I rarely attend Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meetings. Gone are the days when they saw a lively exchange of ideas and suggestion. They are now a listening exercise, with the backbenchers expected to stay in listening mode.
Not that I am missing out on much, as much of what is uttered at these meetings appears online or in print within hours. The same is true of Fine Gael’s party meetings, though in their case it seems that their meetings are dominated by back benchers unhappy with how this government is handling the latest controversies.
The Fine Gael leaks convey the sense of a party that has some notion of its own identity, even though that comes more from the floor than the top table. With Fianna Fáil, I regret to say, you have to dig very deep to get any sense of direction or of identity.
Back in mid-2020 when the Fianna Fáil leadership was urging us to back the partnership deal for government with the Greens and Fine Gael, its big selling point was that Fianna Fáil needed to be in government to reconnect with its identity and core.
The party needed to be in office, so the argument went, so it could stamp it mark on government, show what a difference it could make. Do that, the leader argued and Fianna Fáil’s support would be back in the high 20’s. This is not how it has turned out.
Though Minister Darragh O’Brien has been determined in driving his Housing for All strategy through, I know from the people I meet that very little of the hard work is trickling down to the ground.
At least, Minister O’Brien listens. This cannot be said for ministers across so many other departments. It is not just that the ability to act is lacking, so is the capacity to grasp that there are problems.
T.D.s across all parties can attest to number of complaints we get about delayed Passport Applications – not that getting your passport is any guarantee nowadays that you will still get
away on your much needed holiday – as we saw last weekend.
I could give you chapter and verse on how being in government has not made a bit of difference to my capacity to drive change, but let me relate one very tragic example which, sadly, sums up the problem.
On July 1 2019, Kevin Sheehy – a young man with an outstanding sporting background and a great future ahead of him – was brutally slain by a vicious English career criminal, Logan Jackson. In December 2021 Jackson was sentenced to life imprisonment. Yet, barely five months later it appears that Jackson is to get preferential treatment and be relocated to serve the balance of his sentence in the U.K.
So, a killer gets be closer to his family while the traumatised loved ones of his victim will never see their Kevin again. Thousands of people across Limerick region signed a petition urging the rejection of this relocation request.
As a government supporting TD from Limerick city, the family asked me to intercede with the government. I implored the Taoiseach on the floor of the Dáil to urge the Minister for Justice,
Deputy McEntee, to refuse this perverse request that only adds to the suffering of a family that has already suffered so much.
But it seems that all our pleas are to be discounted. The views of T.D.s and the people they represent do not matter as much as the operational and organisational convenience of the penal service. A recent departmental letter to the family as good as told them to prepare themselves for this guy being relocated soon. Where is the justice in this?
Where is the compassionate government response to genuine concerns?
Where is the political impetus to ensure that governmental actions reflect the realities that people see day to day?
We have a capable civil service. What we do not need however is an additional layer of quasi senior civil servants picked by An Taoiseach from the Dáil to act as their departmental spokespersons.
The point of being in government is to influence and change government policy and governments actions… on justice, on housing, and on the cost of living… to ensure that it is attuned to what people see and feel.
A few weeks ago, commenting on the latest opinion poll showing Fianna Fáil flat lining on a miserable 15%, a prominent political pundit said that the poll showed how the Fianna Fáil leader now had a firm grip on the reins and had his party following his direction.
The pundit omitted to mention that the direction was downwards and that those reins sitting in the leader hands are attached to a beast that is no longer moving.