Monday, July 11, 2011

Government Honeymoon - Keeled Out and Gasping on a Hospital Trolley Somewhere in Rural Ireland

Charlie Flanagan, Fine Gael TD for Laois-Offaly, sent this tweet at 8:15 last night: “I can’t accept Labour proposals for Portlaoise hospital. No discussions with staff or trade unions. Not govt policy. Policy on the hoof!”

This could just be kite-flying or shape-throwing of course. But the last week has seen the government lose no small amount of lustre over Roscommon Hospital and if every government TD is going to go overboard over a parish pump issue like so many Jackie Healy-Raes then we’ll all be back in the polling booths within a year.

An Spailpín hasn’t received a review copy of Kevin Rafter’s book about how Enda Kenny became Taoiseach but there was an extract in the Sunday Times yesterday week. It talked about candidate selection and five point plans and the incandescent genius of Mark Mortell, but it did not mention Newstalk and neither did it mention the single most important event of the last campaign, the event that proved that Fine Gael could not be beaten.

Enda Kenny refused to appear on a party leader’s debate with Vincent Browne on TV3 and Fine Gael rose in the polls that weekend. The message was clear; nothing that happens in the next fortnight matters a damn. Fianna Fáil are going to get it good and there’s nothing that can happen to stop that.

The theory that Fine Gael had to fight off a Labour challenge is a bottle of smoke. The Labour challenge may have existed at dinner parties in Ranelagh and Sandymount but on the ground the candidates weren’t there. Rethreads of single issues campaigners or local ward bosses who just want to get elected irrespective of party or ideology – of whom Mae Sexton of Longford is surely the ne plus ultra – were never going to get elected.

But what really gave lie to the notion of competition between Labour and Fine Gael was how quickly Eamon Gilmore put coalition on the agenda, a year or eighteen months after insulting Enda Kenny on the Late Late Show, remarking that Kenny would make a good Taoiseach but a better Tanaiste. The grandees of the Labour Party – Gilmore, Rabbitte, Quinn, Burton – aren’t getting any younger and this was their last chance at power. Simple as that.

So what had been billed as the most pivotal election in Ireland since 1918 quickly became politics as usual. The financial crisis presented the country and Enda Kenny with a unique chance to change the political landscape forever, but Kenny didn’t, couldn’t or wouldn’t see it and settled for more of the same.

And now the chickens are coming home to roost. The media have given Enda Kenny’s Premiership the softest ride in political history, through either a misguided attempt at wearing the green jersey (and any time you hear about this mythical green jersey you may safely bet someone is planning to hang you), guilt at their remarkable coverage of 21st Century Ireland or terror at losing their own jobs as the Irish media industry collapses even more quickly the construction industry.

No matter. Irish politics is stuck on a permanent loop. Enda Kenny, not content with having an election delivered him on a plate, went out and promised the devil and all for votes anyway.

In the coming months Kenny has to keep a lid on spending, keep the EU sweet and the indigenous Unions sweeter, and all the while reform the Irish political system from within, which is a bigger task than doing away with the Seanad or imposing gender quotas as a further block to talent. Oh, and the impeding train wreck that is the Gay Mitchell Presidential candidacy will have to be handled as well. After all that, the booing that Enda will get from the locals at the Connacht Final in Hyde Park might seems as an angels' choir in his memory. God help him, and his poor nation.