An unsung genius of Irish politics


Regular readers of this blog will know to expect tributes to the most unlikely people, but I would hazard a guess that the late Neil Blaney will raise a few eyebrows. I should explain at the outset that I’m not going to deal mainly with Neil’s consistently strong line on the national question, which by itself marks him out as almost unique among southern politicos, but with Neil’s standing as one of the supreme technical adepts of Irish electoral politics.

Not many people bother to read The Donegal Mafia, which is a pity, not only because it’s one of the very few attempts – possibly the first, if I’m not mistaken – to use rigorous sociological categories to analyse Irish politics, but because it provides a snapshot of the Blaney machine – the organisation crafted by old Neil in the ’30s and ’40s, and honed to perfection by Neil Óg in the ’50s and ’60s – in its pomp, when still part of the national Fianna Fáil party. This was, at its peak, a political machine that makes Bertie’s operation in Dublin Central look almost dilettantish. This was why the national party put Neil in charge of running by-election campaigns, which he did with military efficiency and an enviable record of success – Fianna Fáilers of a certain vintage will still recall the Donegal activists with awe. I never got to see the Blaneyites in operation at that time, but even in later years their independent organisation (Provisional Fianna Fáil) was deeply impressive.

The survival of an independent organisation for over 30 years is itself something of a testament to the machine. Aontacht Éireann was a failure, probably inevitably and for a number of reasons, but it was almost as if AÉ had managed to root itself locally and survive in Donegal. You could put that down to the local strength of republican traditions, but I think a big element was that, while Boland was a bit of a loner and always prone to taking stands on his personal honour, Blaney was not only a disciplinarian but also a disciplined party man. Kevin would often recount with exasperation how Neil wouldn’t take any decision without first getting the go-ahead from the Delphic Oracle, alias the North-East Donegal Comhairle Dáilcheanntair.

This sort of cohesion probably accounts for how the clientelist system developed up in Donegal. You often hear Fine Gael technocrats complaining about how TDs have no time for legislation because they’re tied up with running clinics to deal with the trivial complaints of the great unwashed. Believe it or not, that was sorted out in Donegal, as a pragmatic reaction to Neil (after his appointment to cabinet) spending much of his time in Dublin. Decades before dual mandate legislation was ever heard of, there was a division of labour with Neil holding the Dáil seat and his younger brother Harry sitting as his personal plenipotentiary on the county council. But the division of labour went beyond that – such was the discipline, cohesion and strict hierarchy of the machine that constituents would prioritise their complaints. For a trivial complaint, like the proverbial leaking roof, you wouldn’t bother Neil but would take your case to a councillor or party activist. Neil would be held in reserve for the big problems, the ones only Neil could solve.

At root, though, the secret of the Blaney machine lay not in Neil’s technical proficiency as a politician, great though that was, but in the political spirit animating his soldiers. For the Blaneyites, who would take part in elections in Derry as easily as in Donegal, politics never ceased to be a national crusade. And there’s a lesson here – political parties are voluntary organisations, and no matter how draconian the regime the worst penalty you can inflict on someone is to tell them they can’t come to meetings or pay dues any more. A really effective machine comes into being where the men and women at the grass roots are inspired to follow a great political cause. People who think that electoral success is an end in itself can’t really comprehend the mindset that sees it as a mere by-product of a bigger struggle.

Long live People’s Albania! Long live Fianna Fáil!


Following on from the Dublin government’s endowment of the Mr Tony Blair Chair of Irish Studies at Liverpool University, I couldn’t help but notice Dermot Ahern’s announcement of a Conflict Resolution Unit, aimed at solving the problems of the world with reference to Ireland’s shining example. Now this won’t be a piddly wee interpretive centre, but a fully-fledged unit of the DFA with a €25m annual budget. There will further be a linked-in high-powered academic centre with the mission to train up peace professionals. This will allow the Dominion of ‘Éire’ to compete with the Norwegians in the peace business, and further burnish the reputation of our European Statesman. Here’s an idea – why not name the academic wing the Bertie Centre for Shock and Awe?

