The sham of new politics is not confined to the smaller parties, writes Michael Clifford

Look, there goes one of the harbingers of new politics.

The Social Democrats, once expected to soar like an eagle in the new dispensation, has been shot down to the level of all the turkeys.

The resignation of Stephen Donnelly from the party on Monday throws into question the whole future of the Social Democrats.

What exactly do they stand for now?

How, for instance, does their social democratic outlook differ from that of the Labour party?

What is new or different about the Social Democrats?

Reportedly, the first sign of tension in the tripartite leadership was over whether or not to attempt to get into government after the last election.

Donnelly was apparently eager to have a cut at power. His two colleagues, Róisín Shortall and Catherine Murphy, not so.

Stephen Donnelly with his family after his election at the Wicklow count centre, Greystones, Wicklow. Picture Nick Bradshaw
Stephen Donnelly with his family after his election at the Wicklow count centre, Greystones, Wicklow. Picture Nick Bradshaw

They saw the party’s future in opposition, where one can forever kick back and declare to be on the side of the angels till Kingdom come.

Is this what the new politics amounts to?

The tension over whether to enter government and swallow compromises or remain outside where power and compromise are somebody else’s problem?

Since the economy collapsed eight years ago, we have been constantly told there is a thirst for a new way of doing things.

This has, over the last few years, thrown up new entities which claimed to offer to sate the public’s thirst.

Trust, honesty, integrity, anti- austerity, anti-elite, anti-bad stuff and pro all the good, these were the buzz phrases that accompanied the recruits to new politics.

And what did we get? We got Renua, born out of the principled stand of a competent politician on a matter of personal consciousness that was as old as the hills.

Lucinda Creighton was turfed out of Fine Gael over her stance on the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act, which she saw as compromising on her anti-abortion stance.

Lucinda Creighton
Lucinda Creighton

She could have cooled her heels and returned to the fold ahead of the general election.

But she believed the hype that there was a gap in the market on Fine Gael’s right wing, fertile ground to accommodate the planting of some new politics.

This was going to be Fine Gael with new integrity, new honesty, bearing new politics.

The electorate didn’t buy it.

Today, Renua is headed up by John Leahy, a well- regarded councillor from Offaly, who will in all likelihood continue to be a well- regarded councillor from Offaly.

Renua’s head office will soon relocate to Kilcormac, Leahy’s home base, and will be of some interest to anoraks and historians.

Just as Renua was to be Fine Gael with integrity, the Social Democrats were new politics’ incarnation of the Labour party.

From left, Róisín Shortall, Catherine Murphy, and Stephen Donnelly at the launch of their Social Democrats party at the Civic Offices, Wood Quay.
From left, Róisín Shortall, Catherine Murphy, and Stephen Donnelly at the launch of their Social Democrats party at the Civic Offices, Wood Quay.

Both Shortall and Murphy had been in the party and both had departed in less than harmonious circumstances.

Neither could relate to the entities further to the left so there was nothing for it but to set up Labour Nua.

There was plenty of substance there, including policies on corruption and health in particular that were well thought out and viable.

There was, however, little innovative that could not have been dreamt up by the Labour party, or even the Greens.

The electorate didn’t buy it.

The three TDs all got re-elected because they are all competent politicians, who have made their mark on national issues across banking, economics and health.

A couple of their candidates were unlucky not to make it, but what if they had?

If, for instance, the Social Democrats had had five TDs, would there still have been opposition within to serve and compromise?

The straw that apparently broke Donnolly’s back was the party’s reaction to the Apple ruling. He wanted time to consider the detail, and examine whether the government should be given space to appeal.

This may have been the considered response of a thoughtful politician, or it may have been dithering.

As far as the party was concerned, the line to be followed was direct and unequivocal, straight out of the new politics book.

“We should use unpaid taxation to improve our public services and national infrastructure and to reframe our industrial policy to make us more attractive as a place to do business internationally. That means improving infrastructure, broadband, public transport, housing stock and more.”

Stephen Donnelly, second right, with RTÉ presenter Claire Byrne and the six other leaders in the TV debate. Picture: FusionShooters
Stephen Donnelly, second right, with RTÉ presenter Claire Byrne and the six other leaders in the TV debate. Picture: FusionShooters

In other words, let’s take the money and run because that’s the simplest message to give the electorate.

There are grounds to dispute the government’s intention to appeal, but suggesting we’d ever get to take money to which we’re not entitled is taking the proverbial.

Apple’s unpaid taxes are due in other countries.

Morally, there is no case that we should be rewarded for hosting the company’s tax avoidance vehicle.

The position taken on the issue suggests that the Social Democrats views new politics as the same old politics of opposition.

Is there anything new about the party? It’s difficult to see how Shortall and Murphy together add up to more than the sum of their individual parts.

Their respective independent guises were as effective as the banner under which they both now operate, but that’s new politics for you apparently.

The sham of new politics is not confined to the smaller opposition parties.

The Apple ruling exposed Fine Gael’s inability to do things anyway differently.

Future of Social Democrats thrown into question

 

Instead of waiting to examine the full ruling, and then opening up a debate in the Dáil on the matter, Michael Noonan bulldozed through both the independent members of government and the Oireachtas with his quick notice of an appeal.

Elsewhere, Fianna Fáil is all for this new politics stuff as long as it suits the party, but normal fare will most likely resume after the next general election.

By then, their ranks may well include Donnolly, particularly if he follows the trend of out with the new and in with old.


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