One of the odd things about Irish politics is that what one might call the soft left – the sort of people who believe passionately in things like social justice, and liberal causes, and climate change – have not one, not two, but three political parties, all of whom believe basically the same things.
On the issues and core beliefs, there’s not really, objectively, anything to differentiate Labour, the Social Democrats, and the Green Party. So, in one sense, it’s not really that surprising that Anne Marie McNally, until last year the political director of the Social Democrats, would now be ensconced as a €65,000 per annum advisor to a Green Party junior minister.
And indeed, here she is, via the Sunday Times:
Anne-Marie McNally, a Social Democrats general election candidate and the party’s former communications director, did not get elected but she has still ended up working in Government Buildings. She has just been appointed as a special adviser to the Green Party’s Joe O’Brien, minister of state for community development and charities.
McNally could have been advising a Social Democrats minister in government but, unlike the Greens, the party decided not to join the civil war parties in coalition. If it ever does enter coalition in future, at least one of its members will know their way around the place.
What’s interesting in that is that McNally is not described as a “former member” of the Soc Dems – there’s no indication whatever, for example, that she’s actually joined the Green Party. And McNally was no ordinary Soc Dem either – she was, for years, the parliamentary assistant of Catherine Murphy, the Soc Dem co-leader. Not only that, but she’s stood for election as a Soc Dem on multiple occasions, unsuccessfully.
In fact, so senior was she in the Social Democrats that as recently as November 2019 – fifteen months or so ago – she was being described as the Party Spokesman on Consumer Affairs in party press releases. She was not, then, a rank and file member.
In part, presumably, the salary happened. But, annoyed as this may make some readers, €65k per annum isn’t a top tier political salary in Dublin. Your average Government advisor wouldn’t get out of bed for that money.
Is it just, maybe, that McNally wanted to have a go at serving in Government? Years and years working with the opposition can take their toll on a person, after all – it’s a life of thankless constituency work, and endless battles for media attention. In opposition, your major decisions might make page 12 of the Irish Times. In Government, they usually make at least page three.
In any case, the most revealing thing about this whole farrago is that somebody who was very senior in the Social Democrats can feel so at home in the Green Party – and vice versa, of course. There have been no shortage, in recent times, of disgruntled Greens, unhappy with their party’s compromises in Government, fleeing headlong to the Social Democrats in search of the moral purity that you can only find in a party happy to be in opposition.
For me, anyway, the whole thing speaks to the rot at the heart of much of Irish politics. There isn’t actually much difference between a lot of our parties – you can take a senior member from one, plug them right into a senior role in another, and not notice much difference. To the extent that there are differences, they’re about the small potato stuff – the precise allocation of the Government’s resources on any given day. The other point of difference, of course, is on the issue of compromise. The parties in Government are always acutely aware of the need to compromise to get things done, while the opposition parties are always eager to claim that if only they were in power, things would be pure, and righteous. And so, we have this odd sort of merry-go-round where the Greens are in Government for five years, and everyone decides they have “betrayed their values” and kicks them out. Then Labour have a go for five years, and the same thing happens. Now the Greens are back in again, and the Soc Dems (who split, remember, from Labour) are on the rise.
Soon it will be the Soc Dems turn to have a go in Government.
Have a guess how that will go.