Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Brussels: Our Loss of Innocence Continues

There is a depressing sense that yesterday's "shocking" events simply represent what now passes for normality. Professional commitments had me working yesterday from 7am without time to check the news. It was 10am when my phone started buzzing with Facebook notifications to the effect that certain friends of mine were "safe" in Brussels. Just a few months ago, such notifications would have baffled me and I'd have gone straight onto a news site to find out what was going on. Not this time. "Oh", I thought, "another one". It's a sign of the times that I intuitively knew what had happened. Only a full three quarters of an hour later, my prep complete and my appointment fifteen minutes away, did I finally go to the BBC News site to find out about the airport bombing. It was early evening before I learned of the metro bomb. After the Paris attacks, Tricolour watermarks appeared over people's Facebook and Twitter profile pictures but I have seen no Belgian equivalents in the last 24 hours. Truly, these events have become mundane. What's more, the pattern of responses from the top brass of politics, culture and media, together with their volunteer, auxiliary troops on social media, has become even more mundane and predictable. It almost seems as if there is no need to listen to speeches or to read articles anymore. Their content can simply be guessed from the identity of the author.

Firstly, we hear statements of solidarity with the victims and those living at the centre of the latest atrocity (currently Brussels), and pious commitments to fight the terrorists. The following, from Hillary Clinton, is a more or less typical example of the oeuvre: "This is a time to re-affirm our solidarity with our European friends and allies, individually and through NATO." However, listening to the likes of Clinton (or Obama, Cameron, Merkel or Hollande) feels like swimming through an ocean of red herrings. Beyond doing nothing and mouthing bromides, what are their solutions? The standard policy of western leaders in recent years has been to use direct or indirect military intervention to destabilise or depose secular dictators like Assad in Syria, Gaddafi in Libya or Mubarak in Egypt, only to find afterwards that these were the only forces capable of keeping Al Qaeda and Daesh-type extremist forces in check. Compared to more of the same (and nothing else is offered), doing nothing seems like the least worst option.

Secondly, we are told that, whatever we do, we must not question the holy grail of mass third world immigration and are admonished that the latest attack has nothing to do with mass flows of migrants from parts of the world whose populations are dominated by coreligionists of the attackers. It can indeed be said that, of the major terrorist atrocities committed on western soil since 9/11, all have been perpetrated by "home grown" terrorists. However, the "home grown" monicker is only ever used for the narrow ideological purpose of absolving the current waves of Middle Eastern and North African migrants so heedlessly invited into Europe by Angela Merkel of any blame for attacks. In truth, the native born status of the attackers, whether in London, Madrid, Paris, Copenhagen or now Brussels, who were all children or grandchildren of migrants, makes the attacks all the more disturbing. After all, if migrants themselves are better behaved than their children or grandchildren, it implies that a generation or more of welfare, social housing, state-sponsored multiculturalism, discrimination and affirmative action laws and incitement to hatred ordinances are doing nothing to foster a responsible civic culture and may, in fact, be amplifying any tendency to misbehave.

Thirdly, we are told that the latest attacks represent "blowback" for western foreign policy in the Muslim world. There's more than a grain of truth to this but, in reality, the notion that the barbarism which is becoming an increasingly frequent part of European life is an anguished response to dead relatives, mutilated bodies and the destruction of property in a far off land is far fetched. Why are the attacks on cities like Brussels being perpetrated by affiliates of Daesh and Al Qaeda, who have benefited so greatly from the western interventions of recent years in the Middle East and not by those of disgruntled anciens regimes? And why are the attackers almost invariably people who have grown up at the mollycoddled heart of European welfare states, none of whom have seen a western airstrike, never mind fallen victim to one?

Sadly, there are no politically correct answers to situations of the nature of that faced by Europe and the West today. 

It is clear that, whether we like it or not, western security is better served by the rule of corrupt and autocratic dictators whose record of crushing Islamist terrorism in their home countries is infinitely better than that of democratically elected Islamists like Egypt's Mohamed Morsi, who deliver what veteran US diplomat, Edward Djerejian called "one man, one vote, one time". The west must abandon military adventurism based on the fantasy that occidental democracy can simply be implanted in countries in which it has no roots in local history or tradition. 

However, by the same token, we must make the equally politically incorrect observation that what we invite, we become. If a population mass has no history of forming or preserving liberal or democratic institutions, common sense alone would suggest that the greater the concentration of members of that population in a western democracy, the more the liberal and democratic fabric of that society will fray. It is thus the sad lesson of history that trying to share the gift of liberal democracy by importing people or exporting regime change will achieve no good and some harm.

