Gavan Reilly

thinking out loud

Archive for the ‘Fianna Fáil’ tag

The case for a Grand Coalition

with 5 comments

Wow, a post I’ve had sitting in my Drafts folder since late December, and an argument that I’m now finding the right time to articulate as best I’d like to.

It seems that the more we woke up from our election hangover over the last ten days, and analysed to death what the results might mean if they were to trigger a general election (and with a Dáil majority of six, why the Government would ask the country to kick it out would be beyond me), and the Sunday Tribune interestingly, but ultimately academically, wonders just how many seats Fianna Fáil would have lost if it had been a general election. All of a sudden, the opposition parties are asked not to consider, but to rule out, the prospect of coalition with Fianna Fáil.

[Edit, 11.44am: I’ve just uploaded a spreadsheet with the hypothetical results as outlined by the Tribune last Sunday. Click here to download – it’s an Excel 2003 file inside a zip folder.]

In all honestly, it’s a fallacy to claim that the Irish Civil War ended in 1923. The two main political parties that arose from the great conflict over the Anglo-Irish Treaty (as an aside, it’s odd how the words ‘Anglo-Irish’ so consistent stirs up such vitriol in the Irish public…) still thrive; Fianna Fáil, founded on the basis of opposition to Ireland’s wilful accession to the Commonwealth, only recently postponed plans to move into Northern Ireland or merge with the SDLP, while Fine Gael, the party that held together in support of Michael Collins as he took on the imperial and negotiative might of the British, rides the wave of public sympathy like never before. But one has to wonder, aside from the merit of their continuing sparring, whether there was even much point to their falling-out in the first place. It’s universally acknowledged that, fully aware Britain would not concede full republic status to Ireland, de Valera pawned Michael Collins off with the task instead, thus abdicating responsibility for the inevitable failure. Surely, then, such a problem could easily have been forseen? Either Ireland would have to take the first step towards independence or get nothing at all. Was there even much basis to get all hot-and-bothered in the first place about the fact Ireland didn’t score the impossible victory it craved? The Civil War was simply an inevitable one: neither side would ever have been happy. In fact, to this day, neither has been. Even Dev’s opinion changed over time: he later regretted the opposition to the Treaty in the first place, the very reason he had founded the Fianna Fáil party. It is a cruel irony that 86 years after the end of the Civil War, Britain’s best-case-scenario – that of a cruelly divided Irish state too busy bickering within itself to achieve real progress – lives on, in spite of a national identity that too often defines itself as being Anything But Britain.

There is a great democratic argument for a Grand Coalition, and that’s without surmising that Ireland might soon find itself just as Germany did in 2005 – with no obvious power bloc and the inevitable need for the two main parties to get over their differences in order to govern. In the last General Election, 68.8% of voters chose either of the two main parties. That’s an overwhelming majority ably described as “most people”. The time before, it was 65% – again, a safe majority. Yet, “most people” didn’t vote for Fianna Fáil in 2007 – just 41.6% of people chose to do so. Similarly, 69.1% of people chose not to give their first preference to a Fine Gael candidate. In fact, since their collective existence, there has never been an Irish general election where the parties didn’t collectively accrue at least 65% of the vote, while neither party has ever broken through the 50% barrier to claim an absolute majority of the will of the people.

Thus, these two parties cannot individually claim to have ever represented Ireland’s true will – but a Grand Coalition can, and always could. If the notion of democracy is that the people are ruled according to their will, what could be more democratic than fixing a Government that would never have enjoyed less than 65% of the electorate’s mandate?

