The Not-So-Curious Case of Stephen Donnelly in a Fianna Fáil Dress

That was the big news today. Not Trump acting like a bollix praying away to Arnie and the Apprentice (he’s really the president, is he?), not the Bus Éireann strike to come later this month potentially affecting thousands of passengers, no, it was that an Independent TD had applied to join a political party. Surely that’s nothing note worthy, that’s balderdash and a side-show from actual news?

But this was not just any TD, you see…

This was Stephen Donnelly, the man with a plan. He was an anomaly in the Irish political landscape. Being unattached to a political party or dynasty, he was truly independent of the system. He didn’t have a background of community work or parish pump politics to his CV to make himself presentable to his prospective and subsequent constituents, which was something stalwart independents had in spades in the past. Instead, in 2011, he presented himself and his no nonsense attitude with direct, sharp views on the financial mess the country was in, how it was being managed and how it should actually directed for any improvements to occur.

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“Don’t have anywhere to rest your elbow? Use ANY natural OR man-made surroundings”

And he SOUNDED like he knew what he was talking about. In the mess of NAMA and Anglo, in the IMF and the Trioka, the ECB and ECW (I made that up), you found yourself half confident in half knowing what was going on half the time after an interview with the Wicklow TD. He blazed a trail in being a new age politician; a person who, after seeing the faults in the public and political realm, came from the private sector to put these wrongs to right, or at least highlight them in his capacity with no ulterior motive or personal profit to be gained.

After some time of building up his brownie points in Dáil Éireann, he went into business with Catherine Murphy, a complete legend of a politician with a hard working red background and a very public present of bringing to light the consummate failure that was, is and forever will be Irish Water. Another shareholder in the new venture was Roisin Shortall, one of the few Labour ministers who had the courage to call bullshit on the then government, walking out on James Reilly when he was doing his best gerrymandering impressions regarding Primary Care Centre locations. While they were baptised the Social Democrats and placed themselves left of centre, Donnelly was certainly the one to keep it “centred”. But even at that, they had found a common ground to create a new political dialogue away from the predictable civil war stuff that he himself decried.

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It’s such a shame. Purple suited his background.

The likeable Murphy, the honourable Shortall and the believable Donnelly, how could the Social Democrats lose to an electorate who were sick of everything to do with anything? They didn’t win, nor did they lose, strictly speaking. They drew. They must have been disappointed to gain no seats, coming very close with Gary Gannon, but to hold their seats identifying then as a new party was still an achievement.

Fast forward some months after #GE16 as the kids called it, and Donnelly left. Irreconcilable differences. The parting was a moot point for both sides, and while far from amicable, it seemed they both said their pieces are were happy with that. Fast forward again and we get to him joining no ordinary party. Fianna Fáil, the party that “more or less” got us into the mess, the party that repeatedly lied and said all was fine, the party that he blamed – among others – on the stagnation of the Irish political scene, the party that will beautify CJ Haughey for all the time to come, ever and after, forever and ever, Eamonn.

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Get it?

Admittedly, I was very quick to scoff and laugh from my very high horse, Morality, and I made the bare minimum requirements of a joke regarding Fianna Fáil on Twitter no less. But then I stopped.

What if this is genuine?

And really, given his private sector background, can anyone be surprised? Not overly. To a certain extent, some SD followers got behind them due to Donnelly’s “charisma”, not necessarily a friendly kind, but it was a confidence and accuracy he held, no doubt from his days as a consultant. They now feel slightly betrayed, as do those who supported them due to their campaigning for marriage equality. Donnelly now goes to the party who supposedly fobbed the referendum as no big deal and laughed at it in party meetings.

So, the man who held views we all agreed with has gone bad in our eyes. It must also be said that his elevation to Spokesperson on Brexit would have certainly ruffled feathers in the party’s backbenches. But just because he is now on the frontbench for Fianna Fáil, that doesn’t change them. Sadly though, it just kind of changes him. By joinging Fianna Fáil, he’s chosen his own destiny, and whether he wins reelection is another matter, he has to win back the minds of the cynics who finally had a little bit of hope.

