The MacGill Summer School is in full swing with politicians, lobbyists and critics gathering to identify necessary reforms; settle personal scores and defend past mistakes. Due to its timing – in the political silly season – the public remains largely disengaged. But as John FitzGerald noted if these discussions shape the policymaking process, future disasters may be avoided.
The absence of senior civil servants, who implement Government policy, did not insulate them from criticism. Former Fine Gael strategist Frank Flannery declared they had “sucked in” and now controlled Fine Gael Ministers while management consultant Eddie Molloy denounced their excessive loyalty to colleagues along with their reluctance to implement necessary reforms. Nothing terribly dramatic there: undue influence by the “permanent government” and their unsackability have been perennial complaints. Recently sacked minister Pat Rabbitte likened it to a symbiotic process where ministers and senior officials hide behind each other’s skirts.
Administrative reform represents thin media gruel when political infighting is involved. And who better than Frank Flannery to understand that? By excoriating Fine Gael’s local election performance and – with obvious satisfaction – the quality of the party leadership, he stoked internal divisions. The man clearly felt abandoned by political friends because of his lobbying activities. Just in case the message was not being received, he described as “utterly out of order” a suggestion by the Taoiseach that he should give evidence before the Dáil Public Accounts Committee. At about the same time, his colleague Angela Kerins initiated a High Court action for defamation and damages against the committee.
Mr Flannery also raised the prospect of a realignment within Irish politics, involving mergers between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and between Sinn Féin and the Labour Party. Such talk causes intense anxiety to party leaders and, no doubt, was intended to do so. In the longer term, that realignment may come about. But it will not happen on this side of a number of general elections. It certainly was not on the agenda of Labour Party leader, Joan Burton, when she criticised “trickle down economics” and insisted economic growth was not enough in itself. Society would have to flourish too. Tensions between the Government parties over how the benefits of a recovering economy can be shared are unlikely to be resolved in the short term. As of now, however, they have a common purpose in avoiding an early election. In considering the causes of public cynicism, Ms Burton should recognise the malign influence played by auction politics and broken promises. It will involve a new balance between economic discipline and pleasing the people.