Political process benefits from passionate polemicists

Comment & Opinion

VALUABLE ROLE It is important for a healthy political process to be peopled by representatives with extreme views. TD Eamon O’Cuiv is pictured at the Galway West count centre after his victory in the 2016 general election.  Pic: Mike Shaughnessy

IF only the quality of delivery by the next Government was to be judged by the quantity of days since the general election, our future would seem optimistic. And at 139, if the number of pages in the final document, entitled ‘Our Shared Future’, was a sign of constructive change, much-needed optimism would be guaranteed too.
But that is not how the world works, not in the body politic.
In last week’s edition of The Mayo News, our lead story’s headline quoted one of the Fianna Fáil negotiators stating: “We’ll reboot rural economy.”
Co Mayo Deputy Dara Calleary told our readers that ‘the programme for government will be good for Mayo, as regional development was at the heart of the document’.
He also said that there was no threat to any existing projects, such as the N5, and that all parties involved were ‘committed to the delivery of a new REPS-style farming scheme’ and, moreover, the newly formed coalition would increase ‘the threshold for local authorities to build social housing’.
It is interesting that Calleary’s party colleague, Galway West’s Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív – who has held a number of senior and junior ministries in departments with rural portfolios Ireland – is highly critical of the document’s details.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Sarah McInerney programme last week, he said there were a lot of ‘potholes’ in the deal, particularly regarding rural development, agriculture, housing and the Irish language. In earlier commentary, he argued that the offshore islands were not even mentioned.
While Ó Cuív does not support the deal, he plans to support Mícheál Martin for Taoiseach but ominously says he ‘seriously’ fears for the future of Fianna Fáil.
Significantly, this view is supported by ongoing trends in opinion polls, while Fine Gael’s popularity climbs and Sinn Féin’s is consolidated, despite its background role since the coronavirus lockdown.
Tellingly, a recent Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll shows a big rise in Fine Gael support now at  has 37 percent, up 16 points since the general election, but Fianna Fáil has dropped nine points to just 14 percent. The Greens have almost doubled their support to 12 percent while Sinn Féin is solid on 25 percent.

Rebellious deputies
BUT back to rebellious TDs and Éamon Ó Cuív. He has long been a passionate advocate for rural Ireland. Whether his views are extreme on the language issue – remember the controversy he caused about renaming Dingle with its Irish name, An Daingean – it is important for a healthy political process to be peopled by representatives with extreme views.  The democratic process will always take us to a middle-ground anyway, and thus a healthy parliament thrives on distilling and respecting the more extreme viewpoints of passionate politicians.
Thus it is a shame that the outspoken but inexperienced Co Mayo Green Party candidate, Saoirse McHugh wasn’t appointed, at the very least, to Seanad Éireann. Just like former MEP Patricia McKenna, the Green Party needs representatives of conviction who are committed to challenging the status quo in an attempt to redress the imbalance doled out again and again by a Dublin-centric Government.
On that note, Co Mayo, and, indeed, rural Ireland as a whole, has been fortunate in having such a passionate advocate as Minister Michael Ring. Speculation has been that when the big jobs are doled out this time he may be demoted. Hopefully, it is not the case, although when Fianna Fáil’s deputy leader is in the same constituency and the Soldiers of Destiny had that all-important marginal edge in the general election, it looks like Dara Calleary, and so the north Mayo capital, Ballina, may be the winner on this occasion.
For how long? Let’s not speculate.