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They Took The Blows

Eoin O’Malley

 

Albert Reynolds – My Autobiography, by Albert Reynolds, Transworld Ireland, 320 pp, £20, ISBN: 978-1848270428 Bertie Ahern: The Autobiography, by Bertie Ahern, Hutchinson, 368 pp, £20, ISBN: 978-0091931322The autobiography is a self-indulgent form of fiction, and none more so than the political autobiography. You live a life that you think interesting enough that other people would want to read about it, and then you twist the narrative to make yourself the hero and virtually everyone who disagreed with you the villains. So most political autobiographies end up taking the form: the country was in a mess and I was just trying to get things done. I was doing a great job, despite all those begrudgers constantly trying to do me down. Eventually I was tripped up by a piddling little thing. They didn’t appreciate me … fuck them.As both Bertie Ahern and Albert Reynolds demonstrate, political careers always end in failure, even the successful ones. The autobiography is a useful means of reframing those failures and successes. This is not unreasonable; the manner of both men’s downfalls meant that a good deal of attention was focused on the causes of the endings and less on the achievements of two impressive political careers. Ahern of course stage-managed his exit (if not its nature and timing), thus ensuring a focus on the political settlement in Northern Ireland. Reynolds’s exit was a depressing form of political “death by misadventure”.Reynolds and Ahern, though consecutive leaders of Fianna Fáil, both elected to the Dáil in the same year, contrast in many ways. Reynolds was the party’s shortest-serving leader so far, while Ahern was leader for fourteen years and Taoiseach for eleven. Ahern learned a lot from Reynolds’s mistakes: he had a real understanding that there was no point in creating enemies; one way Reynolds did this was by bragging about every victory he achieved. Ahern, by contrast, was careful to be understanding of others’ positions. Both are characteristics in evidence in the autobiographies.There was no long tradition of political autobiography in Ireland. But more recently many have been published (David Andrews, Pádraig Faulkner, Frank Dunlop, Conor Cruise O’Brien). Most of these are little more than collections of anecdotes and funny stories, with some attempts to offer opinions on events. O’Brien’s is an exception, but his involvement in frontline Irish politics was shortlived. Of those who had sustained careers at the apex of Irish politics we had autobiographies from just Garret FitzGerald (and perhaps Ruairí Quinn). Both were in the classic British mould – where the subject emphasises his involvement in anything that can claim to be a success and blames others or circumstances for where he might be perceived to have failed. Self-reflection and self-doubt don’t enter the fray. That we have two former Taoisigh’s autobiographies, published within weeks of each other, is remarkable, and offers two perspectives on some of the most interesting times in Irish history (though aren’t they all?).The biographies are, as is acknowledged, ghost written. Given that politicians don’t need to write much once in power, many lack the practice and lose the ability. Ministers have civil servants and advisers to write speeches and reports. The choice of ghost writer may have made sense for Ahern. His uneasy relationship with the English language would have made the copy editor’s life a nightmare. Choosing the prolific and erudite Richard Aldous ensured that the book would come out quickly and readably. Reynolds – famously a one-sheet-man ‑ may not have had the patience to write four hundred plus pages, but as anyone who has ever met him knows, he’d have no problem speaking four hundred pages worth of material. There was a risk that with his choice of collaborator, Jill Arlon, someone with (I suspect) no prior knowledge of Irish politics, there might be a lack of focus on important events; also Reynolds, though no great orator, has a warmth and colour in his use of language which is lost on paper. Another danger is that these become one-sided biographies, where one gets all the unchallenged post-hoc rationalisations for actions but none of the insight into personality and perspective that might be revealed in an own words account. Ahern especially, while he may have mixed metaphors, sometimes used mangled English for political purposes. He could say the same thing to two opposing parties and leave each with the sense that he was on their side. Analysing some of his language on paper exposes its vagueness; in the spoken form, however, you had the impression you knew what he meant. So, getting the subject’s actual words is sometimes what makes an autobiography valuable and there is a real risk that ghost writers can lose this in the quest for good prose. For Reynolds’s book one gets a sense that the ghost writer interviewed the subject extensively and then transcribed and organised the subject’s words. The Ahern biography is better written, but one can’t be sure whether this is because Aldous wrote it or if Ahern had some input into the style. That we get the subject’s own words is especially important when the events are already well known. We aren’t reading these books for the story – we know that, and books such as Stephen Collins’s The Power Game and Pat Leahy’s new book Showtime: The Inside Story of Fianna Fáil in Power tell it better. We want the politicians’ own take on themselves, the events and the people around them. A politician writing an autobiography can choose the route of self-justification or self-reflection (it might also of course be written for the money, in which case revelations and muck-slinging work best, but both our writers are wealthy men and so have no need to engage in either). Self-justification is most common in the British tradition, but seems slightly pointless as surely no reader except the most partisan will accept such self-serving and often delusional accounts. It seems to me that the self-reflection or self-doubt model of autobiography is more effective if one is trying to influence how history remembers you. A subject willing to reflect on his own life, the challenges he faced, the decisions he made, the mistakes, the errors of judgement – this subject immediately become a more attractive character and is esteemed a more reliable judge of events. If you are going to use your book to convince others of your side of the argument, it is best then to make your assertions plausible and to concede in areas where it may be too difficult to convince. One is much more impressed by someone who concedes that he was occasionally wrong or made errors. But senior politicians tend to be egotistical creatures: how else could one spend a lifetime claiming to know how to run the country better than anyone else? Both these books are firmly of the self-justification type. For Ahern it is difficult to see how he could be self-reflective after so little time out of the job, especially