Monday, February 28, 2011

General Election 2011: Winners and Losers

Labour and Fine Gael are the big winners after Friday, but for different reasons. Fianna Fáil are listing in heavy seas, but reports of their death are premature.

The Coquette in Courtship Ritual
Labour are big winners because their vote spiked in the final week after showing a decline in the polls. Why? Niamh Breatnach opined on Morning Ireland on Saturday that Labour got in because people wanted to protect their jobs. There will undoubtedly have been that vote, but also people who genuinely believe that on the one hand, on the other hand government works. Perhaps they also hate to think of a camel that doesn’t have two humps – who knows?

The negotiation between Labour and Fine Gael will take place behind closed doors – open Government, me hat – but what a pity it won’t be on telly. It would make compulsive viewing. Labour are out of the blocks quickly, with Eamon Gilmore telling the News at One yesterday that, even though Labour were the second biggest party and therefore the natural leaders of the opposition, they were prepared to serve in a national government in the national interest.

The implication of this is that while Labour themselves would be much happier with RBB and the boys in opposition, shining hammers and sharpening sickles, they are prepared to suffer ministerial mercs for Ireland. It’s a classic coquette strategy, and it will be interesting to see how Fine Gael respond.

Fine Gael’s Greatest Ever Day
Fine Gael themselves will surely have spent yesterday crushed by the most epic hangovers known to man or beast, and they will have deserved them. This has been Fine Gael’s greatest ever day.

The RTÉ exit poll that saw Fine Gael in the mid-thirties will have given them a sinking a feeling on Saturday morning but election are about seats, not percentages of votes. Garret Fitzgerald’s Fine Gael got seventy seats from 39% of the vote thirty years ago. Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael is in the mid-seventies on 36%.

There are factors behind that, such as superb vote management and the quirk of the system that sees parties with momentum do better in seat terms that strict proportionality would allow. Fianna Fáil benefited from this in 2002. This year, it’s Fine Gael’s turn.

Are Ye Dancin’?
Fine Gael have spoken about stable coalition government this weekend, but this does not necessarily mean that coalition with Labour is inevitable. Labour have already began their courtship by scorning a Fine Gael advance that’s yet to come. Depending on the numbers, it would make perfect sense for Fine Gael to start ringing a few independents and see if they fancy being baptised in the faith. Or rebaptised, as the case may be.

Of the seventeen independents elected so far, both Shane Ross and Michael Lowry are Fine Gael genepool. Luke Flanagan will listen to whoever knocks at his door. There’s no real point in bothering with gobaloos like Mattie McGrath, but of the other genepool Fianna Fáil independents, it’s no harm to give them a ring to see exactly how apostate they are. Stranger things have happened.

Fianna Fáil Doomed From the Outset
As for Fianna Fáil, the reality is that the election was lost when the banks were bailed out 2008. Not necessarily because they were bailed out per se – how many people understand the banking business anyway? – but because the party’s position was neither explained nor defended.

In the absence of government explanation or defence, the vacuum was filled by condemnation, ranging from accusations of incompetence to graft to treason. None of this was taken on by Fianna Fáil spinners, through either the front channel of the Taoiseach addressing the nation or the back channel of getting media people onside (as Fine Gael got media people onside, for instance).

By the time the election rolled around the electorate had its mind made up that Fianna Fáil were absolutely and utterly to blame for the recession and nothing that Fianna Fáil could have done or said during the campaign was going to change that. Aughrim had long been lost. Long faces and pussing about suffering from putting the country first were no good.

If the people thought Fianna Fáil had put the country first, the people would reward them. If not, then the whole democratic system is a sham by definition. But while Fianna Fáil talked about putting the country first, they never convinced the people that they had done that. Maybe history will be kind to them. The electorate was not, and dispensed summary justice to Fianna Fáil candidates all across the nation.

Is This the End of Rico?
Is this the end of Fianna Fáil? Who can say? A lot depends on the formation of the next government, and when the next election will be. The real end would be if Fianna Fáil were to coalesce with Fine Gael as a natural right-wing alignment, and the pattern of vote transfer between the parties would indicate that this makes sense.

But the political establishment faces the same problem in doing this that Nick Clegg faced in Britain last year. The clear judgement of the people is that they don’t want Fianna Fáil in office under any circumstances. The only way that could happen would be if the Fianna Fáil party were to dissolve and its members join Fine Gael. That’s not likely. Having gone through what they’ve gone through, they’re not going to chuck it now.