While we’re on Bertie, I loved this cracking little Swiftian diatribe from Diarmuid Doyle in the Turbine. Our Taoiseach really is almost beyond satire.

Bev survives, while the Blueshirts huff and puff


I’m not of an age to recall the Cumann na nGaedheal government in 1927 using the bankruptcy laws to deprive Jim Larkin of his Dáil seat, but it’s an integral part of the political folklore that forms my background. Maybe that’s why I find it difficult to be censorious in the case of Beverley Flynn, or maybe it’s just a sense of mischief. Then of course there’s the basic democratic principle that the people of Mayo have spoken, only a few short weeks ago, and if the people of Mayo want Bev to represent them, as they evidently do, then they’re entitled to have her.

As things stand, her settlement with RTÉ in respect of her failed libel action in 2001 means that, instead of being pressed for the full €2.8m, Bev will commit to paying considerably less than half of that, which is still a penalty not to be sneezed at. There is nothing odd or suspicious about RTÉ reaching a settlement in the interests of the licence-payers. Faced with a choice between a settlement that will bring in a million quid and change, and pressing a bankruptcy action that could have seen them struggling to recover anything, any accountant worth his salt would have said, Go for the settlement. It’s the same principle as a company settling a personal injury claim that they could have legitimately contested, because often paying off a plaintiff makes more sense than risking going before a jury.

What complicates this, of course, is Bertie’s statement of a little while back holding out the prospect of Bev recovering the Fianna Fáil whip, and even looking at junior ministerial office a little way down the road. Fine Gael are hailing this as evidence that the RTÉ Authority has been nobbled. Somehow I doubt that. Not only are the RTÉ Authority not renowned for being a panel of FF stooges, but it would be deeply uncharacteristic of Bertie to do anything so blatantly. Had Bertie really been twisting arms at RTÉ, he would have kept very very quiet on the Flynn case.

But the FG reaction speaks volumes. If I understand Electric Enda correctly, RTÉ settling with Bev is proof positive of political interference. One assumes that the non-political course of action would have been to have Bev declared bankrupt, trigger a by-election in Mayo that FG would almost certainly win, and play merry hell with the coalition arithmetic in Leinster House. It’s the authentic response of a party that believes that it rightfully owns the state, which is only being illegitimately squatted by Fianna Fáil. Yes, those old Cumann na nGaedheal instincts don’t lie far below the surface.

Notes from the grimpen mire, part 4


Okay then, cup of tea at the ready. Aimee Mann playing. Magnolia soundtrack, if I’m not mistaken. Just what the doctor ordered. Now, where was I?

So, let’s return to aspects of Irish life that our Anglo left don’t get, and there are few better illustrations of this than corruption. You will recall last year’s controversy over Bertie’s mysterious dig-out, when at the height of the storm Fianna Fáil suddenly rocketed five points in the polls, and Irish Times editrix Geraldine Kennedy was heard to exclaim “What kind of country are we?” Meanwhile, the innocent Dublin pedestrian will have noticed small knots of revolutionary socialists bearing placards calling on the feds to arrest elected representatives, which may seem odd behaviour for people usually averse to policing.

Let your mind go back to the early 1990s, when Charlie was forced to resign and then Albert found himself under some pressure over his own dealings. At the time, the Irish left were very much taken with the concurrent Tangentopoli scandals in Italy, and the collapse of the Christian Democrats. It was confidently predicted – in particular by Swiss Toni – that Fianna Fáil would go the same way, blithely ignoring the significant differences between Italy and Ireland. The broad masses, in this scenario, would rise up and kick out FF, and the whole political scene would be thrown into turmoil.