Moreover, there can be no doubt that fostering a culture of grievance amongst members of migrant communities within western countries does nothing to reduce their hostility to their host societies and plenty to amplify it - with consequences which are sometimes fatal.

And therein lies the grim lesson: If liberal democracy is a shining city on a hill, as one of its most eloquent proponents once suggested, then alas, the city must become a fortress lest it shine no more.   

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Fianna Fail, Fine Gael & The Civil War That Won't End

It is close to a month since the 2016 election and Ireland still has no government. The wounded Enda Kenny clings to power by his fingernails while the obdurate Michael Martin refuses to agree the grand coalition deal that the numbers render all but inevitable. In describing the seemingly unbridgeable gap between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael which Martin insists divides the two parties and prevents a coalition deal as the "narcissism of minor difference", yesterday's Irish Times opinion page summarises the standoff well - also noting correctly that his alternative option of supporting a minority Fine Gael administration that won just a quarter of the vote last month will usher in the least democratically legitimate government in Ireland's history. Furthermore, it's hard to disagree with the analysis that Michael Martin cannot drag his party in the type of direction in which it would need to travel in order to clearly differentiate it from Fine Gael. If Michael Martin insists that such miniscule differences as may still exist between the parties' two philosophies render a deal unfeasible, he may be putting at risk the impressive recovery of the party's fortunes over which he has presided.

It is easy to denounce Martin's political chicanery as cynical. He doesn't want to humiliate his proud party by taking it into government as its old enemy's junior partner, nor does he want to follow in the footsteps of the PDs, the Greens and Labour to the ignominious fate that seems to befall junior government partners throughout the western world in recent times. He may also have looked at the state of the world from the skittish financial markets to the migrant crisis to the impending Brexit referendum and concluded that like his immediate predecessors in 2007 and 2008, he may be entering government at the worst possible time. However, I have met enough Fianna Failers of a dyed in the wool hue to realise that the party's independent identity has an almost mystical hold on the minds of many of its members and that this must at least partially explain Martin's reticence.

HL Mencken defined love as the triumph of imagination over intelligence and an idealist as one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup. For those of us who can retain emotional detachment from the traditions of the Irish political mainstream, the notion that one of the country's amorphous centre parties could inspire love or idealism seems risible. However, the true psychological root of the Fianna Gael fissure (and perhaps now, the only real factor that now differentiates the two parties) lies in what was quite literally the casus belli that formed them in 1922. The pro-Treaty majority that was to form the basis of Fine Gael saw the Free State, complete with the much hated partition, Treaty Ports and the External Relations Act as the bird in the hand. The anti-Treaty minority which evolved into Fianna Fail hankered longingly after the two in the bush. 

The emotional differences revealed by the Treaty split foreshadowed each party's view of itself. Fine Gaelers like their party. Fianna Failers, however, love theirs. Fine Gael has always taken an essentially pragmatic view of itself - reserving its idealism for external objects like the EU. Fianna Fail, by contrast, regards its identity as an independent and distinct movement as the highest political goal - as if it and the land were one. While Fine Gael has occasionally elected leaders like James Dillon and Garret FitzGerald, who had a prior record of voting against the party when they disagreed with it, such apostasy could never be accepted in a Fianna Fail leader, each of de Valera's successors having served a loyal apprenticeship whilst rising through the party's ranks and being loyal to the party whip (if not necessarily the party leader).  

To movement Fianna Failers, to contemplate union with the old enemy after having so improbably survived its 2011 near death experience may seem like heresy. However, the real world has moved on from 1922 and Martin is playing a game of political Russian Roulette. If he refuses to make a deal with a party so ideologically similar (if not identical) to his own, while Fine Gael talks soothingly about putting the country first, he risks being blamed for subjecting the country to political instability and a 1981/2 type series of elections which may test the public's patience to breaking point.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty has become the Nestorian heresy of Irish politics - i.e. it has long since been rendered moot. The Cosgrave government repealed the External Relations Act while the Costello government declared a republic in 1949. Once these events happened, any lingering suspicion that Fine Gael lacked republican credentials or yearned for a future in the British Commonwealth were dead and buried - even John "Unionist" Bruton was too loyal a Euro-federalist to revive that project. Meanwhile, when Sean Lemass met Northern Prime Minister Terence O'Neill in 1963 and committed himself to the achievement of a united Ireland "by peaceful and persuasive means", he eliminated another of the parties' key differences by leaving open the possibility that popular sovereignty might thwart Ireland's constitutional claim to the "six counties". Though Haughey denounced the Anglo Irish Agreement in 1985, he did nothing to repeal it once in office and his successors Reynolds and Ahern were content to confine their differences with John Bruton to the rhetorical. In 1998, the Good Friday Agreement passed with the support of both parties and the people of the South promptly lost interest in Northern Irish affairs.

