It is a truth universally acknowledged that there are no flies on Mary O’Rourke of Fianna Fail. I’ve only been once in the audience at a talk by her. She was talking about some aspect of education in the south and I’ve forgotten every single point she made. But I still remember being impressed with the mild authority of her talk and the good-humoured ease of her fielding of questions from the audience.
Mary O’Rourke is, of course, the aunt of the late Brian Lenihan, who was Minister for Finance in the dying days of the Fianna Fail administration which a short time later crashed and burned to near extinction. Mary, being the smooth operator that she is, used the memory of her popular nephew to launch a suggestion that’s been more often used to criticise the two parties than to make a credible suggestion. At the McGill Summer School, she floated the idea of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael forming a coalition after the next election in the south.
You could spend a good while arguing the logic of such a coupling. One argument would be that such a coalition would provide the government with a whopping majority that could go on indefinitely. In theory at least you could have a one-party government for decades to come. But instead of that, let’s ask why O’Rourke made the suggestion - and why, it’s rumoured, Bill O’Herlihy will include a similar suggestion when he makes the keynote speech at the Béal na Bláth commemoration on 25 August this year.
Because the idea makes sense. If there is a major ideological difference between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, any more than there’s a major ideological difference between the Conservatives and Labour in Britain, then I’ve yet to spot it. But it’s not the logic of their Tweedledum-Tweedledummer political positions that makes this a logical thing for both parties to consider. It isn’t even the economy, stupid. It’s Sinn Féin.
Any lingering bad blood between the opposing sides in the Civil War nearly 100 years ago shrinks to nothing compared to how both parties detest Sinn Féin. It’s not as if the Shinners are about to mushroom in numbers and overshadow the two right-wing parties.There’s just a sense between both - listen to Micheal Martin, listen to Enda Kenny - that this particular snake in the cosy political Garden of Eden of the south could grow to become a devouring python if allowed to keep on growing.
Think about it. A few decades back, Sinn Féin had approximately 1% of support in the south. Now they’re at somewhere between 15% and 19%. In the last election they tripled their number of seats in the Dail. If the present-day polls are correct, they’d have between 25 and 30 seats after the next election. Small beer still, but no sign that the snake has stopped growing or is shrinking. Maybe best skewer it permanently, even if Fine Gael and Fianna Fail do have to swallow hard and settle for just half the Cabinet goodies.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that there are no flies on Mary O’Rourke.