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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: May 13, 2009 @ 10:49 am

    Time to Get Out the Soap-Box, Brian

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    Someone in the newsroom was doing a sample page for the election campaign. There was no content, just slabs of type. Instead of a headline he had written, “Yada yada yada yada yada.” I looked at it and said to myself: “How true those words are.”


    Come on, try my little box of goody-num-nums (Photograph: Bryan O’Brien)

    Much of what we will hear between now and June 5th will be self-serving guff. Vote for Joe, the man you know, serving this community for many years. If the candidate is part of a dynasty – as is too often the case – you might have a variant of a slogan Labour tried unsuccessfully in a Cork byelection in the Nineties. Seeking to point out that the candidate was a daughter of the previous incumbent, the chosen motto was: “… And her father before her.”

    It didn’t work but other dynasties have implanted themselves in the Irish body politic and re-election is almost automatic. Or has been up to now. There is no reason why the son or daughter of an established politician cannot be a good public servant, of course, but there is a surfeit of dynasties in Irish politics these days with these candidates exercising a version of droit de seigneur with the voters. Even the three key figures in our government – Taoiseach, Tanaiste and Minister for Finance – are children of former TDs.

     It’s time we had some new blood. Yesterday I attended a press conference to showcase Fine Gael’s byelection candidates George Lee and Paschal Donohoe. Neither of them had a parent in the Dail, which is probably a plus. The excitement over Lee’s move from the TV studio to the hustings has died down and the rest of the media seem to have gotten over the shock. He may have left his small-screen guru role behind but there was still a touch of Messianic zeal about him as he told us of his experiences on the doorsteps and the anger and frustration undoubtedly felt among the voters in Dublin South and elsewhere.

    But a wise old owl I met in the corridors of Leinster House earlier wondered how much of this anger is justified and how much is nimbyism (nimby is of course the acronym for “not in my back yard”). Ask Seán or Sinéad Public if they favour tough measures by government to deal with the economic crisis and the answer is, “Yeah, sart’n sure, Boss, hit them hard.” But when it comes to their own pay-packets and when they look at the actual outcome of the stiff measures, it’s another story, around to my owlish interlocutor.

    There’s something in that but the public mood is also affected by the misjudgments of this government, going all the way back to the over-70s medical card fiasco. They got that one wrong and it wasn’t the last mistake they made. Perhaps it’s a dynastic thing. If they had to come up the hard way and slog their way into a Dail seat, they might have a better appreciation of how ordinary people view the world.

    A left-wing colleague (don’t worry, not working in The Irish Times) lamented to me that the voters were about to exchange a right-wing Fianna Fail-led regime for another right-wing administration led by Fine Gael. That’s the way it looks despite Eamon Gilmore’s insistence that Irish politics is now a three-way contest. Labour is on the rise but FG still has 51 deputies compared to 20 Labour TDs. And how new is Labour thinking anyway? Over to you, Joanna!

    In response to a question from this reporter, Enda Kenny pledged he would not enter into a government assembled from the existing Dail. There would have to be a general election.

    Brave words but others might find it a tempting prospect. The byelections will probably mean two new opposition deputies so, as Kenny said, if the Greens cross the floor, a new government could be established. Stranger things have happened: click here

    But while I’m at it, don’t completely and utterly rule out beyond redemption the possibility that Bertie Ahern could swing it for De Brudder in Dublin Central. And don’t rule out – just yet – the possibility of FF rising from its death-bed to enter the fray with lethal intent. Remember John Major in 1992. Time to get out the soap-box, Brian.

    • Liam says:

      I am not too sure if your wise owl is correct, I believe the public will accept tough measures, even someone in their thirties has a vague recollection of how badly mismanaged the 70’s and 80’s were, what they want to see is spending cut back to match the country’s income, not taxes raised to protect the gold-plated entities that are the public service. We appear to be still living in a country where protected interests carry on as if it’s business as usual while private sector workers have to live by the realities of the market.

    • An Fear Bolg says:

      Despite predictable accusations of “lack of mandate”, forming a new government from the current Dáil would actually be the best option for the country.

      Ideally it would be nice to have a general election but, in light of the nimbyism you highlight, it would not be a productive exercise and could hardly be expected to result in a clear mandate for what needs to be done.

      Instead, FG should form a government and cut-cut-cut. If they could survive until the next naturally-occurring general election there would be enough time to see if it has worked.

    • robespierre says:

      Change has to come from within the established system but it takes an outsider like Lee to join the current system and then develop the imprimatur to change it. A review of the gloriously self-regarding and detached letter from the Houses of the Oireachtas Head of Communication today highlights how far removed from daily reality the golden circle on Irish politics really is. What planet is the man populating?