Meanwhile, the only other ideological differences between the two parties have also disappeared. Fianna Fail's support for tariffs ended in the 1960s under Lemass and the support of both parties for EU membership led to the Common Agricultural Policy and the de facto abandonment of the "Big Farmer v. Small Farmer" divide over agricultural policy. Since 1973, any differences between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have been either contrived or ephemeral. The only objective that the split served was to keep the left from seizing power and with the support for the two parties now at around 50% combined, the only way in which to achieve this object may well be union. One way or the other, Ireland does not need another election. It does, however, need a government and a civil war that ended 93 years ago is a poor excuse not to form one.   

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan: Mr. Martin, tear down this wall.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

The Unmaking of a Government: Part II - Labour

And then they were seven... As Willie Penrose (who conceded defeat early on Saturday) completed his Lazarus-like transfer-led recovery in Longford Westmeath, there must have been a bittersweet taste in Joan Burton's mouth. Seven is a good number compared to six but on Saturday evening, when Penrose was still left for dead, Ged Nash (who symbolised Labour's economic policy vision) and Aodhan O'Riordain (who symbolised its ultra-PC social policy platform) seemed on course to scrape back. Neither did, and while Burton will be glad of the extra seat (and the speaking rights that come with it), she must be a little embarrassed that the party's saviour is not one of the Dauphin Princes of which it is so proud, but a traditional parish pump politician who resigned from government over the closure of an army barracks in his constituency. The contrasting fortunes of the young bucks and the old stag seem strangely symbolic of Labour's demise.

At the peak of its influence, after the victory of Patrick Nulty in the Dublin West by-election in 2011, Labour held 38 seats, more than 80% of which are now gone. At 6.6% of the vote, the party has been here before, in 1987. However, that election delivered an anomalous 12 seat tally of which Joan Burton could only dream. That Labour Party was much weaker in the Dublin suburbs and the commuter belt and its vote was much more concentrated into places like Kerry, Cork City, Limerick and Tipperary, where TDs with strong local followings brought in disproportionate vote hauls. In contrast, this time, Labour had an outgoing parliamentary party of more than 30 and even the most effective triage strategy could not have identified with sufficient specificity a core of a dozen or so winnable seats on which to concentrate all efforts. Unable to put their eggs into sufficiently few baskets, Labour crossed onto the wrong side of a statistical Rubicon. With its vote falling below the 8-10% range, it fairly quickly plunged below its 2002 and 2007 total of 20 into the single digits. It could have been worse. Only the poll-topping Brendan Howlin held on safely and even the party leader Burton scraped in on the last seat and by a margin of fewer than a thousand votes.

The national brand that Dick Spring struggled to build after the party's 1987 near-death experience has finally been incinerated. Much like in 1987, Labour will struggle to be a coherent party rather than an association of fiefdoms belonging to individual de facto independent TDs. Prior to Joan Burton's arrival in Dublin West in the early 1990s, Labour had only a token organisation there. It is by no means clear whether or not there is a viable Labour Party in the constituency without her. She is now 67, so one suspects we will only have to wait until the next election to find out. In Dublin Fingal, 63 year old Brendan Ryan is the scion of a family franchise dating back to his brother's election as TD for the predecessor Dublin North constituency in 1989. Before that, there was no Labour TD in the area and none has ever been elected whose surname wasn't Ryan. Sean Sherlock's seat in Cork East is also a family franchise started by his Workers' Party/DL father Joe in the 1980s. Again, with the exception of John Mulvihill, who served the constituency between 1992 and 1997, Labour has never elected a TD in the constituency who wasn't called Sherlock. Penrose, like Burton, will be the only Labour TD to ever represent his constituency or either of its individual counties.

