VICTORIA WHITE: Keaveney’s arrival in Fianna Fáil puts an end to Civil War politics

SAY what you like about Colm Keaveney, he has put an end to the Civil War. Ah, not that Civil War, silly. The real Civil War. The war between Charlie Haughey and Garret FitzGerald.

Who were they? What age are you? Too young to be reading a broadsheet, I’d say. Back to your toys and cartoons right now, you’re interrupting my flow.

You see it all goes back to that In Dublin magazine cover in 1982 which said, “Anything is better than Charlie Haughey.” I was wandering around town making a poor fist of being a radical kid. When I bought the magazine from the seller on the Ha’penny Bridge I gave him the thumbs up.

And I meant it. I still do. Nearly anything was better than Charlie Haughey. But surely that doesn’t mean that a full three decades later all we should expect from left-wing politicians and commentators is, “Anything is better than Charlie Haughey”? Even if it’s true he was succeeded by Bertie Ahern?

Charlie Haughey squired Terry Keane all over town while campaigning against contraception, reversing his party’s tradition of being more distant from the Catholic Church than Fine Gael. He did this simply because he believed it would go down well with the electorate.

Both Charlie and Bertie had issues with women and issues with money and the issues were intertwined. This was a truly horrible spectacle, in both cases, and it led to the Mahon Tribunal. This was what was “corrosive and destructive” to Irish politics in Fianna Fáil, as Colm Keaveney said at the time.

But it is over. Terry Keane is, to younger readers, a figure like Wallis Simpson. It is ludicrous to decide, on the basis of those moments in history, that reform and progress in Irish politics are simply about getting rid of Fianna Fáil, even if you replace them with Fine Gael and Labour.

This is an idiot’s reading of our recent history. It is a Champagne Socialist’s reading of our recent history. It completely leaves out the massive social progress which has been made by this country since the time of that great Fianna Fáil revolutionary, Sean Lemass.

It leaves out stinking tenement flats and freezing hovels. It leaves out grannies heading out to the toilet through the rain because half of Irish homes had an outside toilet in the 1960s. It leaves out thinking a secondary education was too much to ask for, until Fianna Fáil’s Donogh O’Malley introduced free secondary education in 1967.

Personally, I read former Taoiseach Brian Cowen’s disastrous public relations at the time of the economic collapse as chronic fear that this huge social progress was now threatened. I think it really mattered to him because he knew the grannies who rejoiced in their new inside toilets.

I remember him saying poignantly that while we might go back 10 years, we would not go back 30. Those 30 years had been his party’s great achievement — with the aid of Fine Gael’s Alan Dukes and his Tallaght Strategy.

How could anyone considered left wing possibly ignore progress like this? Because they grew up with an inside toilet. Or because it was progress dependent on trading with the outside world. Despite the fact that there isn’t a valid party in this state which doesn’t believe in trading with the outside world to increase our prosperity.

When a Labour Party activist rang RTE’s Liveline on Tuesday to complain that Colm Keaveney had abandoned “socialism” to embrace a “right-wing party”, what on earth was he talking about? There is no traditionally “socialist” party with a mandate for Government in this state, nor is there one in most of developed European countries. When the activist mentioned that he’d always been a member of the Labour Party, both here and in the UK, did he not reflect that Fianna Fáil is well to the left of the UK’s New Labour?

Probably not. And that is consistent with the absolute lack of any real engagement by the left wing in this country. And it all goes back to “Anything is better than Charlie Haughey.” Anything at all. Even Fine Gael.

Which in turn goes back, not just to Charlie, but also to a young people’s rebellion against their parents. When the 60-year-olds of today were young they perceived Fianna Fáil and the Catholic Church as Mammy and Daddy, and they are still in a state of mindless rebellion, even though they are now the establishment.

And this means that Labour pairs up with Fine Gael again and again, though Fine Gael’s record on redistribution is nowhere compared with Fianna Fáil’s. This means that Fine Gael/Labour governments can get away with just about anything, in the name of “Anything is better than Charlie Haughey.”

This is why commentator Fintan O’Toole could announce to his readers as a truism that “at least” the current Government “meant well” — unlike the last Government, I guess, who meant ill?

If the Government means well, they could show it better. Their budgets have been “regressive” by comparison with those of the last Government, which, even in the teeth of the biggest economic calamity ever to befall this state, brought in budgets which were judged “progressive” by the ERSI.

That’s why Colm Keaveney’s statement on joining Fianna Fáil because of their commitment to social equality makes perfect sense. It is consistent with his vote against the Social Welfare Bill last December, which brought in that revolting 20% cut in the respite care grant for the disabled. How hideous was that – to target chronically disabled children and their families, while maintaining universal benefits to well-off families?

THE night before the vote I was listening to RTE’s Late Debate when historian Diarmuid Ferriter challenged Keaveney as to what Labour stood for. I heard Keaveney vacillate and start to change his mind. Voting against the bill wasn’t a calculated move. Keaveney genuinely couldn’t stand over what was going down.

I usually hate disloyalty and am disgusted whenever Roisin Shortall’s turns up on telly to put what spears she can into the already bloody stag than is Minister James Reilly. I can appreciate the huge effort which ministers like Brendan Howlin and Michael Noonan are making for this state. However I saw clearly that Keaveney had no choice but to vote against the Social Welfare Bill.

All that said, I would have respected him more if he had remained Independent, or left politics completely. It is unfair to voters who gave Keavaney his job in the name of the Labour Party. It looks careerist.

I wouldn’t vote for him if I were in his constituency. And despite what I know about their contribution to Irish society, I would be slow to vote for any Fianna Fáil candidate unless it was, perhaps, someone like Averil Power and I could see the whites of her eyes. I don’t trust them. I don’t trust their populism. I don’t trust it not to get us into trouble again.

But that sure as hell doesn’t send me into the arms of Fine Gael or Labour if I’m looking for left wing, socialist, social democrat or socially progressive.

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