Analysis/Comment
Irish General Election 2011: Vote for single party Fine Gael majority government on Friday
By Michael Hennigan, Founder and Editor of Finfacts
Feb 21, 2011 - 9:31 AM

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Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny pictured on Friday, Feb 18, 2011, holding seven year old Olivia Beausang, while on a campaign stop in the campaign office of Patrick O'Driscoll (left) in Fermoy, Co. Cork.

Irish General Election 2011: In a time of peril, Ireland needs a strong, united and reforming government and the Irish people should vote for a single party Fine Gael majority government on Friday.

Every general election is claimed to be crucial but following the bitter legacy of the second period of monumental economic mismanagement in a generation, the lives of tens of thousands of our fellow citizens have been seriously damaged or destroyed; the people face high public and private debt; many of the unemployed will never work again and a broken governance system is in dire need of reform.

Finfacts did not have to be hit by a boulder on the road to Damascus to wake up to the reality that the alchemists in Fianna Fáil and their cheerleaders in the Progressive Democrats, had not found the philosopher's stone to transmute house-selling into a permanent prosperity.

It should of course be recognised that Fianna Fáil is not a virus that arrived from outer space.

The founder Éamon de Valera had set the pattern early when he used money that had been collected in the United States during the War of Independence, to fund a party newspaper in which his own family was given control. Later, from the 1930s, the State agency, the Land Commission, was used to reward party supporters, including existing West of Ireland farmers, who were given prime land in West Dublin, Kildare and Meath.

Fianna Fáil had a template for the system of machine politics it perfected.

In my student days, I bought a copy of historian Daniel Boorstin's The Americans: The Democratic Experience, in which he chronicles how the Irish took control of the big urban areas in the 19th century through our mastery of machine politics.

Boorstin writes that the Irish were the largest single group to arrive in the half-century before the Civil War and many found that they had changed their locale but not their fortunes. Irish paupers became American paupers. But what was remarkable was that so many of these victims of centuries of oppression actually attained power and respectability in a strange country. To those who were lucky and energetic and ambitious, America did offer a new life, first to a few leaders, then to more and more of the anonymous thousands. The historian says when Joyce's Stephen Dedalus said, "History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake," he summed up Irish history. And the United States was to be the place of awakening.

Boorstin quotes the late eminent Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who observed that New York become the first great city in history, to be ruled by men of the people.

The historian says a political party is organized for a purpose larger than its own survival. A political machine exists for its own sake; its primary, in a sense its only, purpose is survival. A political party may succeed and make itself obsolete by obtaining the purpose for which it was organized. This is never true of a political machine, for a political machine succeeds only by surviving. The Irish refugee was dominated above all by the need to survive.

Boorstin says it was this machine politics that produced the political boss and the professional politician whose business was politics. Their test was the ability to keep their business profitable for themselves and their clients and while the Irish were quickly and spectacularly successful in politics they did not prove masters of the arts of good government. For the emigrant, in flight from poverty and oppression, American politics had become an end in itself, a business to support him and his fellow clansmen.

Fianna Fáil has been adept at the game of politics and it's also evident that the Irish generally are much more energized by the drama of politics than issues of process, competent management, accountability and reform.

Blaming the European Union and bondholder 'burning' is much more exciting than trying to address the factors, which caused the crash.

In Ireland today, the vested interests are part of the machine politics system; from traditional trade unions on the Left to their counterparts on the Right representing wealthy medical consultants and lawyers, they make common conservative cause in opposing reform and change.

The main culprits of the cataclysmic dénouement have got gilt-edged meal-tickets for life and David Begg, the general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, who was a director of the Central Bank from 1995 to 2010, like the bankers, rejects any personal responsibility for the banking crash.

In regard to the employers' body IBEC, we said earlier this month that it may seem strange that given the ostensibly pious aspirations for reform of both the "the country and the economy," that IBEC director general, Danny McCoy, would avoid the issues of reform of the protected private sector which imposes more cost burdens on business than for example commercial rates.