In Tipperary, Alan Kelly, of course, has been able to fall back on the organisational heritage of John Ryan, Michael Ferris and Sean Treacy. However, that heritage had fallen on rough times before Kelly arrived - he was the first Labour TD elected from the county since Ferris' death in 2001. Without the "AK-47" factor, it's hard to see a Labour seat there. In Wexford, Brendan Howlin is, remarkably, the third Labour TD to represent the constituency since 1922. Richard Corish and his son Brendan (who served as Tanaiste between 1973 and 1977) held the family seat for sixty years until 1982 and Howlin has continuously held it since 1987. The Labour roots in Wexford run deep, but Howlin will have been its TD for 34 years assuming the next Dail lasts its full term - a big assumption, I know. Can Labour win a seat there without him? That's doubtful. Finally, Jan O'Sullivan (a TD since 1998) in scraping back in Limerick City, barely saved the continuity of a Labour line of more than 50 years spanning Stephen Coughlan, Frank Prendergast, Mick Lipper and her late mentor Jim Kemmy. Again though, it is a virtual certainty that without her, Labour would have six seats today and not seven.

Things look worse than in 1987. All of Labour's TDs have bucked the national trend and survived due to their personal followings and five of them are in or on the cusp of their sixties. Labour thus looks increasingly like a white-shoe law firm in its twilight years, five of whose seven remaining partners are increasingly thinking of grandchildren, holiday homes in Spain and the golf course and the younger two of whom are coming to the realisation that, absent a miracle, they will have to take what remains of the practice and fold it into a competitor. Only Sherlock and Kelly can really claim to have a political future in front of them now and it cannot but have occurred to them over the last few days that this future may well be in another party - most likely the Social Democrats. It is not inconceivable that Labour has a future, but it looks increasingly as if that future lies in a merged force of the centre-left and not as a distinct brand.

The new Labour is only a national force in the sense that it survives in scattered and isolated enclaves across the country. After the last local elections, I suggested that Labour was on its way to becoming a suburban South Dublin rump party. It now isn't even that. The South Dublin suburban machines painstakingly built by Barry Desmond and Ruairi Quinn in the 1970s and 1980s have disappeared. Having contorted itself into an ideological facsimile of a Dublin 4 dinner party to suit the agendas of politicians like Quinn, Eamon Gilmore and Alex White, Labour now has no seats in Dublin's elite south-eastern suburbs. So too are the last remnants of the formidable political machines built up by Mervyn Taylor in the 1970s and Pat Rabbitte in the 1980s in Dublin South West and by Eamon Tuffy and his daughter Joanna in Dublin Mid-West. Labour has not one TD in South County Dublin. Ditto the inner city. The Dublin South Central organisation built up by Frank Cluskey, John O'Connell, Pat Upton and Eric Byrne between the 1960s and 90s returned a paltry 7% of the vote and no seat. Meanwhile, the formidable North City machine built in Dublin Central and North West during the Spring years (and which survived when the Spring Tide receded) is decimated. From 18 seats in Dublin in 2011, Labour now has two, both in the Fingal borough.

In Leinster, the once legendary Kildare Labour Party of William Norton, Joe Bermingham, Emmet Stagg and Jack Wall returned no TDs, as did County Meath, which could once boast the formidable Jim Tully organisation. In the fortress constituency of Wicklow that used to reliably return Liam Kavanagh and Liz McManus, the sitting TD Anne Ferris polled a spectacular 3.8% (down from nearly 30% in 2002) and Ged Nash was pipped for the final seat in Louth. The only Leinster survivors are Howlin and Penrose. 

In Munster, the Kerry seats nursed by the Spring and Moynihan dynasties are no more, while the old Labour machine of Toddy O'Sullivan and the DL machine of the Lynch family failed to return a TD in Cork City and, in the ultimate indignity for a party with such roots in the region, the Cork South West seat held for 20 years by Michael Pat Murphy fell too. Meanwhile, Labour's only western stronghold, Galway, failed to return a Labour TD for the first time since 1982.

When a party loses so many TDs from such deeply rooted party organisations, they lose much more than just the parliamentary strength they once had but also the institutional and organisational memory that those TDs once brought to the table. It typically takes a whole generation to rebuild and there's the rub - the party has to last a whole generation to rebuild it. The laws of political gravity thus weigh very heavily against the party of Connolly and Larkin surviving as an independent organisation. Like all fallen organisations, Labour's future is much less interesting than its past and the question of why it all went wrong is much more interesting than where it goes from here. So why did it all go pear-shaped?

