HE JUST didn’t get it. Fianna Fáil had campaigned against the 1921 Treaty with Great Britain, which established the Free State and allowed the North to opt out. But they had worked it ever since.
And in election after election since 1932, Fianna Fáil had been given a mandate to uphold a situation which they had opposed.
My 12-year-old scratched his head. Why did people vote for Fianna Fáil when they were working an agreement which Fianna Fáil was set up to oppose?
Why had Fine Gael taken a beating when it was their Michael Collins who negotiated the agreement which founded the State?
How do you explain to your child that the history of this State since independence is a con job?
I can get very worked up about this, so most of the time I try not to think about it. But as the anniversary of the shooting dead of Michael Collins rolled past again a couple of days ago, it all rolled back into my head again.
Because Fine Gael is engaged in exactly the same kind of con job which Fianna Fáil pulled off at the time of the foundation of the State.
Just look at the blather in which Enda Kenny indulged on Sunday at the Michael Collins memorial at Beal na mBláth. Look at how determinedly political he was in claiming Ireland for Fine Gael.
All this stuff about making “difficult, sometimes impossible” decisions to regain our economic sovereignty. When he knows full well that restructuring programme is the four-year-plan designed by the Fianna Fáil/Green government in 2010.
Today’s “Treaty” is the agreement with the Troika, negotiated by Brian Lenihan when he took that lonely flight out from snow-bound Dublin in 2010. Like the Treaty it was a flawed agreement, but the best which could be got at the time. Like the Treaty it was necessary for our national security and Lenihan knew it could be improved, with time.
It wasn’t his death warrant, as the Treaty was Collins’s. But though Lenihan knew he was dying, there was quite simply no effort he did not make for the sake of this country.
Fine Gael and Labour deliberately let the 2011 Budget, which ushered in the Troika deal and took an agonising six billion out of the economy, be seen into law.
They knew the Government would fall if their motions of “No Confidence” in the Government were allowed, because the Greens could not vote confidence in a Taoiseach who had sent most of his Cabinet packing at a time of national emergency.
If the Government had fallen, the budget would have fallen too and the Troika deal would have been null and void.
Fine Gael and Labour could have started all over again and designed their own budget. But they didn’t want to. In true de Valera style, they wanted someone else to take the blame.
And so they met Minister Brian Lenihan in Government Buildings and agreed to drop their motions of no confidence until the following week. Leaving just enough time for the budget to be signed, sealed and delivered into law by their opponents.
Then they voted against it in the Dáil. Try explaining that to a 12-year-old.
Fianna Fáil took the hit for that budget, and they deserved it. They were around in the early-to-middle years of the Noughties when the low-tax, high-spend model took hold. They were around when the property market, along with banking, spun out of the control.
They were unlucky that they were in power when the capitalist world collapsed in the West and revealed the eurozone as a house of cards — of which Ireland was hardly an ace. But bad luck is a political fact of life.
It was inevitable that the Government which came to power last year would be led by Fine Gael. But was it really inevitable that Fine Gael would lie to the people about changing the plan for dealing with the crisis?
Did they have to pretend, as did Leo Varadkar, that they wouldn’t be putting “another cent” into the banks unless they imposed losses on bondholders? Brian Lenihan had cleared the path for them to impose losses. A controversial banking law which he put through in Jan 2011 made it legal, for the first time, to differentiate between depositors and senior bondholder in our banks.
But Enda Kenny said that failing to pay off the Anglo bondholders would be “like a bomb exploding” in Dublin.
He may have been right, but he should stand up and claim his own policies, including his support of the banks.
The “bank guarantee” now in force is that extended by Kenny’s own Government at the end of last year.
Michael Noonan is following Brian Lenihan’s financial policy to the letter. Some confidence that he would do so must have been a comfort to Lenihan in his last illness. A quotation from Michael Collins leapt out at me from T. Ryle Dwyer’s recently published Michael Collins and the Civil War: “There seems to be a malignant fate dogging the fortunes of Ireland, for at every critical period in her story the man whom the country trusts and follows is taken from her.”
Michael Collins was talking about Arthur Griffith. But he could have been talking about himself. Or Brian Lenihan. Because it seems to me, someone who has never voted Fianna Fáil, that Lenihan saw through the hypocrisy of our post-iIndependence politics.
He was proud to make the address at the Beal na mBláth commemoration in 2010, the first Fianna Fáil politician to do so. How different was his tone to that of Kenny, how generous, how non-partisan, how truthful.
He said his grandfather, Fianna Fáil politician Paddy Lenihan, had been pro- Treaty. That he had been attracted into Fianna Fáil by Sean Lemass because he had some qualities he had admired in Michael Collins: “the talent for organisation, great energy and a modernising tendency.”
He questioned openly whether Fianna Fáil would even have existed had Michael Collins lived.
What would have happened to Fianna Fáil if Brian Lenihan had lived? I spoke to one of his close colleagues in the emotional aftermath of his death who told me Lenihan envisioned Fianna Fáil going into government with Fine Gael. When he was told it would destroy the party, he said, “What of it?”
It shouldn’t matter to a real leader what party is running the country as long as it is run as well as possible. A real leader does not look back at the country’s history as the history of his or her party’s relationship with power.
But Kenny spins the line of Ireland’s delivery from Fianna Fáil hell to Fine Gael hereafter as if the dramatic rise in this country’s prosperity from the time of Lemass on simply never happened.
He is giving Fianna Fáil their just deserts for eight decades of working the Treaty which Michael Collins negotiated and they opposed. And you can argue, as I’m sure his spindoctors do, that he has to pretend he is breaking with the past to bring the people with him.
But it is a con job and people see through con jobs in the end — particularly 12-year-olds. What Brian Lenihan said at Beal na mBláth in 2010 rings true: the current crisis demands “that all those in positions of leadership are straight with the people”.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved