Tuesday, March 13, 2007


When I came into the Dáil this morning, there was a letter in my pigeonhole from Gay Mitchell. It was the script of probably the last second stage contribution that the Fine Gael TD for Dublin South Central will make before he retires from the chamber after 26 years.

The speech was ostensibly about the Electoral Act. But conscious that it was a bit of a valedictory for him, Mitchell ranged far and wide, returning to a couple of his favourite themes - neutrality; compulsory national service and the need for Fine Gael to become a Christian Democrat party that appeals to 30% of the electorate. The corollary of that is that he is against it trying to be a catch-all party, spreading itself too thinly in order to attract 60-70% of the vote.

It also included a couple of very unusual suggestions, some of which would prove to be very controversial.

In the context of Northern powersharing and the reform of the House of Lords he had this to say:

"Would we be prepared to allow our Parliament to sit in Belfast while Dublin remained the capital? Alternatively, could the Senate meet in Belfast and the House of Representatives (the English name for Dáil Éireann) meet in Dublin?"

Or a little later:

"We must have more democracy and more democratic debate. What passes for debate in modern Ireland is little short of a sham. Far too many political parties vie for the middle ground, and where there are ideologies they are more likely to be bigoted than open to persuasion by the arguments of others."

Strong stuff. But what else would you expect from one of the Dáil's strongest personalities. He will be a loss to Brussels. A colleague once told me that if he was a dog he would always be chasing cars. It was meant as a compliment.


John said...

I guess the issue for Fine Gael is if the Christian Democrat demographic is an expanding one rather than a contracting one. My own hunch is that it represents older Fine Gael voters and is therefore like to contract as those voters die off. I suspect that the newer Christian Democrat voter is as likely to vote Fianna Fail as FG or else vote for the PDs (i.e. the FG slice of the Christian Democrat pie will shrink as time goes on).

The real opportunity for a strong Christian Democrat-style party in the Republic is if the PDs and FG merged, but I think that could only happen as a reverse takeover (i.e. McDowell running the party), and I don't think the FG grassroots would be able to take it. Would be great craic in the Dail, though.

Dan Sullivan said...

I've always found the Christian Democrat suggestion too forced in an Irish context. Kind of someone from the US asking which party is the Democrats and which is the Republicans or someone from the UK insisting that someone like FF must be the real Labour party because they are larger than the actual Labour party.

A more ideological divide is only likely if FF come down close to 60 seats and then the variety of parties we know have will make it very problematic for them to recover lost seats. It would mark a dramatic shift in Irish politics if FG and FF were both moving about in the range of 45/65 seats. While the Greens, SF, Labour and the PDs (should they survive the departure of Harney and McDowell whenever that occurs) fight over the remaining third of Dail seats.

Harry McGee said...

I find it intriguing that John spoke about a reverse takeover. One of my best friends Mick Clifford wrote a story in the Sunday Tribune suggesting that such a meeting between the PDs and FG took place shortly after the last election. The story was pooh-poohed officially by both parties. But I am inclined to agree with Mick that there was a grain of trht in the story. He certainly established that some form of meeting took place. According to his article, a potential merger foundered over disagreement about the name (Michael McDowell remains fascinated with The Radical Party - what a stroke of Victoriana!). But John is absolutely correct. A tfue Christian Democratic-type party would only occur if the PDs and FG coalesced.

I don't want to sound like I'm agreeing with everybody who takes the trouble to respond to posts). But Dan Sullivan's analysis of FF falling down to 60 seats - the meltdown meets Armageddon scenario - is equally valid!
I'd also like to know what team Dan Sullivan togs out for, given his picture by-line!

Dan Sullivan said...

Harry my view of FF hitting the 60 seats is based on the willingness of huge sections of the electorate in the 2004 elections to abandon FF. I recognise those were the locals and euros. But you would have had to hear the tone of the language from people on doorsteps who were FF voters all their lives. And they don't think that the government has done anywhere near enough to repair that rupture.

I would say it is still just willingness not a committed decision. The opposition might not be pushing an open door with all such voters but it is unlocked and ajar.

As for the team I tog out for. Haven't togged out in a while as the ould left knee is getting kinda funny. That is a Palace shirt and strangely enough became the shirt of the secondary School I went to in Killorglin, the Carnegie long after I left.