Actually, it’s probably a good thing that Ireland isn’t Italy. The Italians dumped the Christian Democrats, and got Berlusconi (the structural analogue of Dr Sir Anthony O’Reilly becoming taoiseach) in coalition with the neo-fascists. Meanwhile, much to the consternation of both Geraldine Kennedy and Kieran Allen, the great unwashed have failed to be stirred by tales of FF corruption to rise up and cast off their oppressors. In fact, the dopey feckers keep re-electing FF.

Nevertheless, some of that old hope still lingers, which accounts for the reverence our liberals and leftists have for the tribunals. We open the papers and find some people who ought to know better hailing Judges Flood and Mahon as the Irish body politic’s answer to Batman and Robin – or, at the very least, Power Man and Iron Fist. Yet, as Vincent Browne points out in the current Village, the tribunal system is a scandal in its own right. Not least in the fact that the tribunals may be in breach of the Bunreacht, although one would need the gift of telepathy to guess how the Supreme Court will act.

Beyond that, consider that there have been multiple judicial tribunals running for as long as anyone can remember, with no end in sight. Nobody is going to jail. Nobody looks like going to jail. There are serious questions about leakage. There is a clear over-reliance on dodgy witnesses, not least Tom Gilmartin and my old friend Frank “The Canary” Dunlop. The overall costs of this judicial circus will be, at the very least, several hundreds of millions of euros, and may very well pass the billion mark. In essence, an enormous state subsidy to multimillionaire barristers, and such a blatant one that even the Law Library is getting restive. Those unionists who give off about the Bloody Sunday Inquiry don’t know they’re born.

There is a further, political aspect to this. The tribunal juggernaut is so clearly out of control that the only way it can justify its existence is by claiming the head of the Taoiseach. This is not lost on Fianna Fáil supporters, who take an understandably jaundiced view of the whole tribunal setup, and as this imperative becomes ever more obvious, the credibility gap grows.

One could argue that the tribunals served their purpose years ago. The law has been tightened up and public life is infinitely freer of backhanders than it was in the 1980s. Not least, the current media culture has sounded the death knell for the kind of “strokes” that used to be common – not many TDs nowadays would even attempt to square a constituent’s drink-driving charge. This is not to say that there isn’t a need for some kind of watchdog, nor that there aren’t scandals that need investigating. But it may be past time to conclude that the tribunals aren’t doing us any quantifiable good. And, Lord knows, if the purpose now is to arrive at a rational explanation of Bertie’s personal finances, they could be running till doomsday.

Party like it’s 1948


Following on from WorldbyStorm’s great post on the implausibility of the new coalition government in Dublin, I am drawn to reflect on implausible coalitions. Even by Irish standards, the line-up of Fianna Fáil, the Greens, the rump Desocrats, Jackie the Cap of South Kerry, disgraced Fianna Fáiler Bev Flynn, disgraced Blueshirt Michael Lowry and socialist republican Finian McGrath is a doozy.

I have to say, though, that the putative “Alliance for Change” government touted by Electric Enda would have trumped it. Considering Enda’s ruling out of any arrangements with FF or the Provos, and Jackie already having plighted his troth to Bertie, the only line-up possible would have been: Fine Gael, Labour, the Greens, the Desocrats, Lowry, Flynn, McGrath and our old friend Tony Gregory. As implausible configurations go, that one would have had Amanda Brunker beat. But would it have been the least plausible coalition ever seen in Leinster House? No, it would not.

Let us now enter the Tardis and return to the aftermath of the 1948 election. That time around, Fianna Fáil remained easily the largest party, returning with one more seat than all opposition parties put together. However, after sixteen straight years of FF government and the hardships caused by the Economic War and the Emergency, it was not surprising that FF would suffer a dip in popularity, and in the end Dev returned with 68 seats out of 147, six short of a majority with a dozen fairly diverse independents holding the balance of power.

What would have seemed to be the most plausible outcome would have been yet another FF-led government, not least because Fine Gael at that time seemed to be in terminal decline, returning a mere 31 deputies, with its vote bobbing along around the 20% mark and having been wiped out in large swathes of the state – only returning three TDs in the whole of Connacht, for instance. But that doesn’t account for the ingenuity of the Irish TD sniffing a chance at power, and thus the wondrous First Inter-Party Government was born.

