|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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
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
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
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.
Friday, Feb 25, 2011.