      The very fact that the Oireachtas needs its own communications unit is something of a mystery to me. Anyway, change can’t come from within the flotsam and jetsam in Leinster House – people need to start caring like the pensioners did and rise up and demand change. We also need people other than lawyers and teachers in the Dáil.

      A genuinely new centrist party that stands for a mixed list/pr system with some heavy hitters behind it could make a lot of traction against the civil war parties.

      God help us all if the pinkoes ever take over central goverment.

    • Joanna Tuffy T.D. says:


      There is a notion about, that it’s the people that are elected who are the problem; that politics would improve if a better class of people were public representatives. It’s an ideal of “supermen and superwomen”, as Pat Rabbitte T.D. referred to the notion last night on Vincent Browne’s Nightly News programme. As Pat said in his rebuttal, politics is no different to any other walk of life, including journalism. You get the good, the middling and the awful, as he put it. He was responding to Alison O’Connor, Sunday Business Post, who predicted there would be a new generation of fine young politicians in the time to come.

      You express the point of view that there is a surfeit of family dynasties in Irish politics. According to Michael Gallagher, Professor of Comparitive Politics in TCD, the proportion of those following a family member into Dáil has ranged from 20 to 25 per cent. That means that 75 to 80 per cent have not followed a family member in the Dail. So the phenomenon is probably not as prevalent you may have thought. I would wager the percentage of councillors that have a relative who is or was a former councillor (or a former public representative) is much less.

      But people do follow family members into politics, just like they do into teaching, a business, a trade, nursing, the Gardaí, journalism and so on, and having a family background has its advantages. Far from not doing the hard slog if you are brought up by a politican, you are schooled in the hard slog and all the up and downs of politics, which I can vouch having followed my father as a Dáil candidate. He was not elected to the Dáil, having run in three general elections, but he did follow me on to the Council.

      You hit the nail on the head when you mention the “thinking”. All the other stuff about the breed of politician elected, abolishing PR, the system, “clientelism”, the need to “think and legislate” and not be pandering to the wishes of constituents, are red herrings, and pie in the sky, and most annoyingly patronising about choices that are ultimately made by the voters. Like all parties Labour has new ideas, but our thinking is quite old, mirroring that of FDR in the U.S., Labour in Britain after the Second World War, and Obama now. In a recession different rules apply. You spend on worthwhile capital projects such as permanent school buildings in order to generate taxes for the exchequer and keep people of the dole. You implement policies that reduce the income gap between the highest paid and lowest paid in society, because everyone does better in more equal societies. Vital services are publicly owned and operated in an open and transparent manner. You train and you educate according to the needs of the people concerned as well as the labour market that would ensure the most sustainable economy for the future. You protect the most vulnerable in society and you rein in the speculators. You make those who exploit our natural resources, including land, pay for the damage they cause in the process to our environment and or our economy. In a time of plenty you save for a rainy day.


    • Deaglán says:


      This is the letter Robespierre mentions: something of a new departure for the Oireachtas.

    • john says:

      You said:

      “There’s something in that but the public mood is also affected by the misjudgments of this government, going all the way back to the over-70s medical card fiasco.”

      eehhh …the bank guarantee on Sept 29? Do you not consider that to be a misjudgment?

    • Deaglán says:

      Whether it was the right thing to do in principle is one issue. I think a fair number of people would still feel it wasn’t necessarily wrong in principle. The collapse of a major bank would not have done much for confidence in the economy, either at home or abroad. But the other very serious issue is the fact that there was a lot of information the public didn’t have at the time, e.g., about Anglo-Irish and Irish Nationwide.

    • maeve says:

      From opinion polls and commentators it looks like we will have a change of government sometime soon, perhaps after the local and European elections.

      I think and am a strong believer in the saying, “be careful what you wish for”.

      I am sad and sorry for people who have lost their jobs. I too lost my job but I can say hand on heart the business I worked for would have gone even if there was no downturn it was so badly run.

      I also feel sorry for people with big mortgages who have lost their jobs, but I recall saying on more than one occasion to more than one person that we could not afford the large numbers of foreigners coming into the country.

      I was told I was racist. It has nothing to do with racism but now I notice the same people who called me racist are complaining about the amount of social welfare payments paid to these same people.

      As I say, be careful what you wish for.

    • nenita porferia estenzo says:

      now i vote you out canyousee my name please vote me out im from phillippines and a widow ,my name is nenita estenzo a widow 3 sons all professionals hope your happy in your life .im new here and plz try to teach me how to ..

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