ALISON O'CONNOR: Government is feeling the love following success of referendum

WHO WOULD ever have thought, even six months ago, that the Government would end up cresting on a wave of gay love, asks Alison O’Connor.

I imagine if you had predicted this to Enda Kenny before he became Taoiseach he might have laughed at you

But it is the truth. There is no one in Government circles deluding themselves that the same sex marriage referendum was won by them. They always had the power to lose it, but not, on their own, to win it.

That came about through the incredible work of various groups, but especially the Yes Equality campaign. But they’re boosted by it.

It’s a novel feeling for these politicians to be on the right side of the argument, to be involved in something which people say created an atmosphere so good it was akin to Italia 1990.

After all these are the people who have spent the recent past mired in controversy over Irish Water, and by extension the fall out from the policies of austerity.

Reflecting on the referendum campaign one Labour source said what a pleasure it had been for party members to go out on the doorsteps and canvas for a ‘Yes’ vote and to get a positive response.

This was something the beleaguered party members had almost forgotten existed. Being on the winning side has given them a sorely needed confidence boost.

It is widely acknowledged that the referendum would never have occurred only for the Labour Party driving it, and former leader Eamon Gilmore in particular.

It was interesting to hear Panti Bliss/Rory O’Neill say a few days ago that he felt a loyalty to Labour in the next general election because of the Referendum.

He won’t be the only gay person, or their family members, to feel that gratitude, but it is difficult to quantify its actual effect in a general election.

No one in political circles this week seemed quite sure how to harness that massive groundswell of support that grew up around the Yes camp, more particularly the young people who got involved, and took such ownership of the issue and then turned out to vote, or even if it can be harnessed.

The politicians are fascinated and slightly frightened by it, because of it’s strength and unpredictability.

Both sides of the Coalition were being careful not to take too much credit for the Referendum victory.

“There is a goodwill feeling coming our way and we can feel it, but we have to get out of its way and pretend we haven’t noticed,” is how one Government person explained it this week.

Either way the national mood is in far better shape than it was six months ago and the notion that this Government could possibly get re-elected does not now seem utterly beyond the bounds of possibility.

Our national discourse over recent weeks has been marked by the absence of water related controversy.

It hasn’t disappeared obviously, but the Fine Gael and Labour hope is that it has been somewhat diluted.

They think that people are now more receptive to hearing positive economic news, and how it was the Government that brought this about.

The upbeat feeling began really with the Spring Statement last month, which was so criticised by the media and the Opposition, but the Coalition didn’t worry about that too much.

The news they had to deliver was just too good. Even the visit of Prince Charles and Camilla last week, and how well that went, was a bonus.

In recent days we had the announcement over the sale of Aer Lingus. It had seemed as if a decision would never be made.

Six months ago it would not have seemed at all likely this step would be taken since it was seen as being too close to a general election, and too much of a political risk.

You’d have been tempted to put down money that the Irish “politics as usual” would be adopted and that the Government would run in the opposite direction leaving IAG’s Willie Walsh empty handed.

But they did not. They approached it logically. They did the correct thing to hold out and to question, and to ask for more and to get it, and to maturely decide this is the best way forward.

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe handled the issue very adroitly and with political skill. It is a sign in itself that just a few years ago there would have been a financial pressure for the State to do the deal, and get what would then have been badly needed cash.

But the way we can operate now on the markets, at low interest rates, the money will be a bonus but not a necessity.

The handling of the deal and the decision to sell is a way for the Govenrment to hammer home their favourite message that they are the ones to be trusted with the economy, and that they will take the correct decision despite political pressures.

The manner in which Fianna Failers have been indulging in their favourite activity of inflicting damage on the party must give further comfort to the Government.

The departure of Senator Averil Power from the FF ranks has left a very bad taste. In fairness to the party it is not the only one with a “female problem” but it has a shocking gender imbalance in its parliamentary party, and the Senator is a political star.

It is pitiful to see the remaining men stressing how many women they have in the lower ranks.

We know this did not come about through any great enthusiasm on their part, and that any other female can see how uncomfortable it must have been for Senator Power to be in that atmosphere when there was such a massive gender disparity, and such small mindedness.

Averil may have made matters more straightforward for herself, and the accusations of vindictiveness which she faced, if she had waited for a few days, until after new TD Bobby Aylward took his seat in Leinster House and the party had basked in the glory of winning the Carlow/Kilkenny by-election.

But timing apart it is ironic that the issue of her departure has been the one thing that has managed to unite the squabbling Fianna Fail TDs and senators behind Micheal Martin.

Getting back to the Government there is definitely a more benign atmosphere now for an upbeat economic message to be communicated.

Before the general election they realise that there has to be movement on issues such as the cost of childcare, and mortgage interest rates.

The summer break is approaching prior to that we can expect to hear some good news on capital investment on things such as roads and transport.

The National Economic Dialogue will be coming into its own. Before we know it we’ll have the budget, and after that a general election.



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