Sunday, 27 March 2011

Irish Congress of Trade Unions – Belfast Fight the Cuts Rally

Members of the Northern Ireland Fire Service

lead yesterday's march and rally

© Joe ÓNéill

Thousands of Trade Unionists in Belfast joined the hundreds of thousands of their comrades in Britain yesterday at rallies called to oppose government cuts in Public Services and jobs.

The march was led the members of the Northern Ireland Fire Service.

Amongst the speakers at yesterday’s rally was Peter Bunting, Assistant General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

‘’On May 5th'', said Bunting, ‘’our local political class will be answerable to us, and we must ask them the right questions on the doorstep and in every public forum and ensure that they get the message. They can do more to stop the cuts than any other group in Northern Ireland and they have a duty to work with us to rebuild and retain that social contract with the citizens and voters.

The next Assembly and Executive ought to work with the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales to form a united front against the cuts in the parts of Britain which are almost Tory-free zones, and pretty soon we will be rid of the Liberal Democrats as well.

Look across the border. The Greens were obliterated by an electorate disgusted with their collaboration with Fianna Fáil. Any political party tempted to parlay with these Tories will suffer the same fate.’’

Bunting also called on Trade Unionists to support a rally against cuts in education to be held by Students and Lecturers in Belfast on April 6.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Micheál Martin - Has He A Mandate To Lead Fianna Fáil?

Micheál Martin

The resignation of Brian Cowen as Fianna Fáil party leader and Uachtaráin of Fianna Fáil on January 22, and the meltdown of the Fianna Fáil vote in the February 25 election, with only 20 TD’s returned, has left the party, and new leader Micheál Martin, facing an uncertain future. His position as the elected leader of the parliamentary party, but not as the elected leader of the Fianna Fáil party, and left holding the can for a reported mountain of party debt, leaves Martin and Fianna Fáil in an organizational and procedural nightmare.

The decision of Micheál Martin to challenge Brian Cowen for the leadership of the party, prior to Cowen’s resignation, and his subsequent entry into a leadership contest with three other cabinet members after Cowen’s resignation, so close to an election, might leave seasoned political operatives to question the credibility of his and their political prescience.

If any one in Fianna Fáil was paying attention, without a doubt, there were lessons to be learned leading up to the British General Election of last May, and the fate of the British Labour Party in that election. Advanced polling of the British electorate showed that voters were angry at the government, held them responsibly for the deteriorating state of the economy, were not enamored with the new leader of the Labour party, and were responding to pollsters that they were going to punish the government in the coming election. Certainly sounds familiar to the political climate in Ireland many months prior to the February 25 election.

In the lead up to the British general election, rumours abounded of challenges within the Cabinet to the leadership of Gordon Brown. Press speculation abounded that several Cabinet members were weighing up what effect that a new party leader would have on the electoral performance of the party, and if a new face and new packaging of the Labour message to an angry electorate would improve party fortunes at the polls. In the case of Labour Party, it appears that the calculation was made by those capable of a challenge to Gordon Brown’s leadership, that the situation was hopeless in terms of a Labour Party victory at the polls and that in the aftermath, Brown should carry the can, with the hope that he would do the proper thing after the election, and fall on his sword. All things considered, for any aspiring Leader, this calculation would appear to have a better rationale than a leadership challenge prior to an election in which every political bellwether was showing that they would be out of government with a large loss of parliamentary seats.

One major difference in what the British Labour Party have faced after their defeat last May, and what Fianna Fáil have now to face is, that barring a few bye – elections, the Labour Party have had the luxury of a year to settle on a new leader, and to prepare for their first major electoral contest in the forthcoming local government elections this May.

Micheál Martin, and Fianna Fáil have no such luxury. Under the Irish constitution, a Senate election must be held 90 days after the dissolution of the Dáil. The Irish Senate has long been a ‘’bully pulpit’’ for failed Dáil candidates and as a platform for aspiring younger members of all political parties to showcase their profile for future Dáil elections. Senate nominations are already under way and within days many members of Fianna Fáil were ignoring the sentiment of the party leader that nominations be restricted younger members of the party who could best benefit from Senate exposure as a means of running in the next Dáil elections. Unable to enforce his preferred option Martin has resolved the matter thus:

‘’ I have met with most of our Councillors, and discussed the forthcoming Seanad Election with them. I have made the case that the upcoming election is an important step in the renewal process.

Having consulted with our newly elected TDs and our National Executive, the following is the list of candidates that I am respectfully asking electors to give their highest vote to in the upcoming election: ‘’

Seán Connick - Agricultural Panel

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill - Agricultural Panel

Senator James Carroll - Agricultural Panel

Cllr Mary Fitzpatrick - Administrative Panel

Thomas Byrne - Cultural & Education Panel

Senator Darragh O’Brien - Labour Panel

Cllr Jennifer Murnane O’Connor - Labour Panel

Averil Power - Industrial and Commercial Panel

Senator Marc Mac Sharry - Industrial and Commercial Panel

Cllr Kenneth O’Flynn - Industrial and Commercial Panel

With the new Taoiseach able to nominate 11 members of his choosing in the new Senate, the Fiannna Fáil representation will likely be reduced by more than half of the current 25 Fianna Fáil members.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, with 20 TD’s, Fianna Fáil just reached the quota required to nominate a presidential candidate in the October Presidential election. Prior to the electoral meltdown in February, several candidates had expressed an interest in seeking the nomination including; Bertie Ahern; Mary O’Rourke; Brian Crowley; and Mary White. But that was then. The Presidential election poses several acute dilemmas for Micheál Martin. The first must be the decision of whether or not to even run a candidate. A poor showing at the polls so soon after the General Election is not a result that any new party leader would want to envisage. Several other questions must be uppermost in Micheál Martin’s mind; can he get the candidate of his choice?; can he mobilize the Fianna Fáil party faithful in the strength required to organize an effective campaign?; Are the financial resources available for an effective campaign?

