Photo credit: Gript

Fine Gael: Boy, do you need to see this speech by Paschal Donohoe

When you write about current affairs for a living, and particularly when your job is to explain current events to your audience, it can be humbling to come across something that you just can’t really explain, off the top of your head. That happened to me, this weekend, when this speech by the Minister for Public Expenditure, made in the Dáil all the way back in July 2022, inexplicably went viral on social media:

At the time of writing, it’s been viewed at least 660,000 times, and that’s probably a significant understatement, given how twitter counts views, and given that it’s likely available on other platforms as well. I won’t post the comments and reaction to it here, but if you’re troubled to go and look, you’ll see that at least in many quarters, it’s resulted in a bit of Paschal-mania breaking out amongst the sort of very sensible fellow who embraces the internet’s “centrist dad” label with pride.


My theory, for what it’s worth, is that Irish centrists don’t have much to cheer at the moment, and haven’t had much to cheer for some time. As such, they’re gasping for a bit of a morale boost.

If you talk to the kind of people who are still committed to voting for Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael about the state of the country, and the rationale for their votes, you generally hear the same complaints from them about the rest of us: That Ireland is mostly a well-governed, sensibly liberal, very prosperous country with only a few problems, beset by a media and political extremists on left and right (I think this includes Gript Media) who play those problems up and don’t give due credit for all the country’s successes under this, and previous, Governments. When you look around the world, they say, and see Putin in one corner and Brexit Britain in the other, you should be thanking your lucky stars that you live in a country where the biggest scandal of the day is about Ryan Tubridy’s pay packet.

To give some credit where it’s due, the first part of this is mostly true: Ireland is far from being the absolute basket case you might think it was if you solely listened to opposition voices. Our population is mostly well off, mostly well educated, and mostly avails themselves of relatively decent public services, by global standards. Corruption is low, by most global measurements. The national finances are in a historically good condition. The big challenges that have faced the country in recent years are mostly those Paschal identifies here: The war in Ukraine, Covid, and Brexit. “We’ve done a perfectly decent job in the face of global turbulence” is about the best message the Government has available to it, ahead of the next election.

That’s what Paschal is saying, and that, I think is why so many people leaning in the “I can’t vote for Sinn Fein” direction are excited by it. Because it’s been a long time since somebody calmly and convincingly articulated the case for the defence.

But that’s where the speech, and indeed the FF/FG case for themselves, sort of falls down: Because when you strip that “everything is mostly grand, actually” argument away, what are you left with, in terms of that case for the defence? This is as good as it gets, and you can’t risk Sinn Fein ruining it? That, it’s a safe bet, will be the main message of both main Government parties at the next election, and this speech is a preview of that.

I also think there’s a fair chance it won’t work.

There’s a strong argument that the speech actually encapsulates the problem with the present Government almost perfectly: The best defence it can muster for itself is adequacy. Vote for us, we’ve muddled through, somehow. What’s missing from it, and from the two larger parties of Government in general, is any actual vision for the country that goes further than that.

We do not, after all, elect politicians to fix the things that are already working reasonably well. We elect them to keep those things working reasonably well, and fix the things that are not. In this respect, what’s the case for the Government? Where’s the vision to ensure that messes like the National Children’s Hospital do not happen again? Where’s the plan to deal with the immigration crisis? (And it is a crisis, as the latest figures show, whether saying so upsets centrists or not). Where’s the plan to address teaching shortages, or the now finally accepted problem with crime?

Indeed, the strongest argument against this Government is that it has no interest in fixing the few problems we do have, and endless interest in tinkering with problems we do not have. The almost year-long fixation on tackling “hate speech”. The ridiculous referendum on women in the home. The endless political reports about whether to lower the voting age, or fiddle around with constituencies. The drive to reform sex education. If the Government has an agenda, that agenda is to tinker with what already works mostly fine, instead of addressing the issues we do have.

You do not have to think the country a basket case to consider that a problem.

Somewhere along the line, I fear, Irish centrists have resigned themselves to the mantra that grand is good enough, and that ambition for the country is actively dangerous if it’s preached by the wrong sort of chap. Paschal Donohoe, to their eyes, is definitely the right sort of chap. And if the right sort of chap is out there saying that the public should be grateful that the country isn’t a total mess altogether, then that’s good enough for them.

I’m not sure, I must confess, that it will be good enough for anyone else.

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