Fianna Fáil behaviour corrosive to democracy

Fianna Fáil refuses to hold the Government to account, preferring to put its own calculated government ambitions before the good of the country, writes Michael Clifford

Fianna Fáil can pull the plug at any time but Michael Clifford says that 'is an onerous responsibility... the party seems incapable of living up to'.

EVENTS in this country over the last few days give some hint as to the roots of Donald Trump’s electoral success in the USA.

Stateside, a large cohort were looking for a leader, a strongman, somebody who sounded like he might get things done. They wanted something different from the same old, same old, which is stuck in a groove. So desperate were they that they went for…well, The Donald.

Back home, the same old same old is currently offering more of the same with a different label, entitled new politics.

On Wednesday, it emerged that Taoiseach Enda Kenny had given three different versions of interactions with a minister about the false allegations against Sgt Maurice McCabe. Two of these versions were provided to the Dáil, and the third to the public, via a radio interview.

On Sunday, Kenny told RTÉ’s This Week programme that he had spoken to Katherine Zappone before she met Maurice and Lorraine McCabe about their case two weeks ago.

“I said to her, well, if you do have a meeting make sure you have a thorough account of it,” Kenny told RTÉ’s Colm Ó Mongáin.

On Tuesday, he told the Dáil no such conversation occurred, that contact had been between their respective officials. Had he mis-remembered a conversation that never took place?

He did tell the Dáil that he spoke to Zappone about the issue ahead of last week’s Cabinet meeting, at which terms of reference into the McCabe case were to be finalised.

“She did tell me before the Cabinet meeting last Tuesday that she had met with him [McCabe] and they had discussed allegations that were false in respect of those given to Tusla,” he said.

Later on Wednesday, he said something different. “The minister [Zappone] did not refer to any of the details of the discussions with the McCabes, the existence of a file in Tusla or the information contained in that file.”

Kenny quite obviously has difficulty in this matter with the facts. Perhaps he is becoming infected with the phenomenon of issuing “alternative facts”.

Whatever ails him, his performance opens up huge questions about his competence at the very least.

And ordinarily, one might expect that an opposition charged with holding the government to account would be in like Flynn to expose glaring shortcomings in governance.

Yesterday, Billy Kelleher was on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland wielding his sword of accountability. Tell us, Billy, what does Mr Kenny’s slipshod incompetence on such a crucial matter say about this government’s inability to govern?

“Fine Gael will have to pull up their socks,” Kelleher told Gavin Jennings.

Kelleher was asked repeatedly had he confidence in the Government, but he didn’t really say aye or nay. Then he was asked if he had confidence in the Taoiseach.

“If we are not voting against the Government we have confidence the Government will survive,” he said, answering a question he wasn’t asked.

And what about himself, Billy Kelleher, as a TD, as a public representative, as a Fianna Fáiler? Did he have confidence in the Taoiseach?

“Me personally? Of course I have confidence that the Government will survive,” he replied, once more hearing voices asking questions that were not addressed to him.

The casual listener might well have concluded that Billy Kelleher was a Fine Gael TD, such was his performance in avoiding the question as to his confidence in the Government.

In fact, there are Fine Gael TDs who are more likely to express issues over Kenny’s continued governance than are members of the main opposition party.

The controversy of the last week has highlighted the complete dysfunction of the current Dáil.

Fianna Fáil has the ability to pull the plug on the Government at any time which is an onerous responsibility, but one the party seems incapable of living up to.

Fianna Fáil’s failure to properly hold the Government to account this week indicates that it sees its function in the current arrangement as not to hold the Coalition to account, but to wait for the right opportunity to have a crack at entering office itself.

The issues that may arise don’t matter a whit compared to the calculation as to the electoral imperative in selecting the right time to end the current farrago.

It is in that context that the Soldiers of Destiny haven’t even gone looking for a head.

Twenty-three years ago, during a Fianna Fáil-Labour coalition, the junior party came looking for a head after a series of mistakes over the handling of a paedophile priest.

They were given the head of the then taoiseach Albert Reynolds, but events spiralled out of control thereafter and the government actually did collapse.

This week, Fianna Fáil is not minded that the performance of Enda Kenny over the last few days demands that he collect his bloated pensions and slink off to enjoy it.

No, that would be a stupid thing to do electorally. Instead, they make awkward noises, and assume the roles of both quasi-government and the entity holding government to account.

It might be great fun, but it sure as hell is corrosive of any idea of what democratic politics is supposed to be about.

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