Let’s consider the forces involved in this government. You had Fine Gael, the Free State party, the Commonwealth party, the bolthole for dispossessed Unionists and Redmondites. It was the party of Oriel House and the 77 executions, the party that ran the Saorstát with an iron fist for ten years, the party of then barely reconstructed Blueshirtism. It was, by any standard, an extremely conservative party, representing in the main the interests of the South Dublin upper bourgeoisie and the big ranchers.

You had Clann na Poblachta, a party made up largely, though not exclusively, of former IRA men. These were guys who had spent ten years opposing the 1937 Bunreacht, who had tried in 1939 to launch a war against England, and who during the Emergency had dissented from the almost unanimous support for neutrality in trying to line up Ireland with the Axis. Having been ferociously repressed by Fianna Fáil, they then gave that up for a bad job, abruptly became a constitutional party, and began merrily cannibalising the Fianna Fáil electorate. Their programme was militantly republican on the national question and, by the standards of the time, extremely leftwing on social and economic issues – in other words, a souped-up version of Fianna Fáil’s 1926 programme.

You had Clann na Talmhan, who are unfortunately forgotten these days, but were a fascinating formation in their own right. This was a party of impoverished small farmers in the West and its main policy was radical land reform, in line with the Fianna Fáil programme but not with FF’s record in government. The interests of the CnaT base were fundamentally opposed to the big farmers who increasingly dominated FG.

You also had not one but two Labour parties, having split a few years previously and spent the election campaign smearing and slandering each other with wild abandon. If you think the SWP-Militant bunfights on Indymedia are bad, the Labourites of the 1940s make them look like the wusses they really are.

Put all these disparate groups together and you still weren’t close to a majority, so what transpired in 1948 was a coalition of five parties and a technical group of nine – count ’em – nine independents, none of whom agreed on anything except that they wanted to put FF out. These differences were bridged by the simple introduction of the abeyance principle – in other words, everybody forgot about their programmes and concentrated on the division of spoils. And it all went surprisingly smoothly, with the only big stumbling block Clann na Poblachta’s refusal to accept the FG leader, General Mulcahy, as Taoiseach. So FG put forward Costello for the top job, Mulcahy got a seat at cabinet in any case and that was that. And, as we know, this Frankenstein government lasted a whole three years, thus scundering all those smart alecks in Fianna Fáil who expected it to collapse within months.

There is another interesting aspect to 1948, which is that Fine Gael did not dominate the opposition. FG held a mere 31 seats, as against 19 for the two Labour parties, ten for Clann na Poblachta and seven for Clann na Talmhan. There was a distinct possibility of a Labour-Republican bloc, possibly involving the small farmers, supplanting FG as the second force in the state. But that would have required Norton and the other Labour leaders to play a long game, eschewing bums on seats in the short term for the big prize in the long term. We know of course what they chose, and the effect of their choice was to breathe new life into a moribund Fine Gael, and for decades to come condemn Labour to being not a challenger for power in its own right, but a small and docile appendage to FG.

Does any of this sound familiar?

The new government takes office


And so, Bertie is re-elected Taoiseach and names his cabinet. And the Greens get two seats around the table, which will at least make up for getting frig all policy-wise, unless you count loft insulation and a someday maybe carbon tax as grand steps forward. Hell, at least Esau could eat a mess of pottage.
The word is that the Greens have scored two important ministries. Looked at from the Machiavellian point of view, which is often the best strategy where Bertie is concerned, they have two poisoned chalices. Gormley is in charge of the Galway water supply and Ryan the Corrib pipeline, both issues dear to the hearts of the nice people who vote Green, but where they will have limited opportunity to improve things.

