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Lessons from Leinster House

County View

County View
John Healy

The crass insensitivity of the treatment meted out to Dara Calleary in recent days is indicative of a deeper malaise. The lack of collegial respect on the part of the new Taoiseach equates, many will feel, to the dismissiveness of the Connacht region which has been evident for far too long.
Even a reading of the agreed programme for government shows scant evidence that the west and northwest merit parity with the rest of the country. That pivotal line of demarcation from Dublin to Galway surely marks the boundary of which part of Ireland is considered worthy of tier one development, and which is not. Why else would the programme for government fail to give a single mention to the future of Knock Airport, no solid commitment to the Western Rail Corridor, no pledge to the Connacht Ulster Alliance for a third-level institute, no improvement to what is risibly referred to as the national primary route from Westport to the capital?
There is, it seems, one rule for one half of the country, and one for the other. But then, maybe it is partly our own fault that we have come to accept second best as good enough.
When Shannon Airport was given the sun, moon and stars by Michael Noonan, it was received with a swaggering sense of entitlement, as if it was no more than its due. By contrast, when favourable investment is given to Knock, it is with a type of grudging paternalism for which we mendicants should be demonstrably grateful. It took a long, wearying, sustained battle to establish the case for third-level facilities in Mayo. When a third-level campus of GMIT was, with palpable ill humour, finally conceded, it found itself resorting to the begging bowl to keep itself operational.
In truth, Micheál Martin may have more to worry about than the bruised egos of his western foot soldiers. Fianna Fáil’s decision to take the first tentative steps to co-habitation with Fine Gael bespeaks of a realisation that the old order has changed. Coalition with Fine Gael was the only lifebelt left for a party struggling to decide what or who it stands for. The old behemoth that held sway for so many decades and that could, in the past, portray itself as all things to all men, is no more. Unpalatable as the decision may have been, politics is above all else a business of practicality.
Fianna Fáil is in danger of finding itself in the position of the polar bear adrift on the shrinking ice flow, its solid base of endless Arctic sheet ice fragmenting and melting under its feet. Micheál Martin will need to redefine what his party stands for, and who does it represent, if it is to survive.
When the next election is called, Fianna Fáil will find itself between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, it will need to define itself as somehow different from its old rival. On the other hand, it will be presenting itself as one half of an outgoing government, manacled hand and foot to Fine Gael.
The deserved praise heaped on Michael Ring from all sides of the political divide may be a salutary sign that Mayo can appreciate the efforts of a hard-working representative, whatever colour shirt he plays in.
The past two weeks has taught us a lot about politics. It has shown us the innate dignity and decency of Dara Calleary. It has also shown us the extent to which Micheál Martin values loyalty and allegiance. The question of whose reputation has been enhanced, and whose has not, requires no answer.