Cos­grave’s death is a re­minder: cut any of us and we bleed Fine Gael or Fianna Fail

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Analysis - JODY COR­CO­RAN

MY favourite Liam Cos­grave story re­lates to the col­lapse of the sec­ond in­ter­party gov­ern­ment in 1957, a para­ble which could go to the heart of Fine Gael to this day.

Then the Min­is­ter for Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs, Cos­grave per­son­ally held the de­fla­tion­ary poli­cies of the then Fi­nance Min­is­ter, the rather grand Ger­ard Sweet­man, re­spon­si­ble for the fall of the gov­ern­ment af­ter three years, and is said to have told him so in typ­i­cally blunt fash­ion, stat­ing that Fine Gael “was no longer led by peo­ple liv­ing in big houses at the end of long av­enues”.

The Sweet­man fam­ily did not live at the end of a long av­enue, as it hap­pened, but had a fine town­house on Dublin’s Bag­got Street. A 1911 cen­sus re­turn shows that the fam­ily of three, in­clud­ing young Ger­ard then aged two, em­ployed no fewer than three ser­vants. Af­ter the gov­ern­ment’s col­lapse, Cos­grave is said to have not spo­ken to Sweet­man for some years.

***** Re­cent opin­ion polls show that Fine Gael still holds a com­mand­ing lead among the mid­dle classes, par­tic­u­larly among the up­per mid­dle class, that is, the old money pro­fes­sion­als who re­side in the finer €5m homes in Dublin 4 and 6, let’s say around Dartry and Rath­gar, where nan­nies and gar­den­ers abound, and where its lead is more than twice that of Fianna Fail; and also, though lesser, among the some­what more mod­est mid­dle class res­i­dents of, say, Ranelagh and Sandy­mount, whose main prop­erty would be still val­ued in ex­cess of €1m.

Fine Gael’s lead falls dra­mat­i­cally among the lower mid­dle classes, how­ever, shall we say among those as­pir­ing peo­ple who are but one gen­er­a­tion from work­ing class and two from ab­ject poverty, who have yet to re­turn to Fianna Fail in the fuller num­bers as did the work­ing class in the last elec­tion, many of them opt­ing in­stead for the half-way house that were the In­de­pen­dents.

The lower mid­dle class com­prise the largest of the three mid­dle-class co­horts, and it is among these that the next elec­tion will be won and lost.

As we can al­ready see, the lower mid­dle class is pre­pared to desert the In­de­pen­dents in droves — but to whom will they go, Leo Varad­kar or Micheal Martin?

In my view, that will come down to the elec­tion cam­paign it­self, to the ground war in the less leafy sub­urbs of, say, Sal­lynog­gin and Swords — but also the tele­vi­sion stu­dio de­bates be­tween the lead­ers of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.

Leo Varad­kar is said to be a fear­some cam­paigner who will leave noth­ing to chance — fail to prepare, prepare to fail — but there is lit­tle ev­i­dence to back up that as­ser­tion, other than the man­ner in which he won the Fine Gael lead­er­ship con­test, that is, how he tidily tied up his Oireach­tas col­leagues.

But the more telling ac­count may be the man­ner in which he was routed in the ground war, at the end of those long av­enues, where Si­mon Coveney won the day.

So, in the box­ing club par­lance of Micheal Martin’s fa­ther, does Leo Varad­kar pos­sess a glass jaw? We will soon find out.

***** Fianna Fail is not de­void of rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the leafier sub­urbs, none more high-pro­file than Jus­tice spokesman Jim O’Cal­laghan — who is said to be close to Micheal Martin, but who caused no lit­tle ir­ri­ta­tion last week­end with his ap­par­ent leav­ing of a door open to a future coali­tion with Sinn Fein.

By the by, in Oc­to­ber 1959, when the dual lead­er­ship of Fine Gael un­der Richard Mulc­ahy and John A Costello was stood down, Costello wanted to con­tinue his prac­tice as a lawyer as well as re­main party leader. He asked Liam Cos­grave to be his “man­ag­ing direc­tor” in the Dail while he toiled away down in the Four Courts. Cos­grave de­clined the of­fer, un­der­stand­ably enough, only to sub­se­quently de­ci­sively lose a lead­er­ship con­test to James Dil­lon.

Jim O’Cal­laghan con­tin­ues to toil down in the Four Courts these days, with par­tic­u­lar em­pha­sis on the lu­cra­tive busi­ness of defama­tion law. Within Fianna Fail, his ap­par­ent hold­ing ajar a door to Sinn Fein is seen more as a con­stituency mat­ter, where he is in con­test for votes with Chris An­drews, a scion of Fianna Fail, but some­thing of a use­ful idiot to Sinn Fein these days.

That said, surely it is that the An­drews fam­ily vote re­turned de­ci­sively enough to Fianna Fail last time out and that O’Cal­laghan should have his seat made more safe by the next elec­tion, or is it that he is spend­ing more time than is strictly nec­es­sary in the law library?