Besides. A Labour/Fine Gael coalition will be the best thing that could happen to Fianna Fáil.

Follow the Money
The most under-reported story of the election was the Fine Gael fundraiser in the Aviva Stadium. One of the reasons that Fine Gael got elected was because they had so much more money to spend. The people who were funding Fianna Fáil are now funding Fine Gael. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

But while those boys might have been happy enough to have Jack O’Connor and the unions sign off on things when cash was flush, they’ll be a lot less happy to see whiskery trade unionists in Government when it’s time for the blade. RAF moustaches are ok, but beards are not business friendly. So will the pendulum swing back to Fianna Fáil now that Fine Gael didn’t achieve a majority?

Fianna Fáil have never taken anything even vaguely like the battering they’ve taken in this election, but time is now on their side. An Spailpín Fánach doesn’t think history has been made yet. And while everybody was talking about political reform during the election, it’s been this blog’s experience that talk is cheap. We’ll wait and see how many plates of chicken and chips Micheál Martin has to eat before he can get stuck into the squab pigeon from Touraine once more.

FOCAL SCOIR: Almost all the pics are from the Irish Times. Aren't they outstanding? I almost feel bad lifting them. The only that isn't is the dinner. I lifted that from somewhere else. My own dinner would be a lot more chicken and chippy. And eaten in the middle of the day.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Irish West Wing: The Personal Touch

We have a guest writer for this week's episode. If your Spailpín ate one hundred weetabix he would not come up with material like this. Not even one one thousand weetabix. One thousand weetabix, soaked in porter and whiskey instead of milk, and personally spooned into me by Keira Knightley herself. Not a hope. This is in a different league.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Five Constituency Bets. Because We Might As Well Have the Craic

An Spailpín Fánach is enjoying Ivan Yates' constituency betting tips on Betfair almost as much as he's enjoying the statesmanship of our politicians, who surely put Periclean Athens in the ha'penny place.

Ivan is very much the insiders' insider, of course, while An Spailpín Fánach considers himself more of an outsiders' outsider, despite having never dispensed advice to the Minister for Finance in his kitchen, and being in the habit of putting his money where his (very big) mouth is.

Here, then, in ascending order of price, are An Spailpín's hugely unscientific bets to give you a bit of interest on Friday. Might be best to calibrate your stake according to price, by the way. No point in taking a complete bath. And these aren't necessarily endorsements, either, before someone takes the head off me. An Spailpín's dream of a United Federation of Planets, as outlined in Star Trek, burns brightly still.

Luke "Ming" Flanagan, Independent/New Vision. Roscommon-South Leitrim. 10/11.
Luke Flanagan is the nap of the meeting, for two reasons. Firstly, the electoral circumstances are made to order for a protest vote, and the electorate of Roscommon South-Leitrim will search long and hard to find a candidate less like those that have gone before than the Emperor.

Secondly, what people who have never met him may underestimate about Luke Flanagan is that the man is a consummate politican. He is supremely gifted in the political arts and, to borrow a favourite phrase of my father, if you burned Ming for a fool you'd have wise ashes. How else could he poster all of his constituency? War Rocket Ajax has been dispatched. Deal with it.

Maria Corrigan, Fianna Fáil. Dublin South. 10/11.
Media darling Senator Shane Ross is favourite to get the fifth seat here, but An Spailpín has heard that resentment towards George Lee still festers among the leafy suburbs. This will hurt Fine Gael's chances for a third seat, Alan Shatter and Olivia Mitchell being shoe-ins, but it will also hurt Senator Ross, who is nothing if not George Lee lite. The Fianna Fáil vote has to go somewhere, and Senator Corrigan is a reasonable bet for enough of it to remain in house to wash her ashore in fifth place. There are very few sisters running in the election, and that might stand to her in this particular constituency too.

Therese Ruane, Sinn Féin. Mayo. 2/1.
An Spailpín is a long time in exile from that earthly paradise that is the County Mayo, but my God, four Fine Gael seats out of five is a lot to ask. It would require vote management of the highest calibre for even the Free Beer Party to win four seats in an Irish five-seater, and it's doubly difficult in a constituency with as much ground to cover as Mayo.

