Great Irish Political U-Turns of the 1990s

January 9, 2008 at 12:01 am Leave a comment

Here are my favourite Irish political U-Turns from the 1990s, from Brian Lenihan giving us his ‘mature recollection’ of the phone call he mistakenly thought he had made to the President, to Bertie Ahern proposing a Dail motion that, three years previously, he had described as ‘a serious breach of faith and fundamentally undemocratic’. >>>

Mature Recollection

In 1990 Brian Lenihan made several U-turns during a public argument with a tape of himself himself over whether he had made a phone call. The PDs screamed for his head. Haughey refused: “I will not be asking for his resignation. I will not be putting him under any pressure to resign. It is entirely a matter for my old friend of thirty years.” The next day, Haughey sacked his old friend. The reason? “Deputy Dukes politically assassinated him.”

A Spring In Their Steps

In 1992, Labour leader Dick Spring campaigned as the man of ethics who would remove Fianna Fáil from office. And Labour won enough seats to remove them. Or to keep them there, by U-turning into coalition. In came the new ethical politics: Emmet Stagg gave state jobs to his daughter and cousin, saying, “if it was nepotism, I would have employed my wife’s cousin as well.”

In 1994, Spring pulled the plug on Albert Reynolds. Why? “The key issue,” Spring told the Dail, “is accountability.” Then, without a new election, he helped to form the Rainbow Coalition. As the 1997 election approached, Charlie McCreevy made clear that “there’s no point ruling out Fianna Fáil and Labour as a coalition. That’s the bullshit theory of Irish politics.”

Uncouth Muck Savages

John Bruton’s 1994 Rainbow Coalition did not always, as promised, “work as transparently as if behind a pane of glass.” Then, when back in opposition, Fine Gael proposed a plan to ban opinion polls before elections, before opposing it when the government supported it. So why did Fianna Fáil take the flak for Fine Gael’s opinion poll ban U-turn?

As Charlie McCreevy said in 1995, “it has been decreed from the pinnacle of the high moral ground that only Fianna Fáil does political U-turns. All other political parties make policy adjustments in the best interests of the country but never in their own interests, that being the preserve of those uncouth, muck savages, unprincipled and power hungry members of Fianna Fáil.”

Fundamentally Undemocratic

Charlie McCreevy’s 1999 budget proposed that spouses should be treated as individuals for tax purposes. Ahern defended it as “a real contribution to equal status”. Dick Roche found the Fianna Fáil pulse with his delicately phrased concern that “presentationally it is very difficult for the party.” Then McCreevy found £200 million he hadn’t been aware of, and announced a new “counterbalancing” tax allowance for one-income households.

Also in 1999 Bertie Ahern proposed to the Dail that Ireland join Partnership for Peace. Ahern had told the Dail in 1996 that “we would regard any attempt to push PfP by resolution through this House, without reference to the people, as a serious breach of faith and fundamentally undemocratic”. He expressed understandable concern at the prospect of “British troops back in the Curragh, the French in Bantry Bay and the Germans off Banna Strand.”

They haven’t arrived yet.

Entry filed under: Ireland, Politics.

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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.

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