Mattie McGrath and the spirit of 1968
Fianna Fail’s claim as the great catch-all party can in a sense be personified by the two honourable members for Tipperary South.
I don’t think there is any other constituency where the contrast between party colleagues is more glaring.
Martin Mansergh is what you might describe as a toff, of Anglo-Irish background, privately educated, a PhD and a former Iveagh House mandarin to boot. But for all that, not precious nor superior. His entry to the lower house was via the Seanad and as a long-time adviser to Fianna Fail taoisigh on Northern Ireland.
Mattie on the other hand is a product of bottom-up democracy, a politician who rose through the ranks and served his time on the county council before being elected to the Dail for the first time in 2007.
McGrath is very much a man of the people. He has an unmistakable Tipp accent, and some say that Pat Shortt partly based his politician on the South Tipp TD. He supports coursing and rural pursuits and his views on planning and developmentin his consituency would be anathema to the Greens. I don’t regard any of this as a criticism of McGrath. He stands for what he stands for. You might not imagine McGrath as a possible Minister for Foreign Affairs but it would be a travesty to dismiss him as a backwoodsman or as a publicity-seeker.
It is true that Mattie does garner more publicity than many of his colleagues (I was told he got a bit of a ribbing on that front when his motion failed last night with some guys heckling that he wouldn’t make it into the newspapers today).
But Mattie McGrath deserves some credit for his stand. Last week some 15 Fianna Fail TDs and Senators spoke out against the moronic and inequitable decision of Brian Lenihan to reverse pay cuts for top civil servants. Inherent in that decision to restore their pay was the implicit acknowledgment that the so-called ‘bonus’ that this group of 600 received (which worked out at an average of 10 per cent, or €13,000 to €17,000 per year) was no such thing. It was a fiction. It was part and parcel of their salary. The criteria for paying the ‘bonus’ used that flabby horrible plastic language that means nothing setting out targetes and goals that were meaningless and unmeasurable. In reality, all they had to do was to show up for work.
I have huge sympathy for low-paid public servants who have taken a hit of 5 per cent while these ‘decision-makers’ get off scot free.
But the disclosure about the so-called ‘bonus’ reveals one of the dishonesties of public service unions when advancing their case. In many cases, the publicly-stated salary is a basic salary that nobody gets. What they didn’t show were all the bonuses and premium payments and extras and little side deals and days off and generous nod-and-a-wink arrangements that have been secured over the years. So when I see somebody say a garda earns €40,000, I know I can immediately add another ten grand to it without him or her breaking sweat… and then some!
After the debate last night Mattie McGrath was almost the last one standing. Brian Lenihan addressed the meeting and the rest of the opposition melted away. The cut was no more right than it was last week.
But the reality of Irish democracy is that a back bench rebellion is a dog barking from behind the safety of a locked front door.
I had to laugh this morning when, on Morning Ireland, Mattie first accepted the nature of democracy. And soon afterwards did not demur from Cathal Mac Coille’s suggestion that he may abstain or vote against the Government next week on this issue.
A one-man rebellion. Sure it will garner publicity. But there’s a bit of an independent republic to Mattie that must be admired. And he’s right on the issue. His colleagues know that he’s right. And he was the only one at the Fianna Fail parliamentary party last night to stand up and follow the courage of his convictions.
Man the Barricades!