***** So, when will that elec­tion be held? As some­body who cor­rectly told you at the last elec­tion that the cen­tre would hold, and that Fine Gael and Fianna Fail would con­tinue to thrive if they played their cards right — com­bined, they have in­creased sup­port by around 10pc since — this is what I now be­lieve will hap­pen: in short, Leo is set to be­come Bob the Builder.

To con­firm the point, I am told that Micheal Martin in­formed a meet­ing of Fianna Fail’s front bench last week that he be­lieves the Gov­ern­ment’s cap­i­tal in­vest­ment plan 2016-2021 is noth­ing short of the Fine Gael elec­tion man­i­festo.

The Bud­get this week will not amount to much. The real deal will be the bil­lions Fine Gael is plan­ning to pump into the road and rail net­works, schools, hos­pi­tals and other public projects, start­ing early next year.

As soon as the ground thaws at win­ter’s end, then you can ex­pect to see Leo out and about in hard hat and hi-vis jacket, turn­ing the sod on var­i­ous projects. Let’s call it his Le­mas­sian mo­ment, Varad­kar’s plan to Re­build the Repub­lic: boots on the ground, cranes in the air and white van man on the road. Martin, mean­while, will con­tinue to ham­mer the is­sues of health and hous­ing. Even­tu­ally, sooner than you may think — before Varad­kar gains trac­tion — Martin will have to call out Fine Gael and de­clare, rightly or wrongly, that the party is in­ca­pable of sort­ing out the hous­ing mess and that no party but Fianna Fail can do so, a nod to its in­nate feel for the mid­dle class as­pi­ra­tion be­hind prop­erty own­er­ship.

Martin’s tim­ing will have to be finely tuned, how­ever, com­pli­cated some­what at it is by the sched­uled abor­tion ref­er­en­dum in May or June. But then, nei­ther party has much to fear from that ref­er­en­dum, as both are on the side of mid­dle Ire­land. Put it this way: the Bud­get this week will be the last un­der this par­tic­u­lar ad­min­is­tra­tion.

***** Ref­er­ence to Sean Le­mass obliges me to re­turn to Ger­ard Sweet­man.

For all his pa­tri­cian airs, to his credit, it was Sweet­man who broke with tra­di­tion to el­e­vate a 39-year-old civil ser­vant named Ken Whi­taker to the po­si­tion of Sec­re­tary­Gen­eral of the De­part­ment of Fi­nance, and so usher in de­vel­op­ment of the mod­ern Ire­land which we see around us to­day; well, cer­tainly af­ter said Mr Le­mass came to power in 1957.

In his last elec­tion, in June 1969, Sweet­man was again re­turned to the Dail for the then Kil­dare con­stituency, with none other then one Nancy Moore, mother of Christy Moore, also on the Fine Gael ticket. Cut any of us and we will bleed Fine Gael or Fianna Fail.

***** In all the trib­utes paid to the late Mr Cos­grave last week, the Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams’s was the most un­gra­cious, and Richard Boyd Bar­rett’s of Peo­ple Before Profit the most, well, charm­ing. Like Cos­grave, Boyd Bar­rett hails from Dun Laoghaire. Here is an edited ex­tract from the Dail record: Richard Boyd Bar­rett: It is fair to say that my aunt, Janet Kin­sella, or Janet Boyd Bar­rett, who is now de­ceased, would have been a prom­i­nent ac­tivist in the Dun Laoghaire Fine Gael branch... A Deputy: Scandal, scandal. (In­ter­rup­tions). Richard Boyd Bar­rett: Po­lit­i­cal de­bate around the dinner ta­ble with an­other un­cle who was in­volved in Fianna Fail... Bren­dan Howlin: No won­der the Deputy ended up as he is. Richard Boyd Bar­rett: ...and an­other un­cle was in­volved in the Labour Party in Dalkey... (In­ter­rup­tions). Richard Boyd Bar­rett: These names were all fa­mil­iar — the Cos­grave name, Jack Lynch and so on. There was in­tense po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sion — per­haps some of that rubbed off on me... Bobby Ayl­ward: Not the way we would ex­pect. Richard Boyd Bar­rett: ...al­though I am sure it was in a way that none of them would have par­tic­u­larly ap­proved of.

***** In that de­bate, Micheal Martin made ref­er­ence to Liam Cos­grave’s “dis­tinct ac­cent”, which was cer­tainly the case. Apro­pos of noth­ing in par­tic­u­lar, the Fi­nan­cial Times last week car­ried a re­view of King Lear at the Min­erva The­atre in Chich­ester in the UK.

The re­viewer made ref­er­ence to a sex change given to the Earl of Kent. Sinead Cu­sack “of­fers an in­tel­li­gent read­ing”, the re­viewer said, in which the sole weak link was, oddly, “this na­tive Dubliner’s adop­tion of a north side Dublin ac­cent when Kent dis­guises her­self ”.

A lower mid­dle class ac­cent, per­haps, one gen­er­a­tion from work­ing class, two from ab­ject poverty?

IR­ISH WAYS: Christy Moore’s mother stood for Fine Gael in 1969. And Sinead Cu­sack has links to every hue of po­lit­i­cal opin­ion

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