Saturday, October 29, 2011

Five Post-Polling Day Questions

Michael D Higgins is the President Elect, and the country could have done worse. But it’s been a filthy campaign, and another indictment of a political system that is failing the people. Here are five questions that are worth pondering as we turn back the clocks and move on to the next great political crisis, Budget 2011.

Will We Ever See an Election That Isn’t Decided by Process of Elimination Again?
Baggage allowance is now more important to the Irish electorate than it is to Ryanair. Enda Kenny become Taoiseach by process of elimination – the fact he rose in the polls after refusing to appear on Vincent Browne’s debate is proof of that. And now the Presidential Election has been decided by the same metric. Gallagher supporters realized that the man wasn’t up to the hope so they stepped away and went for the only possibility of stopping him.

And could have been worse. Enda Kenny is a good and honest man. Michael D is a good and honest man, and he also did his bit for the country in founding TG4 and helping keep the language alive for another few years. Michael D deserves the win for that alone.

But it is deeply depressing that leaders are elected for their ability to disgust the electorate the least rather than their ability to inspire the electorate the most. That is very depressing indeed.

Why Did Sinn Féin Choose to Elect Michael D?
Sinn Féin didn’t win the Presidential election, but they certainly decided it. Prior to the Frontline debate, Seán Gallagher was home and hosed. We know this from three sources – the opinions polls coming up to the last weekend of the election, the RTÉ Red C recall poll that showed 28% of voters changed their minds in the final days, and that 70% of that 28% voted for Michael D, and the pattern of postal votes that were mailed before the Frontline debate showed Gallagher the clear winner.

But the Frontline sank him. The question from Martin McGuinness dropped Gallagher to the floor, and some hysterical media coverage in the papers administered the coup de grace.

The question is why – what’s in it for Sinn Féin? Their own high hopes blew up early in the campaign when a combination of wretched hypocrisy and hateful self-interest showed that partition is now as much part of the Irish psyche as porter and giving out about the English (the irony is lost on the people, of course). The Nation sees itself as a twenty-six county entity only, and wants nothing to do with the North. Nothing.

A harsh lesson for Sinn Féin, but they could have stood back and let Higgins and Gallagher duke it out. They didn’t. Martin McGuinness ended Gallagher as a viable entity. He could have stood by, but didn’t.

Why? What’s in it for Sinn Féin? Is it because they wanted to reach out to their fellow revolutionary socialist? Did the very thought of Gallagher appall them and they decided that they while they could not themselves win they could stop a man for winning? Do they think it sets them up better for the next general election, as the sworn enemy of cronyism where-ever they may find it? And will we ever get to the bottom of the ghost tweet? Questions, questions. It would be the nice if the media investigated even some of this but your faithful correspondent shan’t be holding his breath.

What Was David Norris Thinking?
The biggest loser of the whole campaign is undoubtedly David Norris. There wouldn’t even have been an election it weren’t for him – there could have been cross party support for Séamus Heaney, for instance, and the country could have saved itself a lot of money and angst.

Instead, Norris demanded his election and he can rue it for the rest of his days. For the first half of this year there was universal coverage of what a fine President Norris would make. The campaign exposed this view as hopelessly wrong. David Norris is an innocent, and he suffered the fate of all innocents when they leave the protection of their nursery. Slaughter. God love him.

Should Alan Shatter Consider His Position?
The surreptitious referenda campaigns were more serious than the Presidential Election. The President doesn’t actually do anything, of course, but those referenda could have visited untold disaster on the populace.

The Government’s attempt to sneak these complex and important referenda past the people by bundling them with the Presidential Election, like a schoolboy trying to sneak a copy of Nuts magazine into the pages of his Farmer’s Journal, was shameful and disgraceful.

But even more worryingly, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter’s bizarre response to the concerns of eight – eight – former Attorneys General should be addressed. Shatter dismissed the concerns of all eight men, who were appointed by different Governments and are of different political affiliations, as “nonsense,” and nastily suggested that some of the former Attorneys General had other agendae. Shatter did not spell out what those other agendae were or which of the eight held them, because that would have seen the Minister in the High Court in need of an attorney himself.

But it was an astonishing attack by the Minister for Justice on men who have sat at cabinet and have had significant roles in governing the country. What does it say about Shatter’s regard for the role of Attorney General itself?

For the Minister for Justice to disagree with one AG is fair enough, not least if the Minister is a lawyer himself and knows whereof he speaks. But to dismiss eight of them seems rather like a tipping point number, and dismissive of the whole office in the first place. Does Minister Shatter take advice from his own AG? Does he choose that advice a la carte? Will he dismiss eight opinions until he finds a ninth that he agrees with, and then preface his remarks to Dáil Éireann with “The Government, on the advice of the Attorney General…”?

Should the State have an Attorney General in the first place or a yes-man like The Bird O’Donnell? And perhaps more importantly, how can a Minister for Justice continue in his position when he holds so little regard for past holders of the office of Attorney General? It really is quite astonishing.

Should We Look at the Presidential Nomination Process?
Yes. Specifically, we should look at either abolishing the office entirely or having Presidents appointed by the Oireachtas. The country has been through a campaign that has been expensive in money, cheap in practice and mean in spirit. We don’t need to do that again. The fiscal suffering is bad enough without the damage done to our souls by so vicious a fight over so trivial an office. Enough. Let this be the last.