Thursday, 17 February 2011

Party of the people

One of my grandfather’s is dancing a jig right now while the other murmurs, “the chickens have finally come home to roost."

The demise of Fianna Fail has undoubtedly caught the attention of these two very different gentlemen in whatever zone of Hades they find themselves.

The very mention of Éamon DeValera could send the jiggy one into paroxysms of rage for his people were staunch Home Rulers and later adherents of the Fine Gael Party.

The more thoughtful one had strong Republican sympathies. He tended to vote Fianna Fail but had his reservations about DeValera’s entry into constitutional politics.

Indeed one learned early on to tread carefully on the subject of politics. Both sets of grandparents spoke civilly of each other and yet I can’t remember ever seeing my grandfathers in the same room.

I never mentioned my admiration for James Connolly to my Fine Gael grandfather, for I was fond of him and had no desire to be responsible for his suicide.

My Republican grandfather, a small businessman, had little time for Connolly either declaring him to be “nothing but a little Scottish troublemaker.”

This opinion didn’t take a feather off me for I was at that very fortunate age where one knows it all. To my mind, Fianna Fail was like a great big damp rag lying upon the face of the country. Indeed, I would have voted for Big Tom and The Mainliners had there been a chance of dislodging “the boys” from power.

And, mark you, I lived in the progressive metropolis of Wexford where Brendan Corish, the leader of the Labour Party, on occasion served me pints of cider from behind his brother’s bar. Despite that, there seemed no hope for change – Fianna Fail would always rule the roost - that was that!

Back then being majority party meant control of patronage – post office franchises, county council contracts - good decent honest graft.

That changed in the late-60’s. Even in his early days there was a deep suspicion of Charles Haughey and his mohaired ilk in Wexford. I remember a speech he gave in the Bull Ring where he was heckled unmercifully – the honor of his mother was even called into doubt. The bold Charlie merely smirked as if to say – shout all you want, Yellowbellies, I’m laughing all the way to the bank.

The jiggy grandfather turned purple at the mention of Haughey’s shenanigans; the thoughtful one sorrowfully shook his head; the party of the people had sold its soul to land developers and other gombeen men on steroids.

Money had replaced principle. And as happens in such cases, lesser men took charge and the talent pool shrunk; why recruit brilliant people when you have “the boys” who will vote the party line.

As property speculation ballooned over the last decade Fianna Fail had become so enmeshed with the bankers that when the bubble burst the government foolishly underwrote massive over-leveraged loans.

I’m no admirer of DeValera – I think he nurtured and made a virtue of the small-mindedness and inward thinking that hobbled us for so long; yet, he would never have allowed his party to squander the sovereignty and economic well-being of the Irish people.

This coming election will be both a landmark and an opportunity, for it will mark the final end of Civil War divisions. Irish politics will enter a new era of fluidity. The new government, unfortunately, will have an even bigger mess to clean up than Barack Obama after our own orgy of greed and over-leveraged insanity.

And Fianna Fail? Well, the “boys” are fast jumping from the sinking ship. But it’s the old dog for the hard road.

The party has already shed much of its inept and compromised leadership. Like any seasoned pugilist, it will rope-a-dope and take a considerable shellacking in the election.

But it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it rediscovers its core principles, and one day yet again reclaims its mantle as party of the people.

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