Scribbled in black marker on a whiteboard in the ministerial office is a war cry made famous by the epic movie 300 in which a Greek king rallies his troops against the invading Persians.
“Give them nothing! But take from them everything,” reads the quote looming over John Halligan’s table.
It is not what you would expect to find in a minister office: The battle call from Sparta’s King Leonidas who led troops in a last stand at the Battle of Thermopylae where they all died.
However, this is no ordinary minister. John Halligan is a socialist operating in a conservative government. He is fighting from the inside out and is not afraid of a ruckus. The Waterford TD threatened to leave the Government over cardiac services at his local hospital; he has called for the legalisation of prostitution; he has called for the jailing of “bastard” landlords; he told fellow ministers to “shut their mouths” amid calls for him to pay water charges.
Most recently, he attacked US President-elect Donald Trump and called him a brute, misogynist, and headbanger. Clearly no figure, big or small, intimidates the combative TD. The minister of state for training, skills, and innovation describes himself as a socialist. He is working inside the tent, so to speak, and accepts change must be brought about that way.
So how does the former Workers Party councillor and now Independent Alliance TD feel about being part of the cogs of a Fine Gael-led administration: “It’s difficult, I’m not going to tell you it’s a bag of cheese. It’s difficult because we all come from different ideologies. Was I more comfortable in opposition? Of course I was.”
He says a general election was inevitable last February. If the alliance walked away from forming a coalition with Enda Kenny’s party: “At one stage, if we had said ‘no we’re not going to do it’, there was an election. Because Fianna Fáil had withdrawn from talks, Fine Gael had nowhere else to go. At least we had some balls to say ‘we’ll give it a go’.”
Halligan, in an interview with the Irish Examiner, has called for all workers to get a minimum hourly wage of €11.50. He says debate may be needed about Ireland’s membership of the EU.
So how is his working relationship then with Taoiseach, the man overseeing this coalition between Fine Gael and the alliance?
“I’ve always found him very courteous. He has always been very good to me, even when he was in opposition. When you sit down and talk to him on his own, you know that he has compassion.”
Halligan, despite his headstrong manner, also believes the coalition will most likely last. There may be “landmines”. But for the moment, this political slugger, Dáil Éireann’s Spartan, is willing to keep his fight inside the tent.