Ferriter critique that of classic hurler on the ditch

So great was the crisis in 2010/2011 that only broadly based government could hold society together

Hurlers on the ditch usually dish out their criticism without resort to personal invective and especially if they come from the calm of academe. This however is not the case with Diarmaid Ferriter who seems to have been reserving an amount of bile for my retirement.

The result seems to have skewed his historical judgement of the Labour Party, although he acknowledges that Labour "would have benefited more from staying in opposition" in 2011. In that much he is probably correct, but the overwhelmingly predominant view inside and outside the party was that Labour was not elected in 2011 to stand aside.

So great was the crisis facing this country in the winter of 2010/2011 that only a broadly based government would have held society together. I am convinced that a single party Fine Gael government – the only viable alternative – would not have survived the first year of government.

That first dismal year saw the new Fine Gael- Labour Party Government struggle to restore Irish credibility in the EU institutions, keep the Troika at bay, and contend with Mr Trichet's threat if we proceeded with burden sharing. It is ironic to adduce Peter Mair about "democracy without a demos" in reference to effectively a government of national unity with over 100 seats in Dáil Eireann.


Clearly Diarmaid Ferriter would prefer that we mess around like the Syriza Government in Greece making the crisis even worse and inflicting greater hardship on ordinary citizens. Of course, Syriza has more than its fair share of freelance like-minded academics in its ranks like Diarmaid Ferriter. The problem is, as Brendan Behan noted in another context, they know how it should be done but they can't do it themselves.

There is nothing either “patronising or self-pitying” about my view of the “dysfunctional” fragmentation that is out there. After what we have come through the last thing this country needs is a coalition of chaos. Compare this country’s economic health with what unfortunately has engulfed Greece. The stability that we have established and the economic growth now happening offers the prospect, for the first time since the crash, of improved social investment and the gradual restoration of living standards.

Ferriter deplores my “attitude and tone” of recent years which he claims is “more right than centre”. It is odd that an historian can’t acknowledge that in recent years, along with my elected colleagues, I have been engaged in the Government’s single-minded effort to salvage the Irish economy from the wreckage that we inherited.

As a result we are not in the second bailout forecast by so many in the “fragmented” alliance that so recommends itself to Ferriter. We live in a market economy and its rescue from the point of bankruptcy was not a question of ideology, right, left or centre.

And whether or not one is a Syriza fan, it must be obvious that unless we get our finances into kilter and a banking system functioning again, we will not be able to make inroads into poverty or tackle inequality in our society. Who will endure most arising from the cack-handed governance in Greece? It won’t be the wealthy elite or the tax dodgers or the trendy academics advising Syriza on the politics of magical thinking.

Having spent 14 consecutive years in opposition, Ferriter accuses me of “prioritising power over principle” and of justifying the Labour Party’s “retreat into institutions”. Not since this State was founded is that claim more inappropriate. Unless of course you believe that the Labour Party should have remained on the side-line in our time of crisis.

We were elected to fix the economy and the public finances. In doing so we had to make some decisions that a Labour Party would never have made in normal times. But the present generation of Labour Ministers have not been in government “in normal times”. Prioritising power over principle is the favoured critique of the freelance left thrown at every politician from Lloyd George to Barack Obama who dares to take on the challenge of political responsibility in difficult times.

As for the charge of “retreat into institutions” – the institutions he decries are the institutions of the State that collect taxes, pay people’s welfare payments and pensions, deliver health care and uphold the rule of law. That these institutions have survived intact is of most value to the most vulnerable in our society.

There is nothing objective or fair about Ferriter’s perfunctory “in fairness” paragraph referring to the circumstances that confronted the Labour Party at the foundation of the State. It’s a clever ruse to avoid analysing the State’s recovery under the stewardship of this Labour/Fine Gael Government over the last four years. Up to now the Irish people have avoided giving Syriza-type Irish academics the option of prioritising power before principle. Notwithstanding the fragmentation in prospect, I believe that they will continue to do so.

An edited version of the above appears in print in the Letters Page today.