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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: September 12, 2012 @ 4:14 pm

    Rethinking the think-ins

    Harry McGee

    I wrote an analysis piece this morning about the September parliamentary party ‘think-ins’ and how they have lost a lot of their (admittedly tawdry) lustre in recent years. You can read the article here.
    I also posted on twitter last night musing on whether or not it was time to rethink the think-ins.

    The point I made in the article is that, yes, we all knew the away meetings were PR-drive. But at least they allowed parties to come up with what passed for fresh ideas, or listen to alternative views, or push new messages.

    Hence the over-wrought description of ‘think-ins’. But as was pointed out in the piece this morning, there were some new thinking that emerged – Fine Gael’s early critique of benchmarking; Bertie Ahern’s Inchdoney strategy. Okay, there was a lot of superficial guff, but there was also at least a narrow vein of subtance.

    I think even that bit of purpose has begun to disappear. In truth, they have been reduced to a gathering of TDs and Senators who are given their riding instructions for the new term (albeit in rather nice surroundings). There invite guest speakers but they tend to be chosen in the main to reflect party thinking rather than to challenge it. Perhaps, the disastrous Fianna Fail shindig in Galway in 2010 has acted as a muffler on any original thought, or any party taking a chance to rail a little against its own orthodoxy.

    The press are not blameless. It is dispiriting to see that some media coverage has been so trivial (the Mail’s cheap shot at Fine Gael’s five-course dinner; an over-focus on Labour’s choice of venue; a joke Enda Kenny made about a Cabinet reshuffle being decided on the speed of ascending Croagh Patrick being reported as if it were true). But that too is a symptom of thin pickings on the supposed ‘think-in’ side.

    Whatever about the value of parliamentarians regrouping before the Dail term begins, I think it’s time for a rethink in terms of what they offer as public events. Or perhaps parties should accept that as publicity or information vehicles, they have run their course and should be discontinued.

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