There are plenty of voters and citizens who might feel that they have few reasons to shed any tears over the downfall of Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone. The Senator, who imploded her own political career two days ago by making extraordinarily offensive and false remarks about her own party leader, has racked up a large number of enemies during her time in politics. She is most well-known, of course, for being the spearhead of the most bitter and divisive social reform in recent years, the abortion referendum of 2018. In addition to that, her career has primarily been defined by repeated calls to ban anything that she either dislikes or thinks might get her into the newspapers for a day. A few years ago, for example, she tried to ban ice cream.
It’s not very surprising, therefore, that a certain number of people have rejoiced in her downfall. But whether you’re rejoicing, or not, it’s worth remembering that behind the public caricature of Senator Noone, there’s a human being, with feelings, going through the most unimaginable public humiliation of her life. Only somebody who has experienced days of relentlessly negative press coverage, and online abuse, and vast numbers of people rejoicing in your failure can really know what that is like. If you knew what it was like, you would not wish it on your worst enemy.
At times like that, it pays to have good friends. Senator Noone has been a member and a servant of Fine Gael for almost the entirety of her adult life – well in excess of 20 years. While her comments damaged the party, one would hope, or like to think, that loyal service of that length of time might be worth one or two people being willing to defend her. But that’s not what’s happened, is it?
Last night, Fiach Kelly in the Irish Times, a very fine reporter whose sources are generally impeccable, released an extraordinary story, which very clearly came from people in Fine Gael headquarters:
“Ms Noone is understood to have asked she be given the opportunity to explain herself in a broadcast media interview.
It is understood Mr Donohoe and Mr Curran decided against putting Ms Noone out on the national airwaves.
Last night Fine Gael did not respond to requests for comment on the voting divide. Ms Noone did not return calls”
For a party headquarters to effectively tell the media, as they have in this case, that they consider one of their own candidates too incompetent to face a media interview is, and there’s no other word for it, astonishing. It’s not surprising that they would have conducted a preparatory mock interview with her, nor that they would have decided that in the circumstances, putting her on air was not a good decision. But in this case, somebody has actively decided to inform a reporter that they’re hiding their own candidate from the press because they do not trust her. That’s a level of viciousness that’s extraordinary, especially given that it is towards one of their own.
And it’s not the first time, either. Or the second. In recent years Fine Gael has displayed more brutality and vindictiveness towards its own members than it ever has towards its political opponents.
It started in 2017, when a long serving member of their national executive, and close confidante of the Taoiseach, was attacked in the media by a Fine Gael TD in a clearly pre-meditated attempt to destroy his character over tweets that he had sent criticising her and other female politicians in colourful terms. Fine Gael politicians – including, ironically, Catherine Noone – were sent onto the airwaves to destroy the character of a man who had spent a whole lifetime serving the party in a voluntary capacity. Minister Regina Doherty questioned the man’s mental health, a despicable slur for which she has never apologised.
Then there was the case of Killian Foley Walsh. The Young Fine Gael President, you will recall, did nothing wrong at all. He attended a political conference in the USA hosted by a conservative think tank – that was it. He, too, was assailed publicly in the media by his so-called friends in Fine Gael. On that occasion, MEP Maria Walsh was sent onto the airwaves to denounce her own party colleague, and she was not alone. Mr. Foley Walsh later spoke movingly and bravely about how the episode had driven him to self-harm.
Then there was Maria Bailey. Bailey might have little public sympathy, but the horribly cold way that Fine Gael disposed of her, shortly after the death of her father, and the way former friends and colleagues turned on her, remains an extraordinary display of political cannibalism. Who can forget the behaviour of her long-standing friend Kate O’Connell, who went as far as to delete all photographs of the two women together from her social media platforms, like Stalin eliminating Trotsky from Soviet History?
Just last week, Fine Gael took the bizarre decision to expel another young member for the crime of canvassing for his own father, a former FG TD now running as an independent. The party backtracked on that after a public outcry, but it’s worth remembering the way they behaved. A young activist who had given hundreds of hours to the party for nothing, expelled via a text message.
Fine Gael is not a party to be in if you want to have friends. Most of us, at least those of us who are relatively normal people, recognise that people close to us make mistakes. Normal people, or at least people worth knowing, will react to somebody making a mistake by forgiving and supporting them. In Fine Gael, they don’t just throw you to the wolves – they join in with the wolves and seem to really enjoy disembowelling their own people.
It’s a disturbing pattern, and it says nothing good about the party. If you come across a young person who’s thinking of joining Fine Gael, give them one piece of advice: Don’t ever make a mistake. Because Fine Gael won’t just try to ruin your life – they’ll actively seem to enjoy doing it.
When that party gets right behind one of its members, it’s usually so they can stab them in the back.