Great Irish Political U-Turns of the 1980s

January 8, 2008 at 9:12 am 1 comment

The 1980s was a great decade for political U-turns in Ireland, from somersaulting political promises about the economy and health cuts to the beginning of the transformation of Pee Flynn from strong opponent of ‘the right to fornication’ to a man who would later distribute free condoms in Valentine cards. Here are some of my favourites: >>>

And I Stepped In Again…

U-turns abounded during the three elections of 1981-82. Fianna Fail’s 1980 budget speech warned, “we cannot ask the taxpayer of tomorrow to pay for the services we require today. This would be socially unfair and economically irresponsible.” Within months they were doing just that, and they lost the 1981 election.

When the new Coalition tried to tax children’s shoes, Jim Kemmy sent them walking. Fianna Fáil’s Paddy Power told the Dail that Garret the Good “was prepared to do U-turns, double U-turns, five-point and three-point turns, and back somersaults and cartwheels if necessary” when the trappings of power were slipping away.

After the first 1982 election, everyone ignored their manifestos to buy off Tony Gregory. Haughey succeeded with “You know what I want. What do you want?” Then Labour Party leader Michael O’Leary joined Fine Gael. And Fianna Fáil U-turned again on the economy—first reversing the coalition’s spending cuts, then claiming to have returned again to fiscal rectitude. FitzGerald stepped in again as Taoiseach.

Here’s Rubber Johnny

Sometime between the mid-1980s and the mid 1990s, Pee Flynn became a class condom convert. In 1985 he believed “the fashionable length of a lady’s skirt or width of a gent’s trousers might change but the right for young unmarried teenagers to fornicate is still unnatural and wrong”. But was he really that conservative?

In 1987 he said, “I’ll take a good idea from anywhere. I have no hangovers.” His move to Brussels as European Commissioner later proved his pragmatism. In 1996, he distributed 300,000 condoms in Valentines Day cards. Green MEP Patricia McKenna hoped Pee would continue to “promote condoms from Copenhagen to Castlebar”.

There Is a Better Way

In 1987, Fianna Fáil billboards boasted that, “Health cuts hurt the old, the sick and the handicapped—there is a better way.” In government, PJ Mara prefaced new spending cuts with the warning, “brace yourself, Bridget!” Were the new health cuts indeed a better way to hurt the old, the sick and the handicapped? No. The forgetful Haughey had simply “not been personally aware” of the hardships they caused.

How do you defend such U-turns? Rory O’Hanlon explained that “waiting lists are a very unreliable measure of the availability of hospital services.” On the doorsteps, Fianna Fáil canvassers tried to convince me that there were no health cuts. When I met Bertie Ahern and told him what his canvassers were saying, he explained that, “God love them, they’re not familiar with the details.”

Also in 1987, Fine Gael leader Alan Dukes campaigned for a coalition with the PDs. He then proposed a grand coalition with Fianna Fail, defying the Fianna Fáil core value of refusing to share power. Haughey repeatedly made clear that coalition “would betray the electorate who voted for us on our clearly-stated policy of single-party government.” He then U-turned into a coalition with the PDs.


I’ll look at some U-Turns from the 1990s tomorrow.


Entry filed under: Ireland, Politics.

Monday Quiz 29 – Kerry Taliban and Sorry Lawyers Great Irish Political U-Turns of the 1990s

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. 200 Words » Blog Archive » Waterways  |  November 4, 2008 at 1:47 am

    […] But so long as the reports and the studies kept coming in, politicians could promise in perpetuity. Few political promises ever become reality. In fact, the only political promise that comes to mind that became a political fact on the ground […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

A blog by Michael Nugent

Welcome to my blog about living in the maddest country on earth. Please feel free to leave a comment.

I also write Bionic Bohs, a blog about following Bohemians football club in the 1970s.


Bionic Bohs

As mentioned above, if you like Irish football and/or cultural nostalgia, I also write Bionic Bohs, a blog about following Bohs in the 1970s.

%d bloggers like this: