Like the portraits of Dev and Michael Collins, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael may as well hang together, because with Sinn Fein on the inexorable rise, they will most assuredly hang separately.
In the end it was inevitable. By the time the Greens finally finished counting their last ethically sourced and organically grown votes on Friday evening, it turned out that 76% of the party had voted for the programme for government, well over the required two thirds.
By lunchtime Saturday, Micheál Martin was Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar was Tánaiste, and Civil War politics was finally dead and buried. Perhaps it was dead since 2016’s confidence-and-supply deal between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, and perhaps its death rattle came as far back as 1987 with Alan Dukes’ Tallaght Strategy, but on Sunday evening Martin announced his intention to hang in the Taoiseach’s office Michael Collins’ portrait beside Eamon DeValera’s, in a symbolic show of bipartisan reconciliation.
There’s a very obvious metaphor there, and this column is far too cheap not to use it. Like the portraits of Dev and Big Mick, FF and FG may as well hang together, because they will most assuredly hang separately.
The new government is already off to a rocky start, with Martin’s seeming snub to his deputy leader Dara Calleary making this the first cabinet in the history of the State to have no senior minister from west of the Shannon, something graphically illustrated by Michael Fitzmaurice’s colouredy map.
“Micheál Martin, Leo Varadkar and Eamon Ryan unveiled a Cabinet that Oliver Cromwell would have been proud to call his own. To hell or to Connacht, indeed,” thundered the Western People’s editorial.
Calleary did his best to sound a conciliatory tone, accepting the chief whip’s job, and promising to be a voice for the west, but Matt Farrell, Ballina Fianna Fáil Comhairle Ceantar chairman, let it be known that “Micheál Martin need not show his nose in Mayo”. One imagines the new Taoiseach won’t be having his staycation this year any further west than his Courtmacsherry holiday home.
For the first time in a century, we have a female leader of the opposition, and she is almost certainly a Taoiseach-in-waiting. Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald is one of the ablest politicians of the day, but some of her followers seem unwilling to wait for her to complete the tedious business of actually getting elected Taoiseach, preferring instead to tweet, as Cork North Central Sinn Fein TD Thomas Gould did, “Mary Lou McDonald is my Taoiseach”. Mairead Farrell TD similarly tweeted a photograph of McDonald reading “This is my Taoiseach”.
Online, Shinners give every impression of believing Ireland operates on a First-Past-The-Post electoral system, with some claiming they had won the election. Given that we’re not sure when SF stopped not recognising the “Free State”, it’s a little worrying if they are now not recognising the elections they lose.
On RTÉ’s This Week, David McCullagh challenged McDonald on her use of language, specifically her Dáil claim that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael had “colluded in frustrating the voice of change”. When McDonald reiterated that it was indeed collusion, McCullagh presented her with the Oxford English Dictionary definition of collusion: “Secret or illegal co-operation or conspiracy in order to deceive others”.
Taoiseach Of Our Hearts™
The Taoiseach Of Our Hearts™ was having none of it: “I think the word in the English language of collusion has a far wider application than our friends in the Oxford Dictionary, with the greatest of respect to them.” It’s quite a thing to see the self-described “Taoiseach” of Ourselves Alone Shinnsplain the English language to the actual Oxford English Dictionary, but that’s where we are now.
McDonald said that it was wrong of FF and FG to exclude SF from power. She then reminded McCullagh that he is a historian, an accusation he accepted, pointing out that “Fianna Fáil were excluded from every coalition government up until 1989, (despite being) the largest party. Was that collusion?”
McDonald called that “a very deliberate political decision”, which McCullagh countered it absolutely is, but it’s not collusion. When McDonald tried to downplay her use of – as she put it “a word” – McCullagh suggested some people might see that as Trumpian, a suggestion McDonald dismissed as ridiculous.
It recalled for me a scene from Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking Glass.
“‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’ ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’”
Which brings us to another Shinner, one who lately suffered a great fall. Councillor Paddy Holohan, MMA fighter and Conor McGregor tribute act, was last weekend nominated by his fellow SF councillors on South Dublin County Council for the position of mayor. He got their four votes and his own, which served to alert us to the fact that his suspension from SF is up, and reminding everyone of what it was he had done to earn that suspension.
Mr Holohan, who gets kicked in the head for a living, was revealed in January to have made homophobic and racist remarks about Leo Varadkar on his podcast No Shame. Holohan suggested “a family man with children” should be Taoiseach, and Varadkar was “separated from society” because of his Indian heritage, despite Varadkar being born to an Irish mother and being raised in Dublin. “Leo Varadkar’s blood obviously runs to India.”
Holohan issued a hasty non-apology apology, in which he appeared to deny making the comments for which he was apologising. Varadkar graciously accepted anyway. The following day, it emerged that Holohan had also claimed on his podcast that underage girls – children – were sexually extorting men for money.
“There is some f***ing scum women out there as well.
“And I just want to say to you, there’s a situation that I heard during the week… somebody was underage, the person didn’t know they were underage, the girl pursued the guy. Got whatever she needed, had pictures, had videos, and then said ‘I want ten grand’. And that wasn’t the first person, there was loads of them.”
Mary Lou McDonald said his comments were “beyond offensive.” Holohan was suspended from Sinn Fein, but now he’s back.
McDonald said at the weekend that she hadn’t been aware of Holohan’s nomination for mayor, and would have stopped it had only she known. She has form here, not knowing either that Conor Murphy had falsely accused IRA murder victim Paul Quinn of being a criminal, and not knowing either about David Cullinane shouting “Up the Ra”.
Mary Lou McDonald is almost certainly a Taoiseach-in-waiting. If this last throw of the dice by the Civil War parties – with a Green mudguard – falls apart, she may well be Taoiseach very soon. My old pal Conor Lenihan is opining in the Irish Times that Fianna Fáil may be facing extinction. He may be right. Maybe FF and FG becoming one party is inevitable now.
Perhaps we are seeing the belated left/right realignment delayed a century by the Civil War, but some of us would still question whether Sinn Fein is really a left-wing party at all, preferring instead to define it as a party of shameless populism, a latter-day Fianna Fáil on steroids and cordite. (SF’s simultaneous pro-choice policy south of the border and its anti-abortion stance in the North being a case in point.)
This has all and always been about the next election. SF clearly ran too few candidates this year, and they won’t make that mistake again. Next time out, they’ll be hoping to be the Dáil’s biggest party. Still in the middle of a pandemic, the new government faces unprecedented challenges as we face into a global depression. FF and FG (and the Greens) may not be thanked at the end of this, and SF’s hour clearly cometh.
However you might feel about SF’s far-too recent murderous past, we should all be concerned about its populist and – yes – Trumpian present, before we consider allowing its apparent future in government in what David Cullinane calls the “Free State”.
God knows what Dev and Collins must think, looking down from their portraits in what is, for now, Micheál Martin’s office.