Fianna Fáil sat around a Cabinet Table as the economy, with the Banks holding the rudder, was swept over the cliff and into the maelstrom of the economic crisis that scarred a generation. They watched from the sidelines as the Irish Constitution was ripped into pieces and the Dail legislated for non-medical abortion. Then, notwithstanding the deep feelings of the majority of the Party, they donned the anti-life jersey.

Back in February they lost the popular vote to Sinn Féin which was theirs to win. Together with Fine Gael, they swanned around the Dail during the worst crisis in the history of the country in “Talks”. Last weekend they emerged alongside the Greens with (yet another!) “Programme for Government”. Even worse, it also promises a National Plan. And a ‘Time Share’ Taoiseach shared with Fine Gael.

Has anyone read it? Does it really matter a damn more than any of the other grandiose “Programme for Government”. Will it make even a ha’worth of difference? Cobbled together by “Teams” and PR experts, with zero fiscal and economic underpinning, it promises everything, especially an even more aggressively secular Ireland and about as authentic as a leprachaun’s (Green) jacket.

Listen. The country cannot afford this “Wish List”…not with the debt overhang, not with epic labour-shedding by MNC’s and not many Irish companies on life support, not with Brexit and not even with the ECB buying every Government bond that isn’t nailed down. It seems an epic sell out by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael (who sold out a long time ago) to the “Greens” for a grubby kind of ‘power’ because, once again, the minority party will pull strings. In “A Man for all Seasons” Thomas More, on trial for his life, points out ” …when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos”. Well, he knew a thing or two about “power”, patronage and sell outs. He paid with his life to keep God’s law and considered it a price worth paying.

So, the Big Question: would ‘the part’ members accept it? Difficult to know, wasn’t it? Both main Parties are full to the brim with independent-minded “Messengers to the Dail” who will make their own mind up, thank you very much, guided only by their ‘Conscience’, the National Interest and, oh yes!…the Party Whips and the sniff of power.

The second Big Question is: how many people will read it. It weighs in at 137 pages. There will, of course, be pre-digested spoonfuls for the Media, Speaking Notes for TD’s on Montrose duty and Opinion Pieces. But if you are brave enough to slog through it you will find old favorites, like Insurance reform, the Irish language and Harness Racing. You will also find Declarations of Ideological Intent Icebergs like “Exclusion Zones” around Maternity Hospitals (the ones the Gardai said weren’t necessary). Pages on “Gender” not a word on Marriage. Lots on “Inclusive” Education except for parents wanting to pass on their faith to their children. And a Referendum on Article 41.1 which has long been in their sights.

This is an Agenda for a repressive Secular Ireland the likes of which you have never seen before. And I would guess a very high tax regime. There is not a hair’s breath between this and a Sinn Féin Government. Every TD knows this. So should voters. At last, Fianna Fáil get back into the Big Office in Government Buildings on loan, it has to be returned by 2022. Why do thoughts of St Thomas More come to mind? Oh yes Conscience, More wouldn’t bend the knee to immoral laws to keep his important job, or even his life.

Question: where does all this leave the 35% or so of voters who support a libertarian Ireland but one that is intrinsically pro-life, across every domain of economic and social policy? Practical people.

There are 15 TDs who believe in Christian Democratic values Independent, because they are couragous and secure in their own sense of values and wouldn’t be offered (or accept) a nomination from those Parties who preach “Inclusion ‘n diversity” but, eh, not in my Party.

Isn’t it time they they visibly worked together to offer voters a real alternative? Because there is no – repeat no -Opposition in Irish politics. They are pretty well all ‘under orders’ and coming from exactly the same place. You would have thought that Save The Planet would begin with Save the Infant. In a few short years the mainstream went rogue on protecting life.

But public sentiment is changing. As Dr Angelo Bottone pointed out in his post-election analysis last February: “While many prominent pro-abortion politicians lost their seats, all 15 TDs who voted against the abortion legislation in late 2018 have been re-elected and some of them have achieved remarkable results”.

So why is this Pro Life/ Christian Democracy voice far bigger than the Greens not being served by our political masters? Isn’t it time that the advocates of Life visibly worked together and challenged Ireland’s counterfeit democracy, where so many voters are disenfranchised and a Government of two failed parties are set to remain in office, sharing the political goodies and imposing between them a repressive ideological regime.

