IT is a sign of the times we are in, that Fianna Fáil people heaved a sigh of relief last Friday when the latest opinion poll showed the party trailing two points behind the Labour Party and 10 points behind Fine Gael.
Last Friday’s Ipsos/MRBI poll in The Irish Times confirmed what we know for nearly two years now, that Fianna Fáil would be hammered if a general election were held soon.
But Fianna Fáil people were relatively happy. Support for the party has gone up slightly. They might have been terrified that their support had plummeted following a very harsh budget and the Government’s handling of floods, snow and ice. The hope for Fianna Fáil now is that support for the party has already hit rock bottom and that from now until the general election, there is only one way for the party to go and that way is up.
Fianna Fáil TDs will know that to be optimistic now is premature. One swallow never made a summer. They will know that they need to climb much higher in the opinion polls and that their seats are still in danger. They already accept that the party has little chance of forming a government at the next election, whether that election is held this year, next year or the year after that.
So, the most they can hope for is that they can hold on to their own seat. The latest opinion poll may give them some hope in that regard. It gives them hope that all is not yet lost.
A significant feature of this poll, and something that Fianna Fáil optimists will stress, is that the party’s core vote is at 20%, only four points behind Fine Gael (on 24%), and three points ahead of Labour, who are on 17%. So, the next election might not be such a foregone conclusion after all.
The big problem for Fianna Fáil is that, rightly or wrongly, everybody blames them for the collapse of the Irish economy and nobody credits them for the boom Celtic Tiger years. So, while they may be getting some credit now for the steps they are taking to sort out the economic mess we are in, as far as the vast majority of the electorate is concerned, it was Fianna Fáil who caused the recession in the first place.
I do not completely go along with that. It is easy in hindsight to see the mistakes that were made during the Celtic Tiger years. And most of us were very happy to ride that tiger. The more the Government spent, and overspent, on public services, the more the Opposition and the rest of us wanted them to spend.
Sure, it is up to the Government to lead. But in our democracy, it is almost impossible for a government to go against what the opposition and the people demand when times are good.
So Fianna Fáil went with the flow. It was understandable but it was also irresponsible. And the problem with this country is that we are also cursed with an irresponsible Opposition.
The Government is now belatedly trying to be responsible while the Opposition, Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin, continues on its merry irresponsible way.
If there was ever a time for the Government and Opposition to be irresponsible, it certainly is not now, when we are trying to cope with the greatest economic crisis we have ever experienced.
Now is a time when all sides should be acting together for the common good. The Government should be consulting with Opposition and the Opposition should be co-operating with the Government. But we are not going to see that happen. Party will always be more important than country in Ireland.
And that brings me to the question of whether a public or private inquiry into the banking collapse would serve us best. I do not know, no more than I can say one way or the other whether NAMA is going to sort out the problem.
Just because Fianna Fáil wants a private inquiry does not necessarily mean that this will be a cover-up. Naturally, that’s what the Opposition would say. And you cannot blame the public for siding with the Opposition on that one. They don’t trust Fianna Fáil on anything these days. But the arguments on both sides are plausible.
I presume we all want to find out what caused the banking collapse. We want to find out who was to blame. We want to bring to justice those who caused it and if crime was committed, we want to see those criminals pay for their crime. No matter who they are.
Of course, if Government ministers were responsible, they will try to cover up their failures. That is why they would always be afraid of a public inquiry And, of course, Opposition TDs will try to rub Government ministers’ noses in it whether Government ministers were responsible or not.
They are not particularly interested in getting at the truth. That is secondary to embarrassing the Government. And that is why they want a public inquiry.
So let’s give the commission that the Government proposes a chance. And if that does not work, then let us have a public inquiry.