A YEAR OF UPS AND DOWNS Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary addressing the gathering at the count centre in Castlebar after his election last February. The Ballina man could hardly have envisaged a year of such turmoil after he was elected as a TD for Mayo for the fourth time. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
One year on from General Election 2020, the Grand Coalition has plenty of work ahead
THIS day last year, all of us local journalists were up bright and early to make the journey to the TF Royal Theatre in Castlebar for the counting of the votes in the 2020 General Election.
It was Sunday, February 9, and at the time, Covid-19 had just about started to infiltrate conversations in Ireland – but not one person in the count centre in Castlebar could have envisaged the impact the pandemic would eventually have, leading to a full-lockdown in less than six weeks from the election date.
To say it has been a chaotic year for our elected representatives would be something of an understatement.
Without the onset of the pandemic, it is highly unlikely that we would ever have seen the formation of the ‘Grand Coalition’. Indeed, had Covid-19 never existed, the likelihood is we would have had a second general election, such was the state of flux in the early days after the February election.
With the pressing need for a new Government to deal with the pandemic, Sinn Féin were in the end the ones to suffer most, and despite a hugely impressive showing on February 8, they have remained on the outside looking in for the last year.
However, many of their loyal supporters will now point to the fact that perhaps this was the best thing to happen to Mary Lou McDonald and her party, with the Grand Coalition stumbling from one crisis to another during a hugely difficult political 12 months.
So where do the three Government parties stand 12 months on from the General Election 2020?
Well, Michéal Martin waited patiently for nine years as Fianna Fáil leader before eventually becoming Taoiseach and one year in, a mixed bag is probably the best description of his first year in charge. He has done relatively well in terms of his public performances, but he is the one who ultimately takes the blame when the coalition tensions surface for all the public to see. He will be hoping his second year in office will be less traumatic.
His predecessor, and planned successor, Leo Varadkar, has enjoyed another high profile-year, despite no longer being Taoiseach. He and Fine Gael will be relatively happy with their overall standing in the polls but again, only time will tell if the public feel the decision to get into bed with Fianna Fáil was detrimental in the long term.
The Greens are somewhat of a silent partner in this coalition, in that they are seldom rolled out to the frontline to defend Government policy. However, they will be glad to have gotten their feet back under the cabinet table and are sure to try and move more front and centre during the second year of this Government.
On a local level, it again has been a year of rollercoaster ups and downs for our four elected TDs. Veteran Michael Ring, after serving close to a decade as a minister, has most definitely taken a back seat in terms of profile, but this is hardly surprising given the pandemic and his modus operandi. No doubt he is still a very influential figure within Fine Gael, but most believe this will probably be his final term as a Teachta Dála.
His party colleague Alan Dillon has enjoyed a baptism of fire, trying to come to terms with his duties during a pandemic, but he has gained profile through strategic appointments with Fine Gael, such as party secretary, and no doubt he will be adding to his depth of knowledge of the operations of the Dáil during the next year.
Dara Calleary has recovered well from the Golfgate debacle that threatened to derail his already established political career. He did the honourable thing when resigning his post as Agriculture Minister. A lot felt he jumped the gun and could have ridden out the storm last August, but in the world of social media and instant vilification, deep down he felt it was better to admit his wrongdoing and start a career rebuild. The fact that Calleary is ultimately viewed as one of the good guys should see him be able to continue on as one of the more influential figures in his party.
Finally, Rose Conway Walsh has taken the last year in her stride and really impressed as a high-profile spokesperson for Sinn Féin in her first spell in Leinster House. This is hardly surprising, considered her depth of experience as a county councillor and Senator. She and her party now face the unenviable task of trying to continue on an upward trajectory on the Irish political landscape.
The second year of this Grand Coalition is likely to be a hugely difficult one, given the amount of problems the country faces as we hopefully see the back of Covid-19. But the coalition must be up for the challenge, or its shaky foundations could lead to a monumental collapse.