A tale of two Tipperarys…
Can there be two more unlikely constituency colleagues than Mattie McGrath and Martin Mansergh, both of Fianna Fail, in Tipperary South?
Let’s look at their entries in Nealon’s Guide to the 30th Dail, where Mansergh is described as Oxford-educated; a special advisor to three Taoisigh; responsible for the dialogue leading to the IRA ceasefire; a coalition negotiator and member of the Council of State.
McGrath was the 1974 all-Ireland set dancer. He is a plant-hire owner and formerly an agricultural salesman, with a diploma in communications skills from UCC, and he was also a county councillor.
Mansergh told me once, I’m sure he won’t mind me saying, that he was somewhat taken aback when a constituent once greeted him with a cheerful “hello Mattie!” The idea of mistaking one for the other seems so incongruous it always makes me smile to think of it.
Last week, when seven Fianna Fail backbenchers lined up to denounce the legislation to ban stag hunting in the Dail chamber, in what seemed like an ambush of Green leader and Environment Minister John Gormley (if Gormley’s face was anything to go by), Mansergh was the only FF representative to speak in favour of the Bill. The Bill passed last night despite McGrath siding with the Opposition.
In the midst of a typically erudite and ever-so-slightly rambling contribution, referencing the Bourbons and Burke and sprinkled with Latin phraseology, Mansergh used a phrase – “probably to my future cost” – that stuck in my head.
“Passage of the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2010 for the purpose of placing a ban on stag hunting is part of the revised programme for Government and pacta sunt servanda – agreements between parties – should be honoured.”
He continued: “Probably to my future cost, I hold a Burkean view of the duties of a Deputy, in that he or she owes constituents not just his or her industry, but his or her judgment. The Deputy is in Parliament to support his or her opinion of the public good and does not form an opinion to get into or continue in Parliament. I hope we are not spineless lackeys of the last opinion poll or the last angry person or lobby group to get in touch with us.”
Fine Gael’s Shane McEntee accused Mansergh of “waffling” but I thought he was actually making a realistic and prescient political point. While many of us working inside Leinster House had written McGrath off as a ‘boy who cried wolf’-type who would never follow through on his threat to vote against the Government (I am certainly guilty of this!), perhaps Mansergh saw the writing on the wall.
Depending on how you see it, McGrath was either acting to save his own skin in the constituency or else he had the courage of his convictions and defied the Government on a point of principle following representations from constituents.
(If you are interested you can read Mansergh’s intervention in full here: http://debates.oireachtas.ie/DDebate.aspx?F=DAL20100624.xml&Node=1308#N1308)