Gormley’s move to the dark side

By | April 9, 2008

Note: Sunday’s column. Regulars will see some recent themes on the blog have been drawn into it.

You might have seen an “intervention” in some bad American drama. A key character has an addiction or been brainwashed by a cult. The family and friends gather together and persuade them to seek professional help. If it works, the victim breaks down and checks in for therapy. Is it intervention time for John Gormley? That business on the plinth during Bertie’s resignation speech was extremely odd. There was the soon-to-be-ex-Taoiseach surrounded by his loyal lieutenants and would be leaders of Fianna Fail: Brian Cowen, Brian Lenihan, Martin Cullen and John Gormley. Gormley? The leader of another party? A party that used to talk about high standards and ask tough questions about unorthodox payments? Why was he in prime position gravely nodding as Bertie reminded us of what a great Taoiseach he’s been?

He told us himself during the negotiations last year that he had started to like his Fianna Fail counterparts. Like appears to have become blind love. It’s a clear case of Stockholm Syndrome. He is a hostage, albeit a voluntary one, and is so enamoured with his captors he has vowed never more to speak of personal donations, sterling lodgements or political corruption. Such nasty terms belong to his past; a past of opposition, a past of protest and as he might argue now, a past in which he didn’t achieve a whole lot.

The Green Party Leader realised that the politics of opposition is the politics of failure and the only way to effect change is from within. Since Fianna Fail has achieved near permanency in government, he gritted his teeth and did the deal. Of course, it would have been nice if he’d shared that view with the electorate prior to the casting of votes last year. But he is no longer simply ploughing an independent furrow for the Greens in government. His behaviour last week demonstrated that his move to the Dark Side is complete. He is gone for good and the only question now is if it will come to any good. He wants to Save the Planet and he can’t do that from the other side of the House. Is it possible that he did the right thing?

Last weekend just 4,000 people showed up to march down Dublin’s O’Connell Street in protest at the state of our health services. Original expectations had been that 70,000 angry citizens would join the protest. Since our two tier health system leaves a lot of people without care and worse, without basic trust in their doctors, that estimate should have been realistic. So where were the angry victims of the shambolic bureaucracy that is the HSE? Why didn’t they show up?

There are two possibilities. One is that despite all the bad press, most people are quite happy with our health service. Alternatively people care, but knew that there was no point whatsover showing up to a protest march. It would achieve nothing.

Taking to the streets is so romantic, and there were times when it worked. The great Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam protests in Washington DC did influence policy. Sheer numbers can topple regimes as we saw throughout Eastern Europe in the late 1980’s. As recently as 2004 it took daily street protests to ensure that the rightful winner of the Ukranian presidential election Victor Yushchenko was installed in office. But in Western democracies in recent history, when has a march changed anything?
On February 15 2003, millions of people throughout Europe took to the streets to register their opposition to the invasion of Iraq. In Dublin 100,000 walked from O’Connell Street to St. Stephen’s Green. It was genuinely unprecedented. The Irish marchers demanded that the government ban American soldiers from landing at Shannon. Bertie cheerfully announced that he agreed with the protestors and then opened up Shannon to the US army anyway. So much for people power. If a good old march can’t stop a war, its hardly going to make the HSE fire middle managers and hire physiotherapists instead.

So what’s left to the weary citizen who wishes to express his views? You can throw yourself in front of a bulldozer but the NRA will build their road anyway. You can hand out leaflets in a shopping centre, but that’s private property and you’ll get moved on. Ring Liveline? Write a letter? It’s increasingly pointless. The Greens would know all about this since they originated in the politics of protest. So they climbed down from their trees and signed up for real power. As for the ordinary citizen? His last hope is his vote but even that means little now. No matter who you vote for, the government gets in.

While Fianna Fail have been rightly condemned for corrupting politics, I have always believed that Labour’s decision to enter coalition with them in 1992 poisoned the democratic process in a more insidious way. When people vote for Fianna Fail they know exactly what they are going to get.

But when the Spring Tide gave Labour an extraordinary opportunity for change in 1992, they turned around and put Fianna Fail back in. So began the trend for smaller parties to sell themselves to the highest bidders and Fianna Fail has deeper pockets every time.

For the TD in opposition, I don’t know how they get out of bed in the morning. They have none of the back up of their government opponents yet are expected to be as well briefed and write as many letters to constituents. They have no hope of influencing policy. In effect, they end up as social workers, trying their best to help individual vulnerable citizens battle bureaucracy to avail of their rights. I suppose selling out to the enemy starts to look attractive. Even within the government party TDs often find themselves voting against their conscience because they cling to the belief that their position inside the tent is infinitely better than outside.

So when Gormley is on his political death bed, how will he judge himself? The M3 will be built, the Ward Union will hunt their stags but perhaps we’ll be using long life light bulbs. Maybe Eamon Ryan will have a few wind farms under his belt and Trevor Sargeant some regulations about organic food. Is that it? Is that enough to openly and explicitly throw in the towel and tell us that we can expect many things from our politicians except that they declare their income and pay their taxes? I don’t think so. That tent stinks so I’ll stay outside thanks very much. Everyone inside: cover up.