Otherwise it’s more or less as you were, aside from O’Donoghue being shunted over to the Ceann Comhairle’s chair to clear some space. Biffo is of course an immovable object. Harney is still in Health, as predicted. Mary Hanafin, who has proven that nobody can handle the teaching unions like a teacher, retains Education. De Valera scion and uncrowned King of Connacht Éamon Ó Cuív remains in situ as Minister of Culchies and Gaeilgeoirí, which will come in handy for quietly building up his personal machine in the West. And so on.

Martin Cullen is still in the cabinet. Why?

Aside from the Greens, the interesting appointment is that of young Brian Lenihan to the Justice Department vacated by Dirty Mike. It seems an obvious move for one of the few sharp legal minds in the Dáil, a bona fide constitutional expert, and someone who has been waiting on promotion for years. But I can’t help seeing the double-edged sword. Brian may turn out to be a really good Justice Minister, which will of course reflect well on Bertie’s inspired appointment. But if, say, there is a major crime wave, I suspect Brian and not Bertie will be fucked.

And finally, since I’m always glad to see a prediction coming right, I am cheered by Bertie’s announcement that Bev Flynn may well get the whip back after all. This is the icing on the cake, and very much of a piece with Jackie the Cap’s envelope of goodies for South Kerry. All is as it should be in this great little country of ours. Huzzah!

Notes from the grimpen mire, part 1


Many years ago, I was chatting in the pub with Kieran Allen, when the Great White Chief insisted with considerable stridency that you shouldn’t ever vote for an independent candidate. I’m paraphrasing here, but the gist was that a party candidate, however bad the party was, was under some kind of discipline and accountability, while if you voted independent you got Tony Gregory.

This was of course a reference to Tony’s famous deal with Charlie back in 1982, as a result of which most of the left solemnly excommunicated him with bell, book and candle. Yet now it must be said that Tony’s left credentials are no worse than most of what passes for a left in Ireland. His decent record on the national question puts him one up on most of the Irish left, and he can plausibly claim to have achieved some things for his constituents.

One of the frustrating things about the Irish left, especially the two Sasanach franchises, is their inability to understand the country they operate in. When I’ve argued for a basic continuity between the majority of the Irish left and the D4 neo-democrats, this wasn’t simply meant as an insult. It was just a case of pointing out that they work to a schema whereby British (or rather English) politics is seen as normative, and Irish backwardness is a question of catching up with England.

Go and look at the British Socialist Worker. You will be struck by the way that every country in the world is interpreted in terms of Britlandia. So the German CDU are “Tories”, even though their combination of interventionist economics and Catholic social theory equates to no British Toryism I know. To take a parallel from linguistics: when the Spanish Jesuits went out to Mexico after the conquistadors, they had to try and communicate with the Aztecs. This was made more difficult by trying to shoehorn the Nahuatl language into a Latinate grammatical model. Eventually the Jesuits discovered that they had to forget Latin and describe Nahuatl in its own terms.

It pains one to say this, but those sixteenth-century Jesuits were more advanced thinkers that our modern historical materialists. You can’t describe the phenomenon of Fianna Fáil by reference to British politics: Irish politics has its own grammar. This is why I’m constantly amazed that the SWP and Militant can get any votes at all. They may be based in Ireland, most of their members are Irish born and bred, they have lots of facts about Ireland at their fingertips, but their understanding of the dynamics of Irish politics is briefer than a Methody girl’s skirt.

The first basic point to make about Irish politics is that all politics is local, and the parish pump is supreme. Joe Higgins and Richard Boyd Barrett recognise this on an empirical level, even if they reject it in theory. This is the lesson taught by Tony Gregory and countless other Irish politicians, and it is the main reason why you can never trust national polls or the maunderings of the South Dublin tofu-eaters.
So, Martin Mansergh finally made it into the Dáil on his umpteenth attempt, pipping Séamus Healy by 59 votes. This ties in to a constant bellyache of the chattering classes, that a brilliant man like Martin should have to be appointed to the Senate by Bertie due to his multiple rejections in Tipperary South, all because our great intellectual was useless at getting some wee woman her medical card. Meanwhile, Jackie Healy Rae, whose main contribution on the national level has been to the public gaiety, can stroll back to Leinster House because he does great work for people in South Kerry.