The Programme for Government breaks records for the length of it’s aspirational Wish List’ not least, putting “Ireland at the centre of the world”. Seriously. And weasel words on taxation.

Will it make it easier for young couples to marry and start a family? Will it really keep rural Ireland from imploding altogether? Will there be an end to Waiting Lists in Ireland’s crumbling Public Hospitals? Will a supposedly free people people be able to speak out freely on issues without fear of being “drowned out” by the latest version of ‘hate crime’? Will parents be able to educate their children in their faith values? Young parents have good reason to be concerned.

In the perilous politics of the lowest common denominator, it’s all about who shouts loudest and who has the shrillest voice. It’s about power and that adrenaline shot that goes with being addressed as ‘Minister’ or ‘Taoiseach’ and the grand illusion of being “at the heart of Europe”. Look, we are on the periphery of a Europe facing existential challenges and where, with the UK gone, only the powerful count. Bread and circuses and lots of Very Important Meetings will put Ireland the ‘centre of the world’. Seriously.

Who believes this stuff who believes all the things that will now be ‘actioned’ couldn’t have been ‘actioned’ in the last 5, 10 or 20 years, Why weren’t they?

That takes us to the nub of the matter. Most people don’t care much. Many hadn’t noticed that the two Parties that were thumped in the General Election somehow still remained in power. Party Conferences are good political theatre so is the business of Voting for a Taoiseach. But todays headlines are tomorrows fish ‘n chip papers. “RTÉ Specials” on new Governments are tomorrows archieval material for “Reeling in the Years”. That’s the way of it, isn’t it?

But they should care. Covid-19 shocked the sensibilities of all of us who thought, “It couldn’t happen over here to us”. It could. And it did. What happened in our Nursing Homes will live long in the memory. So, too, will the grief of those families who couldn’t bury their dead from their Church or chapel. So will the deep concerns of committed Christians who watched as supermarkets re-opened and are still waiting for their Churches to be open for Mass.

We should care about what these things tell us about ourselves and what remains of our country, and about the ideology that is calling the shots. Because we are all suddenly vulnerable in ways we had never previously considered. Because faith and prayer and the importance of access to the sacraments have found their way back into the sensibilities of people, unbeknownst to the political parties.

They should care because the two Parties which, between them, couldn’t resolve the problems f the country when they had the money when ‘exceptional inflows’ into the Exchequer made it easy will have responsibility for navigating the Public Finance and Public Services through the most severe recession in modern history and hey will also have the Green Party scrambling for press coverage and for their (costly) ‘deliverables’ at a time when the economy is contracting more sharply than during the great recession and University students will find it hard to come by jobs to pay their fees and lodgings.

They should care because in the coming months, it’s not a shiny “National Programme for Government” – or National Plan – that will give you shelter from the storm. It’s character. Brave people. John Bruton once spoke of the ‘flinty integrity’ of his predecessor who was a modest and unassuming Mass-goer and didn’t mind who knew it.

Character, not ambition. ‘Flinty integrity:’ that’s what the country so desperately needs. Christians, Catholics are now political refugees in their own country. They should not be. It’s wrong. Character is shaped by values, in season and out of season. Those values are rooted in the experience of God in our lives and in our Communities, in the Common Good and in ‘flinty integrity’ in the economic governance of our country.

They have been excised from the Public Square in Ireland which is more than a little ironic because the evidence-based values of Christian Democracy on work, families and the social economy are, by orders of magnitude, ore robust and rooted, more innovative and far-seeing than any of the cut and paste, ‘red button’ pressing and aspirational stuff in the “National Programme for Government”.

It’s simple.If you can’t rely on them to respect the dignity of an infant in the womb, it would be presumptious to bet on them respecting the dignity of those queuing up for work. Remember Troikanomics? Or once again, exiting the country in search of work.

There are hard times coming. We will need more than ‘Programmes for Government’ and (God help us) a ‘National Plan’ to hold the country together.We will need Character, faith and ‘flinty integrity’. And it’s not, yet on offer.