Fitzgerald only lasted in office due to political correctness

You’d want to have had a heart of stone not to feel sorry for Frances Fitzgerald as she walked out of Leinster House on Tuesday, writes Victoria White.

Fitzgerald only lasted in office due to political correctness

I keep telling myself she’s not stumbling though the badlands of Africa with a starving child.

It’s just a public humiliation and you have to expect that if you enter public life, even if you are a seemingly pleasant woman in your middle years, who displayed at best gross incompetence in the execution of her duties as minister for justice.

Who “noted” the appalling strategy of the legal team of the Garda Siochána to discredit whistleblower Maurice McCabe. And who now says she forgot all about it.

Who was given advice on how to answer questions from the media on this appalling strategy by repeating like a Dalek, “Both the Garda Commissioner and myself have made it clear that Sgt McCabe is a valued member of the Force”, a statement which is mocked by that same appalling legal strategy.

Who headed a Department of Justice which was at best grossly incompetent in failing to include the three emails, including this evidence in the documents it sent to the Charleton Tribunal.

These are actions which, if performed knowingly by an individual or a group of individuals, could result in a criminal charge.

If you’re the minister you have to take the bullets but even now, Frances Fitzgerald has seemed to wear an invisible bulletproof jacket. People like me feel sorry for her.

They want to like her. Even most members of the opposition can barely find it in themselves to say a bad word about her.

At the height of the controversy propelled in part by questioning by party colleague Alan Kelly, Labour leader Brendan Howlin was on radio this week describing Fitzgerald as “a very good woman” and “a decent person”.

We do not know that yet and we won’t until the Charleton Tribunal has finished its deliberations.

Frances Fitzgerald survived in office far longer than she should have, because she was protected by political correctness and identity politics.

The former social worker rose to prominence as chair of what is now the National Women’s Council between 1988 and 1992. She was a prominent member of the Women’s Political Association.

There was a glaring need for an organisation to promote the participation of women in politics and when I was starting my career in another national newspaper my editor had me on the phone to Frances Fitzgerald regularly.

Fitzgerald personified the new Ireland as most media commentators wanted it to be: Competent, besuited, gender-blind.

Fitzgerald was surfing a wave which would have broken anyway but credit is due to her for bothering to get on the board. Less credit is due to the Irish media which continued to give her a free pass because she is a socially liberal feminist.

She is also a Fine Gaeler and that organisation is the most right-wing party in the State.

The fact that Frances Fitzgerald espouses issues of identity politics usually associated with the left — the fact that she is a feminist who Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says encouraged him to aim for the top job, despite the fact that he is gay and half-Indian — doesn’t change that fact.

It’s perfectly valid to have a right wing — or centre right — economic and political philosophy, but it should be named as such. It should not be overlooked by opposition politicians and media commentators, particularly those of the left.

As minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald saw through the referendum to give children their own rights under the Constitution, a timely and necessary change.

As a mother who has tussled with social workers in the past, my hand was paralysed above the “yes” box in the polling booth, but that was my problem, not Fitzgerald’s, despite the fact that the Referendum Commission was later found to have given biased information.

However I am not yet convinced that the Children’s Act has vindicated the “natural and imprescriptible” rights of many children, let alone all — I’m thinking of the children of lone parents further impoverished by the cuts Fitzgerald’s government made to their benefits and the research into children’s preferences for afterschool care which showed 1% of them favouring the creche care which is planned for them.

For me, the credit Fitzgerald deserves for driving through the Children’s Act was swept away by her suggestion, during the sleepy Christmas break of 2012, that child benefit should be done away with in favour of creche care for children.

I struggle to begin to discuss that idea but I suggest a brief chat with Social Justice Ireland which calls the benefit a “key instrument” for tackling child poverty and lifting families out of want.

I am sickened by the suggestion that it’s alright to fund a third party to care for kids but it’s not all right to fund their mams and dads.

Research shows most mams and dads living in poverty still make good parents.

This right-wing concept, which translates people into economic units, is beloved of the OECD, which criticised Ireland’s child benefit scheme for making it “too attractive” for parents to stay home in their 2005 policy document, Babies and Bosses.

This informed the then-government and its successors to the present day.

For a very long time, no one wanted to hear any criticism of Frances Fitzgerald. The truth is, however, that she is not a memorable speaker.

The electorate failed to elect her in 2002 and 2007 but she is a dutiful party woman who stuck like glue to Enda Kenny during the leadership heave and was rewarded with a job as a senator.

She appears like a parrot on the shoulder on dozens of photographs of taoiseach-elect Enda Kenny and she was duly elected in the Fine Gael landslide of 2011.

It is arguable that she would never have got into a ministry without playing that careful, conservative game.

But it worries me that so much of our media and political establishment could not see it as such because they can’t distinguish between identity politics and politics which serves social justice.

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