As I've previously opined, the roots of Fine Gael's disaster lay in its petulant decision, on the evening of the 2011 election count, to rule out any government other than a Labour tie-up. The Genesis of Labour's demise lay some weeks prior to election day, as the "Gilmore for Taoiseach" bandwagon began to career off the road. Gilmore had committed himself to responding to one of the most gargantuan deficit-to-GDP ratios in western history with a programme that entailed no spending cuts (seemingly of any variety), stimulus spending funded from some unspecified untapped motherlode of sovereign debt and no tax increases other than for the "rich" and had briefly managed to parlay the comforting congeniality of such fiscal fantasy into a fleeting poll lead. However, once the troika came to town to bail the government out, the credibility of the Gilmore plan had melted like snow off the dyke. 

With Gilmore's Obama-esque personality cult in meltdown and Labour's numbers in freefall, a sort of palace coup took place at the top of the Labour campaign. In a desperate rearguard action, Labour grandees like Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte and Roisin Shortall took to the airwaves to denounce Sinn Fein and the hard left as irresponsible and untrustworthy. Since Labour could only realistically lead a "Gilmore for Taoiseach" government in coalition with other left wing forces, the message was clear. Labour was jettisoning its original strategy in favour of a Fine Gael tie-up. At the same time, a campaign specifically aimed at public sector voters sought to portray Labour as a protective shield against the extremes of a Fine Gael government. Thus posters and leaflets began to extol the virtues of a "balanced government", a campaign ironically reminiscent of Michael McDowell's "One Party Government: No Thanks". 

There was, of course, another way. Labour could have accepted that while its unreconstructed Keynesian programme had given it a distinctive identity on which it could build in opposition, it had all the makings of a political disaster if prematurely promoted to the unforgiving field of government. However, Labour's aging Politburo, sensing that 2011 was its last chance of ever enjoying the trappings of ministerial office, was in no mood to build a political brand from which only a younger generation of Labour TDs could benefit. After British PM Harold Macmillan sacked a half dozen of his cabinet in order to shore up his flagging popularity, the Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe waspishly quipped: "Greater love hath no man than this; that he lay down his friends for his life." In 2011, it could have been said of Labour's leadership: "Greater love hath no frontbencher than this; that he lay down his backbenchers for his career." Of the 21 new Labour TDs elected in the 2011 intake, only two (Alan Kelly and Brendan Ryan) now survive.

Like Fine Gael, Labour was a victim of an intergenerational war between the interests of the old and the young. Employment laws and public sector payroll policy may protect the pay, conditions and security of older workers' jobs, but they make it more difficult for the young to take their first steps on the career ladder. Zoning and planning laws help to raise the value and improve the amenity of houses belonging to older homeowners but they reduce affordability for the young. Defined benefit pensions and early retirement ages benefit those who are over, at or relatively near retirement age, but represent a ticking time bomb for younger workers who face empty trust funds when they reach their golden years. However, Labour found its position to be even worse than Fine Gael's. Its ideological commitment to preserve the status quo was several orders of magnitude deeper than Fine Gael's ever was, but at the same time, it was more reliant on young voters than Fine Gael. This created a peculiarly noxious disease from which Labour was fated to perish in government. Its voters were particularly vulnerable to the problem. However, the party traditions were firmly set against any feasible solution.

In opposition, Labour could pretend that there was no intergenerational war. The old and incumbent were promised that the system would continue to preserve their legal privileges, whether consisting of incumbent-friendly redundancy laws, public sector job tenure or the sacrosanct retirement age of 65 - instituted by Otto von Bismarck when the average life expectancy was below 50. Meanwhile, the young were promised that they could be guaranteed all of the privileges afforded to their parents and grandparents through the magic of borrowed money and politically correct tax hikes for the "rich". It sounded too good to be true and it was. When they arrived at coalition negotiations, Labour reached the grim realisation that the nirvana it had offered its voters was undeliverable. Desperate and amoral but practical choices were made.

While public sector layoffs and pay cuts were kept to a minimum, hiring freezes and yellow-pack job contracts for new entrants rewarded Labour's younger supporters with higher unemployment and lower pay than their forbears. Labour's stolid rigidity on employment laws and housing repossessions left young people with underemployment, emigration, renting and overpriced homes. Without the ability to borrow vast amounts of money on the never-never to pay for homes, jobs and futures which the anaemic post-Celtic Tiger economy couldn't finance on its honest thrift, Labour's young supporters were thrown under the bus. Sadly, they were victims, as much, of their own foolishness as they were of Labour's cynicism for had Labour learned the truth and started to tell it, the backlash might have been even greater.

