Despite the dispiriting upheaval of recent times the public face of the contenders’ campaigns has seemed more like civilised officers in a beaten army trying to decide which of them will volunteer to lead a rearguard so some of their number might survive to fight another day. What a change from the back-stabbing, the face-to-face, spitting deceit and feral brutality of earlier leadership campaigns.
No matter how gracious the process may seem it would be almost disappointing to imagine that there is no backroom intrigue in play as it would infer a new, unnatural tameness in what is, by some distance, the most colourful political party in our modern history.
Nevertheless, there is a recurring theme and narrowness that deserves to be addressed. It epitomises a strand of the culture and behaviour that has contributed to getting us into this mess. These characteristics have contributed greatly too to Taoiseach Brian Cowen’s political career ending in such ignominy despite his intelligence and integrity. Undoubtedly other careers that promised so much were shipwrecked by this reality too.
Three of the four candidates spring from prominent Fianna Fáil dynasties. This suggests an insularity, a self-contentedness, a devotion to the idea of themselves, that seems no longer appropriate. It suggests a fealty to the past and all the smugness that infers that may undermine responses to today’s challenges. It must certainly influence decisions and not always for the best.
Continuing that theme Brian Cowen is the child of a TD — as are his Tánaiste and Finance Minister — and though nothing is as yet confirmed, it is suggested that should he not contest the election that his brother would stand in his place.
Speaking in recent days retiring TD Ned O’Keeffe described his seat as a Fianna Fáil seat but an O’Keeffe seat as well. Hence the people once represented by Deputy O’Keeffe will have the opportunity of voting for his far less colourful son Kevin. There was not even a vote at the convention that confirmed his candidacy.
Fianna Fáil is not the only party to facilitate a life in politics for the children of established politicians.
A minority in Fine Gael recently failed to replace Enda Kenny with the brother of a former Taoiseach. In one constituency — Cork South Central — both Fine Gael deputies — Simon Coveney and Deirdre Clune — are the children of former deputies. Labour, to a lesser degree, are as happy as anyone to sustain this habit.
Though this is not entirely unexpected, in a small country it hinders efforts to attract new blood to all parties. Political parties cannot be blamed if talented and committed people choose not to join them but if by blindly supporting dynasties new blood is made unwelcome then they have a case to answer.
That three of four candidates for this afternoon’s election represent dynasties suggests again that politics in Ireland is as much about keeping a grip on power as it is about facing the future by embracing change.