In May 2010 we wrote: "In Ireland last month, Labour Party leader, Eamon Gilmore, outlined plans for new job incentive schemes and he spoke in general terms about reform and change. He proposed the fourth official review of the Constitution since 1995.

For an aspiring Taoiseach, against the backdrop of monumental governance failures leading up to the economic crash and a system of limited accountability dominated by vested interests, it was a depressing performance."

While policy proposals put forward during the campaign generally lack depth, the main problem is that the Labour Party leader is not committed to reform.

The former trade union official has avoided taking a  strong stand on the slow-motion effort to get progress on public service reform and his apparent lack of enthusiasm for reform in general, means that in government with the pressures of day-to-day issues, the situation is unlikely to change.

“Well, I think after the election I think what we have to look at is on what basis is a fair and balanced Government going to be formed, and I think the most stable Government that the country can have after the election is a fair and a balanced Government and for that to happen the Labour Party has to form part of it,” said Gilmore on Friday this week.

“I don’t think that it is desirable that any one party would have a monopoly of power.

Ireland needs a focused government that is not paralysed by indecision.

Fine Gael has a strong team and while various defeciencies have been highlighted about the leader Enda Kenny, he does not lack energy, motivation or capacity for reform, in contrast with outgoing taoiseach Brian Cowen.

Brian Cowen's style as Minister for Finance when the property bubble was heading to a peak, was akin to the disengaged President George W. Bush.

Today, there is unanimity among the main political parties that Seanad Éireann, the Upper House part-time talking shop, should be abolished.

In 2009, when Enda Kenny made this proposal, we saw it as a declaration of intent to declare open-season on sacred cows.

However, the forces of conservatism and self-interest from the Left and Right launched a thunderous broadside against Kenny.

Senator Joe O'Toole thundered that the proposal was "a regurgitation of the legacy we thought we had left behind with O'Duffy in the 1930s" and he accused Kenny of a "rather pathetic attempt to grab headlines."

Fianna Fáil Senator Cecelia Keaveney also saw the threat of a phoenix-style rebirth of German Nazism, on
our at times benighted isle.

"What is Enda Kenny's proposal to abolish the Seanad if not 'populist propaganda'? The dangers of populism can be seen clearly with a rudimentary look back on Europe's political history. The great economic depression starting in 1929 made way for fascism and Nazism.

"The basic principal behind the populist approach is playing on the fears of the people; using an issue which is dominating public opinion, preying on those fears and offering a 'simple solution' to a complex problem."

There can be simple solutions to apparently complex problems if there is political courage to challenge conventional wisdom; this should be a time for iconoclasm and rebirth.

Ireland is no longer a society divided by rich and poor but it is an unjust society of insiders and outsiders.

The insiders can be multimillionaire lawyers and public staff with premium pay, pensions and  job security, while the outsiders, without the support of powerful vested interests, are on their own. 

We need reform, transparency and  fairness.

My mother used to say, "expect nothing and you won't be disappointed," in reflection of times of hardship in the optimistically named Cnoc Amhráin, near Macroom, and elsewhere. Today, in better times, there are no panaceas for enormous challenges and a Fine Gael Government will not lead the people to a Utopia but it offers the best prospects of reform and advance.

On June 27, 1936, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt accepted the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in a famous speech he gave at Philadelphia's Franklin Field. He said: "An old English judge once said: 'Necessitous men are not free men.' Liberty requires opportunity to make a living - - a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for."

He added: "Governments can err, presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that Divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted on different scales.

Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.

There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny."

It's time for the Irish to look beyond the long national nightmare; it's time to reform broken systems; it's time to end the veto power of vested interests on change and it's time to give the young generation of Ireland, its chance to have a rendezvous with destiny.

Election Day: Friday, Feb 25, 2011.


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