Sunday, August 05, 2007

Principles and Irish Politics: Eoghan Harris and John Gormley

The appointment of former Marxist Eoghan Harris by Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern to Seanad Éireann, the Upper House of the Irish Parliament, brings to mind a quip from a Marxist of greater consistency- American comedian Groucho Marx (1890-1977) who joked : Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others.

Senan Molony wrote in the Irish Independent last Saturday that Harris is a political chameleon who has changed his colours frequently while nailing each new set of them firmly to the mast.

Fiercely passionate, Harris stands as the perfect columnist contrarian. A catalyst for controversy, he sparked much of it when he infamously described President McAleese as a "tribal time bomb" on her election.

A former leading light of the Marxist Workers Party, Harris has been credited with helping to turn around the May general election for Fianna Fail with an impassioned RTE television 'Late Late Show' appearance on the Friday before polling day.

What ties Harris to Gormley who is now Minister for the Environment, is that both can be very passionate on values but then jettison them when the occasion suits.

Politics is said too be the art of the possible and compromise on policy is often necessary for achieving advances in a democracy.

A clip from the 1933 Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup where Groucho enters politics and becomes President of Freedonia

It has for example taken almost a century for the vision that Irish revolutionary leader Michael Collins had in 1921 in agreeing a compromise with Britain, to be ultimately vindicated in the settlement this year in Northern Ireland.

However, a distinction should be clearly made between compromises on policy and expedient switches on values or previously strongly professed convictions.

In a period of deep cynicism about politcs, what hope is there when John Gormley rejects with passion the values of Bertie Ahern and Fianna Fail, only to find it expedient within months to regard his previously held positions as irrelevant?

Gormley himself is hardly delusional enough to believe that Ireland is going to march ahead of the EU in saving the planet from climate change! In the meantime, true to Irish ministerial tradition, in his first major move in office, he has instructed his Department to seek tenders for a planned publicity campaign on the issue.

Gormley, the Greens and Harris have drank the soup and the already tarnished reputation of Irish politics, has been sullied further.