If you follow Donegal politics, you’ll often hear people who are by no means hardline republicans sing the praises of Joe O’Neill. Joe is a great man for getting things done, which is how RSF held that council seat for so long.

The converse of that is the late Seán MacBride, unquestionably a brilliant man, but rejected by the voters mainly because he didn’t want to dirty his hands with all that clientelist stuff.

This even applies to the North, although filtered through the sectarian structures here. That was how Gerry Fitt built his machine. In more recent years, there is a story I’ve heard many times about former Ardoyne councillor Bobby Lavery. On knocking the door of a pensioner with a slate loose, Bobby did not phone the Housing Executive; he shinned up a ladder and fixed it himself. That story may be apocryphal, but it says a lot about the kind of politician Bobby was, and why the working-class people of Ardoyne took him to their hearts.

Clientelism is built into the DNA of Irish politics, and reinforced by the PRSTV voting system. It is in fact the flip side of gaimbín politics. The working class does not reject clientelism, because clientelism holds out the prospect that you might get something. And that’s a perfectly reasonable, pragmatic position to take.

Bertie does the supermarket sweep


There are a number of stages to dealing with the results of an Irish election. First you stare at the TV and exclaim “What the hell kind of country is this?” Then you sleep on it. Then you sit down with a cup of tea and a chocolate gravy ring, crunch the numbers and convince yourself it all makes sense.

The results are, I suppose, only dramatic in that they falsified the polls. It’s remarkable, but five of the six parties were pretty much within a 1% deviation from their 2002 result, Fine Gael being the exception. So it’s pretty much as you were for Fianna Fáil, Labour and the Greens; the Provos were a bit unlucky in that their big surge in Donegal didn’t deliver at least one seat to compensate for their loss in Tallaght; and the Desocrats, the weakest of the big six, fell below critical mass. If there hadn’t been a slew of opinion polls, we might have thought the results pretty dull, but consistent polling predictions of a Fianna Fáil meltdown and big gains for the Greens and PSF had skewed our expectations.

On one level, this is sort of the antimatter version of the Scottish election – the reassertion of the competitive two-party system, after a collapse of the main opposition last time out, resulting in a squeeze on the small parties and independents. On another level, the presidential factor would have played a role. Not for the first time, Bertie has played chicken with the electorate and, faced with the very real prospect of Electric Enda becoming taoiseach, the electorate folded. Besides which, one can assume that with the bien-pensants’ predictions of an FF meltdown, the wish was father to the thought.

I’ll write separately about the republican and left votes, because they have some implications for how we might build an opposition in the future. But there are a few observations worth making.

Firstly, I was taken aback by FG’s enormous gain in seats, from 32 to 51. In retrospect, this could have been predicted. The Blueshirts had a genuinely horrible result in 2002, not only seeing their vote slump but, due to a lack of transfers, losing out badly in terms of seats – they should really have scored around 40 last time out. So, Electric Enda has energised Fine Gael and made it look like a halfway serious party again. Factor in a 5% gain in share of the vote, plus a decent level of transfers from eliminated Labour candidates, and you have a recipe for substantial seat gains. However, these gains come at the expense, not of Fianna Fáil, but the forces who capitalised on FG’s collapse last time – the Desocrats and centrist independents.

Speaking of the Desocrats, who may well end up folding as a party, I’m surprised to find myself rather sorry at McDowell bowing out of politics. He’s one of those people, like Alan Shatter or Bob McCartney, who I’ve never had time for politically but who do add something to public life. As in: he may have been a bastard, but he was a bastard with substance, and it says something about our political culture that he can be ousted by a lightweight like Lucinda Creighton.

