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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: September 14, 2011 @ 3:46 pm

    You can never find those darn democratic revolutions when you need them

    Harry McGee

    On the first few page of the Programme for Govenrment there is a long self-congratulatory preamble which includes the extraordinary claim that what happened in the election was a democratic revolution.

    That little phrase has stuck in my mind for months, possibly because it is meaningless. It’s like candyfloss. It looks exciting. It looks substantial. It looks inviting. And then when you bite into it you realise there’s no substance, it’s nothing.

    Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore have said on numerous occasions that with the new Government it’s not going to be politics as usual. And it hasn’t. There have been some welcome changes, reductions in salaries of the particualry obese cats; a referendum on judicial pay; a referendum on Abbeylara; some strong stuff on the Church’s tardiness on abuse inquiries (Kenny caught the public mood perfectly and that allowed him get away with cavalier assertions); and very modest parliamentary reform.

    I was really surprised to hear Gilmore reduce his ‘Labour’s way or Frankfort’s way’ phrase to the junk status of ‘churchgate’ statement last week. That’s the second time in recent months that Gilmore’s public utterances have been a mismatch with his real sentiments. There was the embarrassing Wikileaks disclosure on Gilmore’s true sentiments on the use of Shannon by US troops. For me, the palaver about Gilmore’s alleged silence and inffectiveness  was a distraaction and a hype-fest. The real issue about Gilmore, for me,  boils down to credibility. If he’s admitting that he was saying things in public just for effect, can we believe a word that comes out of his mouth?

    It’s the same with any new Government, and not just in Ireland. We are settled democracies. Any political party elected into office may tinker around with the system and the establishment but they’re not going to dismantle it. That’s even truer for Ireland where one centrist combination always takes over from another. There wasn’t a lurch to the left in the General Election. Indeed if you accept the near-reality that the Labour Party is no longer a party of the left (but a corporist party whose main base is the public service), the shift was ever so slightly right.  The new Fine Gael and Labour Coalition wasn’t travellikng on a train into Moscow in 1917. Sure, there will be change. But all the poetry of the election campaign will be reduced to slovenly and functional prose as the Government ‘manages’ rather than ‘changes’. I’m not saying that that’s necessarily bad either. But it’s not a revolution or a step-change. Rather it’s continuity with a few tweaks. Under new management. The prime example of that is Obama’s presidency in the US. So much expectation. So many disappointments.

    And so the new Dail term will give us an extra half hour on Tuesdays and some sitting hours on Friday. Bills won’t be discussed on Friday which will make the Dail chamber a pretty desolate field on Friday as everybody who isn’t speaking will have gone home. Oh yes, there will be leaders’ questions on Thursday but they will be taken by the Tanaiste although the Taoiseach will take them when available. The term ‘when available’ will mean about once every term. The one good thing to come out is the topical debate slots, which are starting as I write (at 3.30pm). They may allow more meaningful engagment by ordinary TDs on the really pressing and urgent issues of the day (for example, Ciara Conway of Labour just passed me by in the canteen and said she will be talking about the closure of Talk Talk in the chamber in a few minutes).

    An assumption that’s curent at the moment is that the Government’s honeymoon will last until the Budget. The thinking is that it will be the first opportunity they will have to truly push through their own major policy agendas.

    I’m not really buying it. I think the Budget will be so well flagged in advance that it will contain few nasty surprises or shocks. The country is still numbed by the loss of sovereignty, people still feel that it’s others, not our Government, who are really running the country. I suspect Fine Gael and Labour will stay relatively free of criticism until the Spring of next year.

    The oppostion is fragmented. Fianna Fail is an opposition party with no desire or credibility to oppose anything yet. Sinn Fein and the ULA are both opposing everything, adopting a populist line without putting up any alternative that makes sense or adds up. Sinn Fein’s main currency is anger. Its maths certainly don’t add up. It needs to get real.

    There hasn’t been a democratic revolution. And  this Government, like all administrations, will disappoint by its failures to live up to its rhetoric. But the strange thing is, we are in a kind of suspended reality right now  that will leave them unscated until they have been a year or more in office.

    • Arabrab R says:

      The Houses of the Oireachtas these days have all the dull dreary lacklustre of a Politburo in Soviet Russia…….heck, even the boring old aging Labour Party troglodytes are dead ringers for the protagonists of that dark era – Lenin & Co
      We are going backwards………come back FF….we realize now how stupid we were to elect this blundering deadbeat coalition…..we’re sorry…..come back….please..!
      Oh Gawd…….I see Giddy Gilmore has found his voice again……….talking about more pain……….arrrrrrrrrgh I can’t stand it no more………

    • RPE McCarthy says:


      Ultimately, while the politics of how the state is seen to do its business is important, it is not as important as genuinely addressing the structural deficits.

      Everything from a balance sheet / p&L point of view that the government needs to focus on is contained in the McCarthy reports. It was quite conservative in its recommendations.

      The maths are quite simple. Without abandoning the ludicrous Croke Park deal by pleading inability to pay (we can’t afford it) and cutting social welfare rates by doing sensible things like stronger means testing for universal benefits like tv licenses, phone line rental, state pensions, widows pensions and childrens allowance we cannot make this work.

      The problem is that expenditure on services has to be curtailed because you can’t tax private enterprise much more. The outrageous raiding of private pension funds while public sector workers (including cursed politicians) go untouched is no way to build solidarity.

      The worrying thing is that simple solutions (difficult choices but simple solutions) are still being chosen over the heavy, painstaking work of structural reform.

      The only reason croke park is “delivering” is because of wholesale redundancies.

      The fundamental question the public sector has to address is the breakdown of the link between the market value of a service and what long term post holders actually get paid in the public sector. A clerical officer can start on say €22,000 and with service and increments without ever changing the role or level of responsibility finish with a salary in the mid to high 30 or 40k’s.

      That is market perversion not market forces. I do not want to pay 58% tax on any hard earned extra income I get for working 70-80 hour weeks to support this lunacy but I have to. The lack of equity is a disgrace.

      Only structural reform and tackling the various sector lobbies will deliver greater value for money.

      I have NO faith that the government will do this on the evidence so far. Politics as usual.

    • Marian Foley says:

      With regard to Democratic Revolutions not being around when you need them, I wouldn’t be too sure about that. I also don’t think that the Electorate of this Country are going to wait until the next election to vent their anger over all the U-turns and broken promises by Fine Gael and Labour.Watch this space, the Revolution could be much nearer than you think.

    • jaygee says:

      Could be that there is still a huge sense of relief that FF is out and likely to stay out for some time.
      People are still fed~up and things have not got any better, but the underlying sense that the real architects of
      the mess are no longer in power and the Galway tent has been folded away is giving quiet relief to most.

    • Kynos says:

      Well Harry in fact it was almost a complete revolution. Almost a complete 360 degrees right back to where we were before the election. Same shower (minus perhaps the mitochondrial dishonesty and indecency of FF but not averse to strokes and scams and broken promises and telling lies unashamedly as previous FG politicians and their current record of keeping election promises shows) different coloured shirts is all.

    • Eanna Kelly says:


      I am amazed at the ‘suspended reality’ of which you speak- it’s an abnormal situation for a government to be in (how fortunate they really are).

      Can we be certain the referendums will pass without issue? Judicial pay, whistleblowers: Yes. The strengthening of committees, maybe…but maybe not. There is anxiety about vested interests. The Dublin West by-election: presumably FF will lose, but who will win?

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