Gene Kerrigan: ‘A choice between two kinds of corruption’
Brexit will determine the timing of an election, but the dilemma for voters will still be the same old one, writes Gene Kerrigan
Call me a sentimental old fool, but I’ve a soft spot for Micheal Martin.
For decades, Fianna Fail strutted around Government Buildings as though the party owned the place. If you know your history, you know there was a time when FF represented a kind of modernity and competence. The party offered a limping country some hope.
And, despite his later career as a liar and tax evader, it would be wrong not to acknowledge that Charlie Haughey was a significant part of that.
Eventually, swathed in arrogance and self-interest, FF began to see itself as a pinstripe monarchy, born to rule.
Every now and then, the electorate threw a tantrum and kicked it out. Fine Gael got a loan of the trappings of office – and Labour loyally made up the numbers.
By the next election, the electorate invariably had enough of the different strain of arrogance that FG displayed, and FF was back in what it saw as its rightful place.
A lot of voters were prepared to put up with a touch of bribery, as long as it came with a rise in the old-age pension and the chance of an oul’ factory in the constituency.
In the run-up to the 2011 election some Fianna Failers got out their calculators.
They’d handed the country over to the builders and the bankers, who had their way with it. So, when the Celtic Bubble burst, FF knew it was in for the electoral hiding of a lifetime. They’d be out of office for at least five years, probably 10, maybe more.
If you ran for TD, there was a good chance you’d suffer the humiliation of losing. If you won a seat, a TD’s salary would be substantially less than the pension you could take right away. The difference might be as much as €35,000 less per year. Over two terms of government that added up to big money.
Hang on as a TD and before you’ve a chance of office, you’re approaching retirement, competing with young hustlers.
Or, you could take the pension and run.
So, some politicians who had come to see ministerial office as their natural habitat, quietly retired.
Micheal Martin could have been one of them. Instead, he took a large income hit and set about the job of helping FF to its feet.
Perhaps it was loyalty to FF, maybe he believes in public service and it was the only role on offer. It might have been ambition, but he knew it would be a long haul, with the odds against him ever becoming Taoiseach.
Mind you, respect for an individual is one thing – I’d still vote for a peat briquette before I’d vote FF.
You destroy the country once, you don’t deserve a second opportunity to wreck people’s lives.
There’s anger within FF at being handmaiden to the arrogant Varadkar regime, with this “confidence and supply” racket. The cartel arrangement keeps anyone else from assuming a leading opposition role and ensures FG/FF hold onto sole rights to carve up the spoils of office.
But FF unease has inevitably grown. Good God, they lament, have we not suffered enough!
No, you haven’t. While Haughey built a corrupt personal fortune, you looked the other way. Your bagmen hardly bothered disguising the fact that they were collecting and delivering brown envelopes. And you publicly sneered at the naivety of anyone who dared point out that this was happening.
You didn’t care how reckless your builder, banker, backhander, bagman culture was, you gloried in the short-term gains.
You, my Fianna Fail friends, have not yet begun to suffer.
Blame Micheal Martin for your current predicament, if you like. Or just look in a mirror.
Now, the terrors of Brexit prevent FF from bringing down the Government. Micheal Martin knows that giving in to the stupid impulses of his frothing backbenchers could cost Fianna Fail another 10 years in hell.
Varadkar keeps his nervous smile in place and prays the EU big boys won’t let him down. Micheal Martin grimly holds to the long-term plan of rehabilitation.
So, the timing of a general election will be determined by the machinations of the likes of Boris Johnson and Jacob Right-Eejit, the Eamon O Cuiv of the Tory Party.
And we continue to suffer the incompetence and ideological madness of the Varadkar crowd.
It really is a terrible, terrible Government.
They’ve left long-running scandals, in health and housing, to run ever longer.
Later this month is the 13th anniversary of Mary Harney declaring a “national emergency” in health services. It’s 12 years since Enda Kenny promised to “end the scandal of patients on trolleys”.
Their private sector, tweak-the-market “solutions” are ideologically driven and they don’t work. But their free market beliefs run deep and they’d rather continue to watch individuals and families damaged, than admit their policies are the problem.
Meanwhile, they’ve come up with brand-new scandals of their own to pass on to the future. No one was in charge of controlling the costs of the National Children’s Hospital. And no one was in charge of making sure someone was in charge.
They’ve finally figured out that their broadband plan will cost multiples of what they thought it would cost. Even the cost of providing a cycle path through Fairview is to triple.
But we’re governed by people not noticeably bothered by how much anything costs or whether it does the job, as long as they’re prominent in the photos of the launch.
Less thought goes into providing shelter than goes into juking the stats so that the homeless total stays under 10,000.
The contempt they should display to vultures is reserved for nurses.
As support ebbs, Varadkar seeks to secure the party base by means of undiluted class war, pitting “people who pay for everything” against “benefit cheats”.
The first term is a code for the comfortable classes. The second is code for everyone else.
The unearned sense of superiority echoes the Celtic Bubble period – epic incompetence and ignorance combined with unbounded self-regard.
So, there’s our dilemma. It’s not a new one. For a long time we’ve had two parties that share an ideology and an arrogance, and a visceral hatred of each other, born in another century’s civil war.
They seek to cultivate our loyalty as though they were rival football teams, or competitors in a TV dancing competition.
We have Fianna Fail trying to impress us that it’s a caring, responsible party that’s given up stealing and behaving recklessly.
And deep in our hearts we know it must never again be trusted with public office.
And we have Fine Gael, a party with such a toxic mixture of arrogance and incompetence it would almost persuade you to trust FF again.
We have Labour, which broke an encyclopaedia of promises after 2011, and pissed off a generation of idealistic young members, and now throws radical shapes once more.
There’s Sinn Fein, that promises to be so responsible that it will put FG or FF back into office, if it can have a shot at proving its competence.
And there’s the rest – some good individuals, some of them better than anyone else in the Dail, but with no evidence they’re capable of making a breakthrough to develop genuinely new politics.
So, yes, I’ve a soft spot for Micheal Martin, but not a great deal of hope that we can move on from governance by chancers.
Mind you, having said all that, it’s only fair to add that I’ve a soft spot for several members of the Varadkar Cabinet. At the bottom of my back garden, beneath the shed.