Mary O’Rourke: ‘Confidence and supply lacks a little respect’

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Mary O’Rourke: ‘Confidence and supply lacks a little respect’

Micheal Martin is a fine leader and should seize his chance to steer FF to election success


CONFIDENCE AND SUPPLY, PART ONE: In 1988, in the aftermath of Alan Dukes’s Tallaght strategy, Minister Mary O’Rourke, Taoiseach Charlie Haughey and Labour Minister Bertie Ahern meet for talks with teachers’ unions at Government Buildings
CONFIDENCE AND SUPPLY, PART ONE: In 1988, in the aftermath of Alan Dukes’s Tallaght strategy, Minister Mary O’Rourke, Taoiseach Charlie Haughey and Labour Minister Bertie Ahern meet for talks with teachers’ unions at Government Buildings

Now, the issue at hand is the confidence and supply agreement between Micheal Martin and the Fianna Fail party and Leo Varadkar’s Government.

Everyone in political life knows that there has been great difficulty, particularly of late, in executing the whole arrangement of confidence and supply. What, in essence, it means is that the Government does not have a majority in the Dail and is therefore relying on smaller parties – in the main they are relying on the back-up, via a confidence and supply arrangement, of Fianna Fail. So far, despite some rocky moments, this has succeeded in bringing political stability and reassurance to the people of Ireland.

In that fashion it has worked reasonably well. However, among the grassroots of Fianna Fail, among the membership faithful or would-be voters for Fianna Fail, people are becoming perplexed about the whole confidence and supply idea.

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How elastic is the confidence? How elastic is the supply? The parameters and the finality of such an arrangement have never been made fully clear. Of course they have a purpose, but that purpose is becoming shakier by the minute.

I know Micheal Martin has said that people don’t want an election – and the latest so-called opinion poll has told us the same – but that’s actually a funny sort of question to ask anyone.

No one except the really hardened political people want a general election at any time – let alone in a time as difficult as we are in now.

And let me be very clear on this one point: there is not one Fianna Fail voter or would-be Fianna Fail voter who is not in agreement with the maxim that we cannot have a general election in the middle of the Brexit carry-on. Can you imagine trying to explain why you called an election, why you dropped confidence and supply, when so many firms, small and big, so many employees, so many families depend so much on a settlement to the Brexit negotiations?

To my mind, this settlement can come about by a proper withdrawal in Westminster this month, accompanied by a limited extension of three months.

Let’s look at that from our political viewpoint in Fianna Fail. March 29 will become June 29, by which time the local elections will have been held throughout the country and I am confident that Fianna Fail will have reaffirmed its position as the leading party in local authorities. That is important, because on such a vote we will be resuming confidence in ourselves.

The European elections will have a definite positive outcome for us in Fianna Fail. It could not be otherwise as we are at such a low level now.

So, armed with these myriad results throughout the country, we, as a party, will be imbued with confidence and supply in ourselves – as well as extending it to Leo Varadkar’s Government.

So far, so good. Much of this diagnosis depends, of course, on the mid-March votes in Westminster and the agreement by the other European countries to the limited extension of Brexit negotiations. To my mind, if the votes are cast favourably, the three months is enough to clear up any debris which might be left over from the preceding votes, and in general give a much clearer picture of the outcome.

Now let’s cut to the chase.

There is very serious disquiet among Fianna Fail members about the strategy of continuing with confidence and supply. Firstly, the ordinary grassroots members don’t fully understand it.

Yes, they understand that they cannot have a general election with Brexit in such a wobbly position – but they would like to see a timeline where a general election would feature as an end objective, rather than being constantly downplayed.

I understand that in many European countries, confidence and supply has been the agreed norm for many years, and that in general it works out well. But it’s a new concept to us in Ireland. We haven’t had too much experience of it, and we have been far more used to the adversarial type of politics which was prevalent until the emergence of this new animal of confidence and supply.

There is another important aspect of this whole confidence and supply. I would have thought that the arrangement between Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar would have included within it an implied respect for one another and the respective parties. Not at all. This continual sniping and pirouetting from the back benches of Fine Gael towards Fianna Fail of course has to elicit a suitable response from Fianna Fail and from Micheal Martin.

Now, in this respect, to my mind Leo Varadkar is at fault. He provokes the contretemps by an offside remark, which, of course, has to get a response. So there you have it, very little of mutual respect, which I think there should be between the two parties as they are on this perilous journey together.

That’s another thing when I talk about the two parties: what members of the public have said to me is they find that Fianna Fail is being linked to all the bad decisions being made by the Government, such as those recently surrounding the children’s hospital.

That’s unfortunate because a Fianna Fail member can’t stand up for his or her point of view when in fact they are not joining in condemnation – however right or wrong it may be – but they can’t behave like a chorus line because of confidence and supply. All these thoughts have been very prevalent in my mind of late, but I am convinced that the Westminster timeline as laid out by Theresa May and hopefully to be confirmed in mid-March will mean a timeframe into which Micheal Martin and Fianna Fail can position themselves ready to at least see an end to confidence and supply, and at the end the holy grail of a general election.

There is a wonderful tale to be told about 1987 and the very early confidence and supply between Charlie Haughey and Alan Dukes, then leader of Fine Gael. As we know he gave a speech to Tallaght Chamber of Commerce in which he outlined a confidence and supply arrangement with Fianna Fail.

Now, that is a marvellous story and if I have an opportunity I will follow up on that with the inside back story of all of that confidence and supply, and what happened to it. I hope I have an opportunity to do so in the very near future. It’s a good story, and as you know there’s nothing better than a good story.

So back to the question in hand. You’re a fine leader Micheal, and I see no better candidate for the job of leader of Fianna Fail than you. I would say to Micheal Martin to copy one of Horace’s Odes: Carpe diem – Seize the day, and move forward with reassurance to your voters and would-be voters, and a definite general election timeline in sight.

Mary O’Rourke is a former FF minister for Education, Health and Public Enterprise

Sunday Independent

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