The fifth seat will be down to transfers, which are a lottery, plain and simple. Getting 80% of the transfers on the ninth count is no good if you've been eliminated on the eighth. Again, as with Dublin South, the FF vote has to go somewhere and Sinn Féin is the natural destination for a disillusioned Fianna Fáil voter in the West. The two candidate strategy is risky, as it's assuming that policy will be more important than geography when either Ms Ruane or Ms Conway-Walsh is eliminated, thus arguing against a two candidate strategy in the first place, but how and ever. Ms Ruane will get more votes outside Castlebar than Mr Kilcoyne, the independent, and she gets the shilling on that basis.

John Gormley, Green Party. Dublin South-East. 3/1.
Ivan Yates assures us it'll be two Fine Gael, two Labour in Dublin South-East, but An Spailpín Fánach cannot get it out of his head that John Gormley's defence of his patch against the curly black smoke of that nasty incinerator won't stand to him.

It was hard not to pity Gormley on the Frontline leaders' debate last Monday. He seemed the most rational and thoughful of the five of them, but he's like one of those Japanese soldiers on a pacific island who fought on forty years after the Enola Gay flew over Hiroshima. He's worth a punt at threes, God love him.

Gerry Kilrane, Fianna Fáil. Roscommon-South Leitrim. 10/1.
This is the longshot punt of the card, but my goodness, could it really be true that county Leitrim could be without a TD for two consecutive Dála? An Spailpín can't come to terms with that, irrespective of party. Ivan didn't even mention Gerry Kilrane's name in his review of Roscommon-South Leitrim, and seems to believe that Martin Kenny is the only Leitrim candidate on the slate.

An Spailpín believes that Gerry Kilrane, despite the Fianna Fáil downturn, is more voter-friendly than Martin Kenny in Roscommon and can bubble up to the third seat on Kenny and Connaughton tranfers. It's a longshot, but that's why you get tens. You get nothin' for nothin' in this mean old world.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Monday, February 14, 2011

Dog Days Are Over - Enda Kenny Can't Be Caught

The cackling over the Fine Gael Valentine eMessage cards – appalling though they are – doesn’t matter. Broadband penetration is so poor in Ireland that two out of three people will never even see the damnable things. The reality is that the people have made up their minds. They want Fine Gael, and that’s that.

The hide Enda strategy was not as high risk as some people – your humble correspondent front and centre among their number – thought. If anything, it’s been genius and, after being hidden for so long, Enda may be about to come shining into the light this week. The Merkel trip today is the first step in that – a move that’s much more clever than it appears, because it broadens the scope of campaign and joins battle on a totally unexpected flank, as we shall see below.

An Spailpín doesn’t think Fianna Fáil face annihilation, but the weekend poll must have broken their hearts. There is a chance that the party will do better than expected, because of our inability as a people to properly understand who Fianna Fáil actually are – as discussed on this blog earlier this year – and because it’s possible that where Fianna Fáil used to get first and second seats in constituencies, they may now limp home in fourth or fifth place, for a variety of reasons.

A seat is still a seat, and Fianna Fáil will count their blessings while they may. The sea-change question will be decided at the next election, rather than this one. But as an option for Government, the people cannot forgive Fianna Fáil at this election.

If Fianna Fáil were to promise to turn the Hill of Tara into the Big Rock Candy Mountain itself, it would make no difference. The people want Fianna Fáil to do their penance and live off bread and water for a while.

The choice for the governance of the next Dáil, then, is Fine Gael or Labour. This now has less and less to do with minutiae of policy, but with broader strokes – pain now or pain later, private sector v public sector, and so on. Fine Gael have done their sums better and Labour are suddenly in danger of being outflanked by that huge collection of independents who are united by their difference.

There was general speculation in the press over weekend that Fianna Fáil and Labour will now form a bizarre alliance of convenience in a desperate effort to haul Fine Gael back to the pack, but while that would certainly make sense for Labour, who are now looking at power slipping from their grasp, it would not make sense for Fianna Fáil.

Even before he became leader of Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin pledged to support the new government if they followed the broad outline of the Fianna Fáil four year plan. It would make no sense in that context to hobble Fine Gael with a Labour party who famously opposed the bank guarantee, as Joan Burton delights in reminding the nation.