20 thoughts on “Gormley’s move to the dark side

  1. Darren Prior

    The Greens and the PD’s alongside FG are to put it bluntly fcuked. Maybe the Greens will hold their seats in the next GE but we all know that the PD’s are already fcuked.

    FG are marginalised with Enda Kenny as leader. When Brian Cowen formally becomes Taoiseach the gulf will widen.

  2. Electron

    Darren, you’d have to feel sorry for Cowen – he’s going to go down with the economy. He’s totally unqualified to run a country in difficult times – he’s only a solicitor, he’s way out of his depth. The opposition will have him on the rack for the foreseeable future. Maybe, Bev. will give him a dig-out with some creative off-shore financing.

  3. john

    Every so often the Green mouse gives a little squeak and then disappears. Previously the PDs functioned as FFs mudguard. It is now the Greens turn.
    The deficit is heading for €5 billion. Other leadership aspirants in FF are biding their time. They realise that a plunging economy could fatally damage Cowen. Far better now to let him take a direct hit. If the economy is struggling in 2011/2012, FF will lose the election. The men in white coats will remove FFs new hero.
    Contrary to the generally held perception, Richard Bruton bested Cowen in economic debates prior to the election. Cowen appeared animated and raised his voice . This clouded some of the arguments and served to give the impression that he was correct.
    Recent economic data proves conclusively that Cowen got it wrong.

  4. RP

    I saw the health demo you talked about, Shinners being shinners (can you be concerned about people’s health when your fiestier members sometimes beat some guy(s) to death?), joined by Labour being appalled at everything and local hospital groups campaigning for inferior cancer services on everybody’s doorstep. Add in the ICTU to insure that no one can be sacked no matter how uselesss/incompetant/disinterested/surplus they are. A great mix, highly representative but going nowhere. Is the health service suposed to cure people or create jobs?
    As to Gormley, he’s a member of cabinet, where else was he suposed to be? If green politics are to be taken seriously they can’t walk out of government everytime a tree is cut down in ballynowhere. They can’t fix twenty + years of banditry overnight and FF know what get’s them votes. Planning permission to build South Forks anywhere you want so you can drive twenty miles in the SUV to drop of the glass at the bottle banks. More popular than you might imagine and it brings in the votes.

  5. joemomma

    “The Green Party Leader realised that the politics of opposition is the politics of failure and the only way to effect change is from within. Since Fianna Fail has achieved near permanency in government, he gritted his teeth and did the deal. Of course, it would have been nice if he’d shared that view with the electorate prior to the casting of votes last year.”

    To my recollection Gormley was pretty upfront about being determined to go into Government. If you listen back to his “planet Bertie” speech (now being touted as something of an embarrassment for him), he says that can’t face another five years of opposition.

  6. Mol

    I read an article in one of the Sunday papers regarding Cowen and how grossly unfit he will be to lead the Country. He couldn’t get out of the Dept of Health quickly enough (Angola), he has flittered away the money and did nothing of note or regard in any other dept he has served in. I am with John. FG have nothing to fear of Cowen.

    Meanwhile watch Brian Lenihan!!! I havevisions of Aunty Mary keeping in line all the Senators.


  7. Tomaltach

    Cowen certainly bears some responsibility for the mess we are in. But not all, probably not even most. That accolade goes to Charlie McCreevy who was in Finance for 7 years and who was notoriously imprudent with the purse. Remember his Santa Claus budgets. McCreevy slashed the tax base and presided over the setup of the first benchmarking report, the mad decentralisation scheme, and other questionable measures such as the special savings scheme. By Comparison, Cowen was cautious, but he should have made a better attempt to get spending under control, especially given that he knew the boom was tailing off. Also, his stamp duty reform should have made stamp duty fairer but not cut the stamp duty intake. His cuts amounted to a stimulus package for what was already a bubble ready to burst. Utter madness.

  8. Sarah Post author

    I don’t think Enda should fear Cowen either. Part of the problem with Bertie was that it was so hard to get him going. He’d agree with him or just waffle on most of the time. The handball against the haystack analogy of Rabbitte’s was perfect. Cowen is far more likely to lose it, and therefore look wounded. I think its a good opportunity for Enda.

    on the Greens, readers know my view. Rabbitte said he wouldn’t talk to FF and didn’t and was accused of naivety. Sargeant said only without him as leader would the Greens end up in government with FF (ie he was totally against it and would resign protest). So he resigned, but only after persuading them, in what we were told was the speech of his life, to accept coalition. His so called honour was a mere technicality as far as I’m concerned. If he had argued against coalition on the grounds that standards had to be maintained, but the party voted against him, I would have applauded him. But he talked out of both sides of his mouth. It was bullshit.

