FAIR dues to Drinagh man, Jim Daly, our remarkable Mini-Minister for Ancient Crocks. He certainly knows how to set the cat among the pigeons!
Daly, a dyed-in-the-wool Fine Gaeler, last week admitted that he had ‘no ideological objection to Sinn Féin being part of government.’ Sharing power with SF, he seemed to suggest, might well be on the cards after the next general election.
His comment spread consternation among the respectable classes, the most seriously miffed being Blueshirts who realised that, for a government minister to promote such a line, implied that the traditional approach to Republicans was changing. Whatever happened, they wondered, to the common perception of Sinn Féiners as violent, worthless people, low status manual workers with grating Northern accents?
In Daly’s case, the penny no doubt dropped when he saw reports of Sinn Féin’s Ard Fheis last November at which a motion was enthusiastically passed in favour of SF entering government, even if it had to be with a ‘Free State’ party. Jim Daly was now reminding rank and file Fine Gael members of that decision.
But, in so doing, he landed a metaphorical brick right onto Taoiseach Varadkar’s lap. Beads of stress-induced sweat lined Vlad’s brow as he strained to come to terms with Daly’s declaration and the possibility that to form a government in the future might involve Sinn Féin as partners. Happily, when the brick finally moved and Vlad issued his judgement, relief was palpable within diehard Fine Gael, and Daly’s warning seemed to be nothing but waste matter!
Not an inch
Varadkar’s assessment was that the Shinners were very much less important than they thought they were. Oh yes, and our eminent leader made that point very clear by means of a metaphorical discharge of intestinal contempt that was hurled at Mary Lou and chums.
In linguistic terms, his message was curt and condescending: ‘The Government will not go in with Sinn Féin under any circumstances,’ Vlad said.
‘Minister Daly was certainly not speaking on behalf of the Government … Minister Daly is a very capable minister, but he certainly wasn’t in a position to comment.’
Forgive the flight of fancy but, as Vlad dictated his epistle to the followers, we imagined him holding a delicately-scented handkerchief to his nostrils, such was the pong induced by the very thought of having to deal with Shinners.
Then, to drive home the message, Vlad enlisted the help of the Widow Twanky of Irish politics, Paschal Donohoe, whose task was to do the hatchet-job on Daly. Presumably Donohoe was an ideal choice on the basis that he sanctimoniously occupies a moral ground of such height that no one can match his display of exemplary FG political behaviour. He was the ideal person to tell Daly publicly that Sinn Féin wasn’t fit to run the country and that the mini-minister should watch his step.
Finger on pulse?
But, and here’s the interesting bit, Donohoe made no criticism of Daly. There was no disapproval of close contacts with Republicans, and no disavowal of the inevitability of power sharing.
Could it be that Donohoe tacitly recognised that Our Jim had his finger on the pulse when he said there was no valid reason for not doing business with Sinn Féin because they are Sinn Féin? After all, Sinn Féin, as Jim Daly argued, had a legitimate mandate. ‘The people who voted for SF are citizens of this State, so they have to be acknowledged,’ he said. What’s more, Daly reminded FG that there are very able politicians in Sinn Féin with whom he works every day.
Jim Daly’s observations are extraordinarily important within the context of forming the next government and the role Sinn Féin might have as a minority partner. We also should bear in mind that he’s a thoroughly skilled politico even if, on occasions, he seems to be on the wrong side of the fence.
In fact, he’s a dab hand with secret plans that change the political landscape. Back in 2012, he led a rebel group of eight backbenchers who were critical of the Croke Park Agreement and, although the party hierarchy made repeated efforts to silence him, it did not succeed. Taoiseach Enda Kenny eventually admitted defeat when he wearily invited Daly and cronies to express their views at parliamentary party meetings, rather than in public.
In 2016, he challenged Kenny’s leadership at a Fine Gael think-in and from an early stage he was pre-eminent in the strategy to unseat dreary Enda and to replace him with the new kid on the block, Varadkar. Indeed, the latter is indebted to Daly for services rendered, particularly for his efforts in ensuring that Coveney, a major rival for the Taoiseach job, did not pip Varadkar at the post.
It goes without saying that Daly certainly isn’t a wretch that switches allegiances when the going gets tough. He’s a convinced Fine Gaeler, whose conservative heart always will be in the right place, but he’s also someone who speaks his mind in a blunt way.
For instance, in relation to water charges, he asserted that the media was stirring up civil disobedience and that RTÉ was cheerleader-in-chief. He demanded that people refusing to pay for water should be hit with a rolling €10 monthly fine until they owed enough to be brought to court.
So hard-line is Daly, a former teacher, that he was accused by the ASTI of ‘maliciously’ fuelling a belief that teachers were highly-paid in terms of allowances. He described as ‘razzmatazz’ the protest by thousands of West Cork parents and teachers at the closure of small rural schools.
He was of the opinion that the power of trade unions in the health service was the greatest barrier to reform and progress. Ambulance campaigners who began a four-day protest march from West Cork to Cork University Hospital alleged he abandoned them in their hour of need. He launched a blistering attack on campaigners for ‘reckless scaremongering.’
But, one must also recognise that, on election to the Dáil, he nailed his colours to the mast and resigned his teaching post. By doing so, he ensured that he was not leaving a substitute teacher in a potentially permanent limbo.
In other words, Daly is confident about what he stands for, and he doesn’t mind defining his right-wing ideology in public statements and actions. In regard to Sinn Féin, his observations are marked by rational, straight-thinking objectivity, with decisions based on factual data – a characteristic unique among the mass of obscurantists that make up the party to which he belongs.