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I’ve seen more stomachable diarrhea.

Alas poor Donnelly, I believed you well.

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“God, it’d do your head in, wouldn’t it?”

Vincent Browne, the acrid archangel or smiling serpent of Irish political discourse with three decades of discoursing behind him, did not say the above in a manner full of energy and disgust. It was said in a sigh, an exasperation of will during another period of pathetic political performance, circa the Cowen phase. Given TV3’s audience numbers it may have been missed by the majority of the nation, but Vincent’s sad state of mind undoubtedly represented their feelings on the establishment. The country’s collective head was so done in at that stage the pain in our collective consciousness could not have been subdued by any level of collective Solbadene capsules or forgotten about with collective stociousness. Still, Fianna Fáil’s loss of power and the manner in which it occurred provided the country with some respite in many a witty headline, “Fianna Fáilures”, “Fi-NAH Fáil”, “Fianna Fáil-Out of Office”, “Fianna Fall From Grace” but these proved not to be near to the cure. Our head was not done out, so to speak, but this leaving of office presented us with an opportunity for change, something we hadn’t bothered with during the previous decade of apathy borne of grandness, and maybe this possible shift in governance would cure our head’s poor concave ailment.

However, and as funny as it may seem now, with the election that followed quickly after, there was still hope. The Labour Party was claiming to have the only road map to financial independence and dignity and appeared as an honest to God legitimate option as a main party, while Enda Kenny seemed to nearly come true on his threat to electrify the Fine Gaelers into power. Even parties whose legitimacy had been constantly questioned, and by that open remark I exclusively mean Sinn Féin, were looking like real choices, actual alternatives. After more than a decade of Fianna Fáil + Friends governance, after the need to get someone to blame for financial collapses were being laid very comfortably at their door, the actuality of a government full of actual alternatives was serious and was real.

Ah. Life. Oh Life. Oh lifffffee. Oh life. Do-do-doo-doo. Ah.

The Labour party has, as all Labour parties have done, shown its main core party value to be that of compromising itself beyond soft socialism and into the dead centre, evident in coalition with Fine Gael. Water charges, homelessness, and welfare cuts have showed the complete lack of will that Labour has and shows the disconnect between parties and the people they supposedly represent.

This new thinking iss visible in the seismic loss of Fianna Fáil seats, the rise of independents that no one is ever really sure about and the advent of Renua Ireland and the Social Democrats. With Labour at anywhere between 7-10%, in some polls even 4%, and Fianna Fáil at 21%, Fine Gael around 28%, Sinn Féin balancing around 20% and independents on 25% the polling unsurety is surely unsettling for an electorate that has been comforted throughout history by the fact that there would always be, at the very least, a government of some sort. What in the name of Ivor Callely silk pajamas will happen?

Who will go out with who? Will the Social Democrats lose the good will they have gained and go into government with Enda or Martin and be eaten alive like the Greens and PDs before them? Or will civil war politics finally come to an end, not by virtue of a new government forming free of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil but by a government of solely themselves?

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Or will we all be blind sided and in fact be shocked by a Troika of the AAA/PBP groups along with the Social Democrats and Sinn Féin taking the reins? Or will something magical happen? Will we overcome and actually turn away from the establishment parties which have been corrupt in basic and plain public sight? Can we become hopeful again and lose our jadedness?

Well, Vincent won’t be holding his breath. Not with the illness, nor with hope. And really he has seen it all before, God love him. At least he can relax and sit it out. His mercies are small, but they still are merciful. He might be distracted. He might smile. As with most things, we think about a problem less once we don’t see it.

Don’t like what’s going on? Don’t look. It might help.

Otherwise, it might – proverbially speaking – do your head in.

VinB

Oh How I Love Thee Dear Vincent Browne

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