The probable truth is that any attempt on Labour's part to spread the burden of adjustment more evenly across the age cohorts would have resulted in massive and immediate resistance from older voters, who would have abandoned Labour in their droves. Meanwhile, any countervailing benefits delivered to the young would be slow, gradual, incremental and perhaps invisible. In a classic triumph of the seen over the unseen, younger voters never celebrate policies which might deliver them future benefits. Rather, they assume that the privileges being stripped from older people are, in fact, rights to which they will one day accede themselves. In the mid-2000s, France's centre-right prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, devised a new form of "first job contract" which was designed to reduce youth unemployment by disapplying some of France's expensive and cumbersome employment laws from people taking up their first jobs. Predictably, France's left wing unions took to the streets to say "non". However, they were joined by the country's left wing students, who saw the "first job contract" not as a means of improving their grim job prospects but as an attack on their "rights". With the law's beneficiaries implacably opposed to the law, de Villepin's canny Gaullist rival, Nicolas Sarkozy, pulled his support and de Villepin climbed down.

I don't know whether de Villepin's fate was on Eamon Gilmore's mind as he negotiated a coalition deal but it would be quite logical if it was. Whatever his motivations, Gilmore seems to have realised that the youth vote would soon be baying for his blood. He and his party seemed to convince themselves that if they could not deliver to their young base what they had promised on the economic front, they could compensate them with "social" policy positions that chimed with the spirit of their generation. In 1999, Labour proposed legislation which would enshrine housing, healthcare, education, jobs, food and clothing as rights under the Constitution. However, by 2014, Eamon Gilmore professed to believe that the "civil rights issue of our generation" was not housing, education or jobs but gay marriage. Unable to deliver things which would cost money, Labour committed itself to achieving nice, easy and, above all, cheap culture war victories. Unlike Fine Gael, it was calculated, Labour had no organised constituencies to offend when advocating same sex marriage, the repeal of the eighth amendment or gender self-declaration laws. The young and middle class, it was surmised, would vote for the "values" of "decency" and "modernity" that these changes reflected and Labour's betrayed minions would cut the party some slack.

Hence gay marriage became more than just Labour's gay equality policy. It became the party's housing policy, its jobs policy, its welfare policy, its tax policy and its education policy. It became the silver bullet to vanquish the bloodthirsty werewolf of five years of betrayal. Its canny rivals on the hard left and in Sinn Fein neutralised Labour's first-mover advantage by dutifully supporting the referendum. But unlike a tax cut or a new welfare benefit, constitutional changes remain static for generations. They don't have to be sustained in budget after budget, manifesto after manifesto, Dail after Dail. Same sex marriage was the very definition of eaten bread. Sinn Fein and the hard left immediately moved the conversation back to water charges. Labour, meanwhile, spent 9 months ritually repeating: "We delivered marriage equality. We delivered marriage equality...". But they were talking to themselves. After all, what were they going to do? Repeal the SSM amendment so that it could be passed again? From 23 May 2015 onwards, Labour came to look more and more like a footballer trying to re-live a goal he'd scored.

The point wasn't lost on the base. The week after the referendum passed, Fintan O'Toole at the Irish Times ended the temporary truce he had called with his former allies in Labour and said that Gilmore was wrong to say that gay marriage was "the civil rights issue of our generation". The civil rights issue of our generation was, he said "child poverty". This revealed the true feeling of leftist voters of whose instincts O'Toole is such a barometer: "Thanks for the marriage equality Joan. Now could you please give us some money?" But Labour was in no mood to listen to the misery of its former voters and if it had done, what precisely could it have done whilst retaining fealty to its ideology and not simultaneously bankrupting the country? Faced with the unpalatable reality, Labour crawled down a rabbit hole. Having purred like housecats at the approval of O'Toole et al on the way up, down in the rabbit hole Labour venomously sniped at its former friends who attacked its "hard decisions" which it had, of course, made in the "national interest".  

Labour, in a sense, gave up. Rather than scrambling to save itself and risking an ignominious end, Labour opted to die with dignity. As the ship sank, its officers wagged their fingers at an ungrateful public and promised more of the same. "Repeal the Eighth" became the centrepiece of Labour's policy platform and some within the party seem to have become convinced that it would move large numbers of voters into their column. Would the promise be adequate compensation for the shattered legacy of broken promises and blighted futures? In the end, perhaps the most honest assessment of the strategy's success came from perhaps the truest of its true believers, Labour's Senate leader, Ivana Bacik:

Some of the people who said they were only voting for a repeal of the Eighth Amendment in the general election should have been taken with a large grain of salt”.

Never a truer word, but cold comfort, I suspect, for the dozens of Labour TDs looking for new jobs.