Eamon Gilmore said yesterday that the people didn’t want a single party government, but he’s wrong. Strong leadership is exactly what went missing in 2008 and the nation have been crying out for. People don’t understand what’s going on, and that’s why the support for Fine Gael is strengthening now. People want certainly, and Fine Gael is the only party offering that certainty.

An Spailpín would prefer if Enda Kenny fought a different campaign and addressed the nation as a whole via the medium of television rather than in random bunches on the campaign stump, but it’s impossible to deny that the strategy is not only working a treat for them, but is surely going better than they could have hoped.

The nature of the electorate is such that any attacks on Enda Kenny’s competence are now likely to work out, in a remarkable and depressing irony, like the questioning of Bertie Ahern in the last election – personal attacks rather than legitimate inquiries on a question of governance. The leading from the back campaign isn’t terribly good for politics but for Enda Kenny himself and his struggles to hold onto the Fine Gael leadership over the years, it’s sweet redemption.

Fine Gael can’t be caught. The only question is whether or not they will form a majority government, a minority government propped up by independents or coalesce with a deeply grateful Labour party. The Angela Merkel visit tomorrow may turn out to be a masterstroke to overshadow a debate that most people won’t watch anyway, because it's too short a format for five voices.

The German visit may prove a masterstroke because Angela Merkel is leader of the Christian Democrat party in Germany, which is a part of the European People’s Party in Brussels. Just like Fine Gael themselves.

Expect a big thumbs up for Enda from Angela tomorrow and Enda returns to Ireland having planted an Irish flag at the heart of Europe, and having cut yet another rod with which to beat Gilmore after his ill-judged remarks about "Frankfurt's way" on TV3 last week. It seems that while Enda wasn’t there himself, someone must have shown him a tape. Ouch!

Friday, February 04, 2011

Comórtas na Sé Náisiúin - Sos ón ár mBuartha

Tá scíth tuilte ag na Gaeil i rith na drochaimsire seo, agus tíocfaidh anocht í. Ná gá dúinn breathnú ag bladaráil na bpolaiteoirí ar Prime Time na duine eile ó bhialann RTÉ ag bladaráil le Ryan Tubridy. Tá rudaí cailte ón rugbaí ó chuaigh ina chluiche gairmiúla é, ag nuair atá cluichí cosuil leis an Bhreatain Bheag in aghaidh Sasana i gCaerdydd, mar atá beo ar an teilifís anocht, táim buíoch go leor as.

Is cluiche mór é do na Sasanaigh - bhídís lag go leor i dáiríre ó d'éirigh leo sa gCorn Domhanda i 2003, seachtas an t-aon feachtas amháin dó-chreite sin ag an gCorn Domhanda sa bhFrainc i 2007, ach táid ag teacht arís anois. Caineadh Martin Johnson go minic, ach tá foireann á chur le cheile aige mar a chuid féin - crua, láidir, fód-sheasamhach.

Tá deacrachtaí aige fós i léiní 10, 12, 13, lár na gcúlaithe, ach tá páca láidir go leor aige agus is leath an chatha i gcónaí é sin. Má éiríonn leis na Sasanaigh i Caerdydd beidh an ghaoth leo, mar a bhí le hÉire i 2009, agus caithfear cách a bheith ar a aire.

Níl fadhb ar bith ag na Breathnaigh ins na cúlaithe, ach níl an páca acu chun seasamh leis na Sasanaigh. Deirtear go bhfuil dul chun cinn mór déanta ag Andy Powell, ach is deacair creideamh é, mura raibh sé buailte óna asal cosuil leis an Naomh Pól ar bhóthar na Damaisce, tráth.

Níl meas ag na gnáth-Breathnaigh ar Stephen Jones ag leath-chulaí amach, cé go bhfuil 96 roghnú aige, agus gurbh céad rogha na Leoin i 2005 agus 2009 é. Bhrís croí na mBreathnach nuair a chur Barry John a bhróga ar leathaobh níos mó ná dhá scór ó shin, agus táid ag fánacht ar a fhilleadh fós, mar a bhíodh Paul Simon ag fánacht ar Joe Di Maggio.

Tá an cluiche athraithe go deo ó laethanta Barry John agus níl an draíocht céanna ag an ndeich mar a bhí - ní cead dó. Tá an leath-chulaí amach faoi ghlas ag an ngameplan anois, agus sin mar atá agus a bheidh.