The timing of the next Ard Fheis is going to be crucial in the reconstruction plans of the Fianna Fáil party. Fianna Fáil has not held an Ard Fheis since February 2009. While the Fianna Fáil constitution states that ‘’The Supreme Governing and Legislative Body of the Organization shall be the Ard Fheis, which shall be convened annually, … there are provisions in Article 67 (1) that
‘’The Ard Chomhairle shall have authority to order the postponement of the Ard Fheis for a period not exceeding one year (Emphasis added) in:

(a) The case of a National Emergency,

(b) Exceptional circumstances, such decision, must be arrived at by a two-thirds ‘majority of the members present and voting at a Special Meeting summoned for the purpose, of which at least seven days notice shall have been given to all members thereof.

The constitution also states under Article 68:

The Ard Fheis shall assemble ordinarily in the first quarter of the year. …

If the Ard Chomchairle has not done so, within the next month, without an enabling motion under the above clauses, the Ard Chomchairle of Fianna Fáil may come dangerously close to being in violation of the party constitution.

In order to consolidate his position as party leader Micheál Martin will undoubtedly wish to be elected as Uachtaráin of Fianna Fáil at the forthcoming Ard Fheis. In theory, the position of Leader of the Party, and President of Fianna Fáil, can be held by two people. The situation of the parliamentary party and party machine being run by two people is a scenario that the holder of either position would not wish to be in.

In his statement on the Senate elections Micheál Martin also said, ‘’ I am also pleased to confirm that I have appointed my colleague Deputy Brian Lenihan TD as Deputy Leader of the Party, and Seán Ó Fearghail as Party Whip. I look forward to announcing further details of my frontbench over the coming weeks.’’ What many voting delegates at the Ard Fheis may be wondering is; Does Micheál Martin now have a mandate to lead Fianna Fáil post election? When he was elected leader of the parliamentary party, Martin faced an electorate of 77 members. As leadership elections are held by secret ballot and ballots destroyed afterwards it is difficult to guesstimate an accurate count through the stages of the PR voting until a winner is declared.

The parliamentary party now consists of 20 members. A review of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party might cause some concern for Micheál Martin. Of the 20, three, Barry Cowen, (Brother of the outgoing Taoiseach) Charlie McConalogue, and Robert Troy, are serving their first term. Brian Lenihan and Éamon Ó Cuív, both opposed Martin for the leadership contest. That is a total of 5 that can be confirmed, one quarter of the parliamentary party, who never voted for Martin as leader. Of the other 15, one, Dara Calleary nominated Martin for party leader. Of how the others voted in the different stages of the election, by secret ballot, we can never be sure.

Fianna Fáil members returned to the 31st Dáil.

John Browne - Wexford

Dara Calleary - Mayo

Niall Collins - Limerick West

Barry Cowen * - Laois – Offaly

Timmy Dooley - Clare

Seán Fleming - Laois – Offaly

Billy Kelleher - Cork North Central

Michael P. Kitt - Galway East

Brian Lenihan - Dublin West

Micheál Martin - Cork South Central

Charlie McConalogue * - Donegal North East constituency

Michael McGrath - Cork South Central

John J. McGuinness - Carlow – Kilkenney

Michael Moynihan - Cork North West

Éamon Ó Cuív - Galway West

Willie O’Dea - Limerick East

Seán Ó Fearghaíl - Kildare – South

Brendan Smith - Cavan – Monaghan

Robert Troy * - Longford – Westmeath

New Members *

At this stage it is impossible to gauge the mood of delegates who will attend the next Ard Fheis. That they may be in an ugly mood, and looking for answers, not to mention contrition, from the surviving elected leadership, on their handling of the party fortunes, and a roadmap for recovery, is a distinct possibility. Another possible scenario is that Micheál Martin could face a challenge for the position of Uachtaráin Fianna Fáil. If this challenge were to come from any of the others who challenged for the leadership, or another member of the parliamentary party, and, if it were to be successful, it would then pose the question: Does Micheál Martin have a mandate to lead Fianna Fáil? A lot of speculation no doubt, and some what if’s, but as the old saying goes, ‘’Twenty – four hours is a long time in politics.’’ Ask Brian Cowen.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

St. Patrick's Day Parade, Belfast 2011

The Belfast St. Patrick's Day Parade left City Hall at noon today, led by Mayor Pat Convery and the St. Laurence O'Toole Pipe Band from Dublin, current World Pipe Band Champions.

The St. Laurence O'Toole Pipe Band
Tune Up in the grounds of Belfast City Hall
beside the Titanic Memorial
© Joe ÓNéill

Mayor Pat Convery greets spectators
at the Belfast St. Patrick's Day Parade
© Joe ÓNéill