As for Labour, well, Rabbitte made a rod for his own back with Mullingar. I could have told him this ages ago – the only time Labour ever gained from a close association with Fine Gael was in 1973, and the resulting government was so atrocious you wouldn’t want to see it repeated. He then made a second rod for his back by trying to give himself wiggle room for an alternative coalition. And, while the Green and Provo hordes may have been held off for the time being, a vote share below 10% and a notably elderly parliamentary party should give Labour members pause for thought.

As for Bertie, he has a few tasks ahead of him, not least putting together a stable majority. One may guess that Bev Flynn will get the whip back in the near future, but even so, the two “gene pool” indies and the two Desocrats won’t get him to the magic 83. Will he be willing to reach a non-coalition understanding with the Provos? Will Clever Trevor get his feet under the table? Only time will tell, but things don’t look long-term stable just yet.

And that’s just the electoral end of things. Will the multiple judicial tribunals into corruption actually start claiming scalps, bearing in mind that Mahon will be reconvened soon? What happens when the boom goes tits up? And what of the factional manoeuvring within Fianna Fáil itself? As Kinky Friedman sang, when the Lord closes the door, he opens a little window.

Our hero from zero


While we wait for the election results to trickle in, let us pause awhile to pay tribute to our Zelig-like Taoiseach, Bartholomew Ahern, an Irishman who is unique, to the point where the national broadcaster refers to him simply by his diminutive first name. We don’t often realise what a singular character Bertie is.

Consider this: The Irish electorate holds its political class in well-deserved contempt. (Although one is tempted by Sir Garret’s observation that, when you think of the Irish electorate, the political class doesn’t look quite so appalling.) Yet, whatever the anti-politician mood, it never seems to stretch to Bertie. You see, Bertie isn’t really a politician, he’s more like a cowboy plumber.

The nurses have been waging a courageous and militant campaign, rudely intruding on the virtual election wherein the media insist we are all obsessed with stamp duty. The public consistently put health at the top of their agenda, and Harney has been having a torrid time of it. But Bertie comes through unscathed.

The D case is indisputably the fault of the Irish political class, which has had fifteen fucking years to legislate on the X case. For ten of those years, Bertie has been in power. Yet he escapes the odium.

The constant spotlight on Bertie’s convoluted personal finances would have destroyed a lesser man, but every time Bertie is accused of corruption his poll ratings actually go up.

Bertie has actually managed to out-Dev Dev. The Long Fellow said that he only had to look in his heart to know what the Irish people wanted. By contrast, the Irish people only have to look at Bertie to see what they want. He truly is the man for all seasons.

The multinational capitalist looks at Bertie and says, There’s the man for me, the man to keep our low-tax globalised economy on track.

The trade union bureaucrat looks at Bertie and says, There’s the man to keep us round the partnership table.

The Shinner looks at Bertie and says, There’s the man who might get us into government and just maybe a little closer to a united Ireland.

Big Ian looks at Bertie and says, There’s the Taoiseach who recognises partition and wants to be a good neighbour to the Orange state.

Yes, Bertie gives everybody just enough to hope for some more.

Bertie also represents in his person the defeat of the dialectic. In Bertie contradictions don’t lead to a higher unity, but only to more contradictions.

Bertie is a devout Catholic and a man of unorthodox marital arrangements.

Bertie is simultaneously for and against the war in Iraq.

Bertie has met personally a huge proportion of the population, but to those who have known him for years he remains an enigma.

Bertie is a capitalist and a socialist. And why not? In a political culture where Gerry Adams is a republican and Joe Higgins a revolutionary, why not Bertie the socialist?

We should cherish Bertie while he is still around, for we won’t see his like again. But I still wouldn’t vote for the sleekit bugger.

Saorstát social democracy


Fresh from my success at calling the weekend polls, I’ll revisit the southern election. It hasn’t to date been very interesting, partly because the parties are saying very similar things about most of the big issues, and partly because the media are intent on making this a presidential campaign, which is bloody stupid in a parliamentary election with PRSTV voting.