Furthermore, let’s take a step backward and just examine Ireland’s political landscape for a moment. Are Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael really all that incompatable? Are they even any different at all? What are their differing policies? Fianna Fáil’s main policy seems to be ‘We endorse any Government involving Fianna Fáil”. Fine Gael’s is ‘We endorse any Government that doesn’t involve Fianna Fáil.’ Since the parties stopped confronting their only real differences – the aforementioned Civil War – on a daily basis, their only difference has been internal culture, and the differing degrees to which the internal turf wars end up with blood being spilt. Say what you like about Fianna Fáil’s notoriously brutal conventions and the internal schism between Haughey and Colley, but you don’t hear about their parliamentary meetings ending in walkouts and blazing rows; whereas Fine Gael’s… well… The end point is that there’s no reason for the parties not to get along – they have no ideological bases from which to join, they occupy the same one. Both are centrist, right-leaning, neo-liberal parties. All they argue about is administration – use this system here, cut those quangoes there. Why not get them into a room to define a programme for Government? A Tallaght Accord for the new millennium?

It’s a sad state of affairs that in that most noble of bloodsports, politics, Ireland can’t claim to have a truly functioning democracy. Every few years we bounce along to the ballots, enthused by plans of great legacy or real social change, and end up replacing one centre-right, introverted party with another, only noticing some real change when Labour aren’t tagging along as the junior partners. Let’s get a Grand Coalition going, then let’s make Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael realise that there are no differences between them; that there is no reason why they shouldn’t shack up and become the single party they were always meant to be. God willing, they’d get it together, and then we might experience something akin to the birth of the PDs, but three- or four-fold: the Grand Fragmentation into a few different blocs, all of whom share an actual political opinion or ideology. We might finally rescue ourselves and have a political scene that uses the same colours, and opinions, and ideals, and debates as everyone else. The chance to elect a Socialist, a Liberal, or a Conservative government, and experience the unique joys and pains of each.

But no. On we trundle, periodically giving Tweedledum a time-out while Tweedledee gets a run off the subs bench, hoping to impress the bosses and win a starting spot for the next match, only to be told that we’re not picking a Government on form, but rather by moderate rotation. Maybe thinking of politics as Ireland’s favourite bloodsport isn’t all that far removed; but maybe we ought to be investigating ourselves for match-fixing on a gigantic scale.

Maybe things might change. Maybe when we next bounce along to the polls, being flooded with promises of how we’re going to ride the next economic wave in a more socially responsible way, we’ll return a combination of TDs that mean a grand coalition is the only way a government can survive. If Fine Gael’s group in the European Parliament is willing to convalesce with the group Fianna Fáil are trying to get into, why can’t they do the same domestically? Maybe next time things might change.

Maybe, just maybe.

Written by Gav

June 17th, 2009 at 7:15 am

Transparency, or How To Mess Up Before You Begin

with 13 comments

I’m sat at home watching Liverpool play Real Madrid in the Champions League right now, where Liverpool are doing a commendable job – as Man United did before them in Milan last night – of taking the game by its horns and rather than simply hoping not to lose, they are actively chasing victory. Liverpool know the score. Away goals count double and even if they lose tonight, a small loss coupled with a priceless away goal will go a long, long way towards advancing and overcoming a major obstacle.

The attitude is summed up very well by Eamon Dunphy at half time, who casually remarks (as Dunphy does) that “many teams go to the Bernabéu having already lost”, a very succinct remark indeed: many teams are so fazed by having to take on the Spanish giants in front of 80,000 of their own fans that they’re already writing off the chance of success.

While I was listening to the half-time commentary I happened to log into Twitter where the hubbub over the launch of Fianna Fáil’s new website was beginning to hit full swing. They’d invited Joe Rospars, who was in charge of New Media on the Barack Obama Presidential campaign. The press release that was circulated publically, asking bloggers to come along – and to bring friends – was as follows:

Strawberry Media are pleased to organise an open seminar with Joe Rospars, founding partner of Blue State Digital and New Media Director of the Barack Obama Presidential Campaign.

Joe will be discussing the lessons of the Obama campaign, how it can be applied in other fields, and will take a Q&A on his talk. Attendance at the seminar is free.

This event is open to all, and would be particularly suited to bloggers and those interested in technology and politics. Numbers are limited, so please register your interest below if you are able to attend.

The event takes place at the Camden Court Hotel, Dublin City Centre at 6pm on Wednesday, February 25th. Click here for a Google Map to the venue.