Beidh na Gaeil ag teacht chun na Róimhe amárach, agus dúshlán na h-Iodáile a ghlacadh. Má tá na Breathnaigh mí-shásta le Stephen Jones, feic ar chruachas Nick Mallett - bhí Astrálach amháin aige mar leath-chúlaí amach an bhliain seo caite agus Astrálach eile anois, Kris Burton, an Satháirn seo chugainn. Tá bród mór agus croithe láidre ag na h-Iodáiligh, ach ó thaobh rugbaí táid marbh go deo ón uimhir a naoi amach. An lá ag na cuairteoirí.

Beidh dúshlán i bhfad níos laidre ag na Gaeil i mBleá Cliath an deireadh seachtaine seo chugainn, agus an Fhrainc os a gcomhair. Tá talann thar moladh beirte ag na Francaigh agus na leath-chulaí is fearr sa gcomartas i Trinh-Duc agus Parra acu - seachas Phillips agus Jones na Breataine Bige, b'fhéidir.

Tá roinnt sa meáin Ghealacha ar an dtuairim go n-éireoidh leis na Gaeil go maith an comórtas seo, ach ní feiceann an Spailpín an chuis dhóchais. Tá tosaithe na hÉireann ag strácáil seilbh na liathróide a fháil, agus níl an cultúr rugbaí na tíre seo láidir go leor chun frapaí a fhorbairt.

Beidh an triúr faoi bhrú maith sa Róimh fiú amháin, ach smaoineamh ar an Sathairn i gcoinne na Fraince. Uair caite ar an gclog, abair, buachaillí na hÉireann beagnach ag gól le pian agus iarracht, cad a smaoineoidís má fheiceann siad ar an taobhlíne agus buachaillí nua Francaigh ag teacht chun catha? An t-aon rud amháin a smaoineann tacadóirí Fianna Fáil os comhair doirse na hÉireann - a Thiarna, déan trócaire.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Start of the League - Only Six Months to Wait Until It's for Keeps

Two thousand people at the Mayo v Roscommon FBD League game two weeks ago, and a palpable sense of expectation this week before Mayo host Down under lights in Castlebar on Saturday night. There is nothing like football to capture the imagination after the long and lonely winter.

Not that either game matters a whit, really, of course. There will be coverage in the papers this week about how great the League is and why don’t the GAA promote it more and look at Cork, weren’t they able to win the All-Ireland after winning the League first, who says the League isn’t important? And so on and so forth.

Please. The reality of the GAA season now is that there are four competitions. There are the provincial work the pints off games that have just finished, there is the National League, there are the backdoor games from May to July and then there is the only one that counts.

The only competition that counts is what’s left of the knockout blood and thunder Championship as we knew and loved it, reduced from a competition between thirty-two counties to one featuring just eight. The trick of the next seven months is ensuring that you’re one of those eight irrespective of how you get there, through front doors, back doors or windows if it comes to that.

That’s the frustrating thing about the first half of the year. Only bad things can happen. Every win is worthless. Every game reduces to a training session, where it’s only a question of what you learn about yourself and your team to be used when the real bullets are flying from August on. All else is shadow boxing.

Who won the last five Munster Championships? God only knows. It doesn’t matter. Those boys are playing for the big pot and if you want to be big time you’ve got to look at the world the way Kerry and Cork and Tyrone, God be kind to them and the burdens He’s asked those good people to bear, do.

Every game an inter county team with All-Ireland ambitions plays from the third Sunday in September until the end of July is about learning about yourself and becoming stronger. It’s important not to lose twice between May and July of course, but do your sums. The odds are heavily in favour of continued experimentation. If you do get a bullet twice, chances are you deserve it and are as well off at home.

This is not a great situation of course, and every year your faithful correspondent calls for the return of the old Championship but in the meantime we have to make do. An Spailpín Fánach would watch a Mayo team playing the Eton wall game and still consider it a treat. I doubt that I’m alone in that.

And the game against Down will be a treat. Down have been aristocrats of the game since they burst through in the 1960s. James McCartan’s recently published book, The King of Down Football, is on the bookshelf opposite my laptop and I am looking forward to tucking in and reading about how they forged their legend.

In the meantime, off to Castlebar for the weekend where we shall run the rule over our bucks and they shall run the rule over theirs. No harm done either way – it is, after all, only the League.