    And as for showing up on the plinth..where was Mary Harney? Gormley had no place there. It was a Fianna Fail issue.

  9. Tomaltach

    About your main point on Gormley standing behind Bertie – absolutely agree.

    I’m not so sure about Kenny versus Cowen. For me Kenny always comes across as someone out of his league, a lifetime backbencher propelled into the spolight by circumstance not talent. Circumstance being FGs dreadful lack of talent at the front. He may have been a good organiser, and he has to get some credit for winning back seats (though that is overstated, if you can’t make gains against lame incumbents who’ve been in for a decade you aren’t much of a campaigner). Kenny’s response on the day Bertie resigned showed him up in a big way. First, he was caught off guard and showed that he cannot respond to a quick change of circumstances. Second, he completely misjudged the tone and came across as ungracious or even bitter. When he asked the Taoiseach about a date on Lisbon I just cringed – as did Bertie who just dropped his head. It was brutally embarassing. Third his calls for an election just sounded stupid. There’s political football and there’s pissing in the wind. Kenny just looked like a sad loser. He always seems like he’s winging it, hoping for the best, unsure but indignant.

    Depending on the economy and Brian Cowens fortunes, Kenny could still win the next election against an utterly fatigued and arrogant FF, but if he does it will, like his leadership of FG, come about by circumstance not talent. That he appears to be the best they have is sad endictment of the state of the party.

  10. Niamh

    And as for showing up on the plinth..where was Mary Harney? Gormley had no place there. It was a Fianna Fail issue.

    Mary Harney was there, she is just so short that she can’t be easily seen. From reading the newspaper reports, Gormley’s position didn’t seem to be a big deal, as the journo’s were on the ground and not reliant on the TV shot. They were in a position to see everything – and everyone.

  11. Andrew Lawlor

    Pedants corner, Sarah. it was Joe Higgins who made the handball against the haystack analogy.

    “Asking the Taoiseach a question is like trying to play handball against a haystack. You hear a dull thud and the ball does not come back to you. It goes all over the world, but it certainly does not come back to the person asking the question.” Joe Higgins Socialist Party TD, Leinster House 29 January 2003

    However, whether Higgins actually coined trhe phrase himself or borrowed it is unclear. Writing in the New York Times of June 9th 1997 James F Clarity, reporting on that months general election in Ireland says – ”Negotiating with Bertie,” a union leader was quoted as saying, ”is like playing handball with a haystack. Nothing comes back.” This was almost six years before Higgins made his remarks in Dáil Eireann. Whether Higgins is the quoted union leader from 1997 is not stated.

  12. Sarah Post author

    oops apologies to Joe!

    On Mary Harney, I heard she wasn’t there at all BUT if she was but standing out of shot, maybe she was clever enough to do that…

    We had better find out for sure.

    Bottom line is, his presence there gave a clear signal that he was supporting Bertie and he should not be supporting someone when they are resigning (regardless of how they spin it) because they’ve been caught telling porkies about money.

    I shall get on the case re Harney.

  13. Darren Prior

    As a FG supporter I would rather see Brian Cowen as Taoiseach then Enda Kenny.

  14. Sarah Post author

    Great. No wonder FG can’t get into government. Such wonderful supporters.

  15. Darren Prior

    With such an iffective and wooden leader to be precise. The front bench of the party is very good. Its the leader that it is letting the party down.

  16. Gordon Davies

    Attempts to run right wing Green parties throughout Europe have failed. The conservative conservationists in the present Government will disappear into bog somewhere to the west of Tara within the next few years.


    PS I was a member of the Greens (les “Verts”) when I lived in France. They are a aprty largely to the left of the Parti Socialiste on most issues and have developed many strong policies on the necessity to transform the traditional debate between Society and Economy into a triangular relationship between Society, Economy and Environment.

    When I arived here I was shocked by the reactionary position of many Green militants on social issues.

  17. V

    ..good start, displays perfectly how intransigent the Chinese are, to get offended over that. I’m sure Mr Saturday Night, DH, will go and clean up the mess.

  18. Andrew Lawlor

    ‘I hope our relations with Ireland, including economic relations, can go on,’

    The above comment from the Chinese ambassador as he left the Green Party conference last night are very instructive as to what is at the heart of this debate. Whatever the wrongs and rights of the Tibet situation, we should be in no doubt that China will not hesitate to use it new economic might to bully the western economies into toeing the Chinese line. The Irish government, despite Mr. Gormley’s comment,s will do exactly as China requires to support a two way trade which now exceeds €5.5bn per annum.

    Ther will be no boycott of the Olympics, sporting or political, and the huge Irish trade mission to China will take place as planned this coming autumn.


    Over the last couple of weeks I have heard convincing arguments from both sides of the China/Tibet debate and also on the topic of whether Tibet is in fact a seperate nation or an integral part of China. I don’t know enough about this issue to express an informed opinion but I would be interested to read Sarah’s and her erudite reader’s views.

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