Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

1 February 2001 Edition

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Singin' the Blueshirt blues


As John Bruton's leadership ends, Fine Gael is in crisis and a new leader will not solve the massive problems that beset the party. Their biggest problem is to find the answer to the question ``What is Fine Gael for?''

Of course, Fine Gael remains true to its anti-republican traditions and the credentials of leadership contenders Michael Noonan and Jim Mitchell are impeccable in that regard. Former Justice Minister Noonan roused successive Fine Gael ard fheiseanna with his tirades, while Mitchell picketed the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in Ballyfermot in the days of censorship and demonisation.

John Bruton's `` peace process'' remark was revealed because of his own ineptitude but his irritation that the process had become such a big issue in 26-County politics was not untypical of many of his partitionist party colleagues. This was no way to win public support and was one of many major blunders made by Bruton during his ten years at the head of the Fine Gael ranks.

As recently as this week, Bruton displayed his distance from reality when he criticised the government for spurning the EU Commission's rebuke about its allegedly inflationary budgetary policies. The Commission was not criticising the unfairness of the Budget in terms of widening the poverty gap but in terms of the `inflationary' effect within the Euro currency zone. Quite rightly, Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy rejected this interference in Irish sovereignty. Yet he was castigated by Bruton for ``wearing the green jersey''. And Bruton wondered why he was unpopular!

But has Fine Gael's steady decline all been down to Bruton? By no means. The reality is that on all the major social and economic issues there is no policy difference between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. To mask that, Fine Gael have tried to portray themselves as the party of honesty and integrity. But of course the cheek-by-jowl relationship between politics and big business is not confined to Fianna Fáil.

It emerged recently that both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil were given, and retained, donations of £50,000 from tycoon Denis O'Brien, a man who benefitted to the tune of millions from the privatisation of Telecom Éireann. Similarly, Fine Gael councillors were mired in rezoning scandals in County Dublin alongside Liam Lawlor, whom they were calling upon to resign in the Dáil this week. £50,000 was also the figure given to John Bruton for Fine Gael by Ben Dunne, while both Michael Noonan (£3,000) and Jim Mitchell (£2,500) got donations from Dunne as revealed in the Moriarty Tribunal.

Fine Gael is thus hobbled when it attempts to strut the high moral ground. The farcical Celtic Snail PR campaign which netted £125,000 for an advertising company was a suitable epitaph for the Bruton era.

A new leader may come up with a snappier slogan but, like the snail, Fine Gael's political baggage will keep slowing it down.

An Phoblacht
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