idea if Bertie and Noel are close, but blood is still thicker than water.
The decision of Seán Ó Neachtain to step down as FF euro-candidate in Ireland North-West poses a serious dilemma. Quite apart from his health issues, he was facing an uphill struggle to retain his seat in the current climate. There is speculation about Michael Kitt and Síle de Valera running instead but some say the most likely scenario is that a Galway hurler will emerge to take a shot at goal. We shall see. Meanwhile, Leitrim’s Paschal Mooney, last man standing for the Soldiers of Destiny, must be over the moon.
The shilly-shallying over pay-cuts for serving politicians has been very damaging. The Government would have been better advised to draw a line in the sand on the increments on the basis that TDs are tied to to a particular civil service grade and the money didn’t amount to very much anyway. There is a big gravy-train factor in Irish politics but this was hardly the most egregious example of it.
The big issue now is Lisbon. Will it get through? Up to a very short time ago, I would have said Yes. Now I’m not so sure. The closure of the Forum sent out a bad signal from the Yes side’s point of view. It is said that the public meetings organised by the Forum around the country were largely taken over by the No side. But there was nothing to stop the Yes-people coming along to make their point. The fundamental problem is the lack of commitment to any kind of European ideal on the part of many of our political leaders. Traditionally, Europe was a source of funding and the whole notion of ending war and promoting peace and amity among nations never had much traction here. To quote James Joyce, “It seems history is to blame.”