Lack of self awareness could undo Fine Gael’s hold on reins of power

It's never a good position to be in when people are laughing at you rather than with you, to be the butt of all jokes. If you’re a political party it’s tragic.

It’s difficult to remember a political period so full of mirth and derision. It’s usually around election time we hear that people are increasingly losing interest in politics. 

Not at the moment they’re not. Politics and the art of the kamikaze broadcast interview has had the entire nation agog for days with election counts bubbling away in the background. 

Such is it’s traction that the Maria Bailey “episode” is being talked about on schoolyards, even if, mercifully, the kids are not up to scratch on all the swinging references.

It’s been the week from hell for the Blueshirts. For the rest of us it’s impossible to get any work done with the number of memes, montages and moments posted on social media, or landing in your WhatsApp, involving Maria Bailey and her swing try out that went horribly so wrong. 

This episode will remain forever in the annals of Irish politics. 

It’s something for political scholars to examine in the future but I don’t ever remember seeing the volume of social media traffic, or level of engagement, for any one political episode as I have for this one. 

Plus the standard of many was exceptionally high — you’d lose count of the number of lol moments. But politics is not usually known for it’s laughs and therein lies the problem.

It was admitted by various party figures publicly, over last weekend’s election counts, that the Bailey episode had been raised by voters on the doorsteps during campaigning and likely caused some electoral damage. 

Just imagine if the Dún Laoghaire TD had decided to go on national radio — with arguably our most skilled current affairs presenter — displaying such an awe-inspiring lack of self awareness, ahead of the election voting on this day last week? 

At least she waited until afterwards. The shock among party people in the wake of her performance with Sean O’Rourke will take a long time to abate.

Although Maria Bailey really has no one other than herself to blame for her travails it is worth reflecting on how merciless the world is now when you mess up. 

Social media means there is no hiding place and while I’ve laughed at the cleverness of what has been put together there is also a level of viciousness out there than no human being deserves.

Then along came former justice minister Alan Shatter, who couldn’t really have picked a better week to launch his book Frenzy and Betrayal – the Anatomy of a Political Assasination. 

Never a man for understatement, we were told Alan’s book “is the deeply disturbing story of how a dedicated, truthful and progressive Irish cabinet minister was falsely accused of wrongdoing from office in twenty-first century Ireland, and his traumatic five-year battle for vindication and the truth”. 

Buy it if you must, but really it is enough to know that he has a few right goes at Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in it. 

Leo, we are told, amongst other things, was opportunistic in using the Garda whistleblower controversy to launch his bid to lead Fine Gael. 

He says that the Taoiseach himself, at one point during a conversation between the two a few years ago, laughingly described himself as a “media whore”.

There is a human concept with which we can all have difficulty at various times. It is one which has become glaringly obvious but that Fine Gaelers have great difficulty grasping. 

It is this concept of self- awareness. 

Certainly Maria Bailey leads this pack with an apparent utter lack of awareness of it — all the way through from deciding to lodge a claim against a hotel after falling off a swing, through to that cringe-inducing interview last Monday. 

In her case it might take a transplant rather than a refresher course to hope to instil it. 

Alan Shatter is another hopeless case in this regard — a pity given what a talented and effective minister he was in some regards. But it’s not just that pair. 

What about Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy? He’s already a target for his plummy accent and comfortable background — which is unfair — but is still a political reality. 

With what we are now beginning to recognise as classic Fine Gael self-awareness deficit, he goes and mouths off about the how young people should be “excited” about co-living and having less space for less money. 

That was last week, this week he was out again defending the further rises in homelessness figures, now at 10,378. 

“Disappointing” was how he described it.

Going back a few months we can recap on the logic offered by the Taoiseach in the midst of the controversy over the cost of the National Children’s Hospital.

In essence, and not paraphrasing him too wildly, he said that even if it was costing a big ball of money once it was finished and open, we’d forget the pain of the cost and be thrilled with it.

It’s the sort of approach that simply smacks of privilege. It’s funny that, when you’ve got enough privilege you can all too often fall down on the other important traits such as self awareness. 

An emotional luxury, if you like.

You could say there is a notable high profile exception and that would be Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. 

It seemed that he was in touch with real life and real people. He never tired of telling us that we had to wean ourselves off the politics of boom and bust and learn to live our national life on a more balanced equilibrium.

It was a voice of sanity, in touch with reality and helping us to save ourselves from ourselves. 

But even that can no longer be relied upon with the increasing sense that others in Fine Gael have stolen the key to the safe where the national coffers are stashed.

Fine Gael has always prided itself on being the grown up in comparison with the somewhat uncouth and often times out of control Fianna Fáil. Now the party has some serious re-gearing to do.

Fianna Fáil are not even laughing up their sleeves this week, but guffawing out loud at how gaffe-prone the oul’ enemy has become.

They need to do very little politically right now except bide their hour.

Law and order is a separate issue but still an integral part of the Fine Gael identity. The sense is that gangland crime is getting completely out of control and not just in Dublin. 

The sheer brazenness of what is going on denotes a lack of fear of official reprisal with young fathers being shot while pushing their children in buggies and killings taking place in front gardens. 

How utterly terrifying that must be for people living in those neighbourhoods. 

At its most basic level you wouldn’t be letting your children out to play for fear of what might happen.

“Not a bad day at the office after all,” was what the Taoiseach posted after all the seats in the local elections were finally counted on Wednesday, and it turned out Fine Gael had gained a total of 20 seats. 

The initial target was 50. What’s 30 seats when you’re feeling good about yourself?

It all comes from the top down – so it does.

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