You’ll notice, unfortunately, that there’s no mention of Fianna Fáil. Nor is there a mention that Strawberry Media, the “communications powerhouse” handling the event, is run by Cllr Damien Blake, a Fianna Fáil councillor in Letterkenny (a decision I still can’t really absorb – even with the FF connections, why have a Donegal-based company operate a Dublin event? Surely FF have better connections or abilities than farming out an event to a councillor who, although having the expertise to run it, is based hundreds of miles away?).

The following, meanwhile, was the substance of the Fianna Fáil release to party members plugging the event:

Fianna Fáil invites you to an audience with Mr. Joe Rospars, Founding Partner of Blue State Digital and New Media Director of President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

In that capacity he oversaw all online aspects for the unprecedented communications and grassroots mobilisation effort undertaken by the Obama campaign.  Mr. Rospars has also helped lead Governor Howard Dean’s hugely successful new media campaign for the 2004 presidential election and worked with Governor Dean at the Democratic National Committee.

Mr. Rospars is in Dublin to announce the formation of an agreement between Fianna Fáil and strategy and technology firm Blue State Digital to work on the development of the new Fianna Fáil website.  The new website will be launched tomorrow and will develop further in the weeks and months ahead.

To mark the occasion Fianna Fáil will be hosting a presentation by Mr. Rospars on his work with President Obama in the Camden Court Hotel on Wednesday 25th February 2009 at 6pm.  We would be delighted if you could join us for this event.

A very different tone, mentioning the words ‘Fianna Fáil’ four times. Clearly one that lets on that it has nothing to hide.

The question arises, why would Fianna Fáil want to give such mixed messages? Surely Fianna Fáil must be aware of the negative public sentiment out there for them; the opinion polls putting them into third place behind Labour surely ring testament to that. Surely, also, they must be aware of the demi-deity that any association with Barack Obama carries.

Why, then, if Fianna Fáil are making the concerted effort (which, I have to say, I do applaud; it’s not perfect but Christ, it’s a start, and from the party’s perspective they’re better off making political hay while they need the boost, and not while plateauing at the top) to seem like they’re changing their ways, starting up an official Facebook group, YouTube channel, Twitter feed and Flickr account, not want to associate themselves with the fact that Joe Rospars was in town, and speaking? Why not pitch the event as an interactive Q&A with bloggers themselves, answering questions on online policy aswell as taking suggestions from bloggers and Twitterers on what they’d most like to see on the site?

It nearly seemed like it was an impossible thing to do, but somehow Fianna Fáil have managed to come out of this whole event – the culmination of what I’m sure is a lengthy build and co-ordinative process in launching a new site and social media network – in lesser standing than they entered. How couldn’t they think that by mentioning their own name and that of Barack Obama in the same breath, that they would surely be seen in better light?

Damien Blake, to his credit, is currently trying to tackle the online hullaballoo head-on over at his own blog. He does, however, state that

“This wasn’t the launch of the Fianna Fáil website.”


“The new website will be launched tomorrow [the message being sent on the previous day] and will develop further in the weeks and months ahead.”

To suggest that the event wasn’t supposed to be a plug for the new website, or to showcase what was there, is a fallacy – and I don’t need to have been there to state that. It’s pure, unadulterated hypocracy. The event wasn’t a FF website launch, but they launch the website the same day as they have an event to announce that the Obama Web Guy is working with them? Such semantics don’t have a place when a hugely valuable outlet is coming out of incubation at a time when FF so badly need a boost.

Liverpool played the game, and won 1-0. Rafa Benitez’s type of football isn’t pretty, but it gets the job done. Maybe that’s the biggest lesson Fianna Fáil need to take from this shocking, shocking waste.

Edit: the Irish Blogs cluster will be appearing soon – keep an eye on this and have a read of the thoughts of Damien, Suzy, Green Ink, and Slugger O’Toole.

Written by Gav

February 25th, 2009 at 10:06 pm