Anyway, a presidential campaign suits Bertie, because even a jaded Bertie fast approaching his sell-by date trumps Electric Enda. Enda’s main success in this campaign has been to confirm his image as a likeable bloke with tons of energy. However, being a likeable bloke doesn’t get you the taoiseach’s job in and of itself. Even Jack Lynch, who was famously affable, was also a devious bastard of Bertie proportions when it suited him. Electric Enda, meanwhile, has failed to shake off the widespread perception that he’s, well, a little bit lightweight.

As I’ve indicated, I expect the Provos to do quite well this time out. Whatever about their national poll rating, all indications are that they are doing well in areas where they need to do well. The bookies are quoting them as holding their five seats and picking up their three targets in northside Dublin, but you also have to factor in two excellent chances in Donegal and sporting chances in Waterford, Wexford and Sligo. It will also be interesting to see whether PSF’s difficulty in attracting transfers is on the wane. So, depending on the rub of the green, their seat tally could be anything from 7 to 12. In any case, and whatever Gerry thinks, the southern membership wouldn’t be displeased if they didn’t get into government. Another five years of building up the organisation, grooming candidates and cannibalising the more plebeian sections of the Fianna Fáil and Labour bases would suit them down to the ground.

Labour illustrate how hard it is to make predictions under STV. Despite flatlining for months at around 12%, barely ahead of PSF, they are widely anticipated to pick up twice as many seats. But Labour won so many seats with narrow margins last time out that, again depending on the rub of the green, they could be up a little or down quite sharply. Apart from the Provos, Labour have a further difficulty in the rise of the Greens, who are no longer a niche party for tree-hugging hippies but are making a strong pitch for the votes of nice middle-class people with nice liberal opinions, which describes a big chunk of the Labour electorate, especially in greater Dublin. The Greens these days are cultivating a profile not far distant from Labour’s, only without the vestigial socialism and with a much less elderly parliamentary party. This is likely to be a long-term problem for Labour.

And, since this is supposed to be a left blog, I’ll do a quick review of the further left. The Socialist Party’s manifesto is just as dull as you would expect, although I was interested in them proclaiming “Water charges victories North and South”. Well, one of those was ten years ago, and the other comes under the heading of counting your chickens. Some windy platitudes on the North, as the SP aren’t keen to advertise their neo-unionism in the South – God knows why, because there are lots of people in the South who wish the North was a thousand miles away. And really, extremely youthful appearances from Joe and Clare in their official photos. Have the leaders of the working class discovered Botox? I think we should be told.

Next to the Socialist Workers Party (Swiss Toni prop.), running under the “People Before Profit” rubric. In years gone by, the SWP used to lash the SP for its parliamentary illusions, but now appears to believe that Irish politics can be transformed if only party honcho and friend of this blog Richard Boyd Barrett gets a seat in Dún Laoghaire. I really recommend having a look at Richie’s address to the proletariat of Kingstown if you get the chance. I know Richie has the theatrical gene, but I couldn’t help thinking of Groucho in Horse Feathers singing “Whatever It Is, I’m Against It”. Richie has principles, you see, and if you don’t like his principles, he can always get some more. As always with the SWP, the tone could be more accurately captured with a liberal sprinkling of exclamation marks and Yos.

Skipping lightly over the Workers Party, which is running exactly the kind of low-profile campaign it usually does, we conclude with the WP’s former comrades in the Togliattite Irish Socialist Network, who are running the personable John O’Neill in Finglas. John has two key pledges, neither of which he has a hope in hell of fulfilling. The first is that he won’t coalesce with the right, but will try to forge an alliance with Séamus Healy and Joe Higgins (neither of whom, by the way, are looking terribly secure). The second pledge is that he’ll take the average industrial wage – although the Provos take the average industrial wage, and it hasn’t waterproofed them against corruption. Still, I was very taken with his mock pizza ad. A bit of humour in politics is never a bad thing.

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