when he is still embroiled in trying to save his reputation in the Mahon Tribunal. On paper he can also point to a highly successful record – a significant part in delivering the uneasy peace in Northern Ireland (which is a lot better than no peace) and a booming economy with repeated record surpluses. The subsequent collapse, in his eyes, is an unfortunate aftershock of the Lehman Brothers earthquake, and in hawking his book around TV studios his altar boy eyes seem to proclaim his belief in his innocence. Reynolds claims he deliberately waited a long time to show that the peace process that he helped build was on solid ground … that he had “sealed the deal” as he might put it. His other achievement, he claims, was the Celtic Tiger, although he can’t pinpoint the policy decisions that might have led to this phenomenon. It is a pity that the agenda is so often dominated by self-aggrandisement because these are the types of documents historians and political scientists rely on to get a sense of the processes of government and policy-making – something we know little about.The title of the penultimate chapter in Reynolds’s book demonstrates his attitude – “If mistakes were made, they were made elsewhere”. Reynolds places himself centre stage in the efforts to convince the British that Sinn Féin was ready to change its strategy and was serious about this and makes himself the author of the “peace process”. How reasonable this is is debateable, but he certainly was one of the central figures in the nascent “process”, and one whom historians will treat kindly for his role. It is in other areas, where he devoted little time or interest, that he faltered, but he cannot understand why others made such a fuss over small things. So he blames his coalition partners for the collapse of both his governments and claims that both the PDs and Labour were looking for an excuse to pull out. Therefore nothing Reynolds could have done, he concludes, would have made the least bit of difference. He claims that Des O’Malley had accused him of dishonesty in the Beef Tribunal, so that when he accused O’Malley of giving dishonest evidence, he was just giving as good as he got. He cannot understand why Labour made such a fuss over his premature evaluation of the Beef Tribunal Report. That both his governments collapsed after such a short time might have made another person consider his own actions, but the most we get from Reynolds is “I told it straight, I’m a man of my word” – the little men bring him down. His reflection on those events is wholly based on the details of the proximate causes of the collapse of, particularly, his second government. He does not consider that his style of governing excluded the interests and needs of coalition partners. He is critical of those who come after him, Bruton and Ahern, but especially John Bruton. He makes clearly implausible assertions that Bruton’s government was “experiencing difficulties, in-fighting and personality clashes”.Ahern too is at times both evasive and delusional. He avoids dealing with questions that will be important to anyone assessing his role, especially those concerning the money he took from supporters. He doesn’t deal with Haughey, except to offer a sort of defence that on balance he was a positive force in Irish politics ‑ but without any apparent sense of incongruity criticises his acceptance of money from wealthy businessmen. He distances himself from the Boss by claiming he was never part of his clique in the way that Pádraig Flynn once was, something that seems barely credible. Ahern tries to portray himself as an honest broker between the sides during the heaves against Haughey rather than Haughey’s man – though he does admit that the 1997 Ard Fheis speech, which indirectly but obviously criticised Haughey, was dragged out of him, because “the old reflexes for Haughey remained”. His account of his dealing with the allegations about Burke is delusional – he claims he only did something about the rumours between the election and the formation of the government, but we now know that he had known about the IR£30,000 payment before the election. He claims that he was not profligate with the public finances, a claim that simply isn’t sustainable when one looks at the growth in public spending, especially approaching the 2002 and 2007 elections.And he claims he always played it straight – notably with Albert Reynolds’s bid for the presidency. It was all just a misunderstanding. Of course Ahern was often deliberately vague to ensure the misunderstanding. Both the Burke and Reynolds affairs resulted from Ahern’s willingness to make political commitments when it suited him and then hope or plan that he would not have to keep them. Like Reynolds, Ahern is at pains to emphasise that he was friends with almost everyone. Reynolds is plain about his enemies, though one telling episode in his youth, where he refused to continue in tests for a bank job because he sensed it was already decided, shows that he was more than willing to invent enemies where none existed. Though Ahern is willing to criticise people, he does it indirectly and is at pains to emphasise how well they get on personally.One important episode that both give only cursory treatment to is the 1993 tax amnesty decision (Reynolds oddly refers to it as the “amnesty tax”). Their accounts are completely at odds – this is not the only occasion their recollections diverge – which shows the problem of people’s memories and points of view. The Labour position was that when Reynolds’s controversial proposal for a tax amnesty came to cabinet, they had agreed with Ahern in advance that he and they would block it, but they were surprised that Ahern presented it but failed to speak against adopting it. Labour, oddly, claimed that ministers were too stunned to speak against it. Reynolds says that he and Ahern both spoke in favour of it. Ahern claims that he and Labour had made an agreement but that when he spoke against the proposal at cabinet Labour failed to back him up. Unfortunately cabinet papers won’t reveal who’s telling the truth. Ahern, as minister for finance, could probably have blocked or delayed this measure had he so wished, and the accounts point to the possibility that Reynolds pressurised him. But it does reveal a problem with these types of documents for those who study government – they are unreliable. Where the author depends on his memory, that memory sometimes fails or gets changed over time – neither party is necessarily knowingly lying. Where autobiographies are based on documentary evidence (studying cabinet papers) and contemporary notes or diaries, they will be much more useful. Reynolds’s book sometimes leaves you with the feeling that you’re listening to a father of the bride’s speech, in which he is the bride. He feels the need to mention almost everyone he has ever met, and his book is long on anecdote and short on analysis. He quotes his hardly memorable maiden speech in the Dáil at length and tells us what he had for dessert when Charles Haughey came for lunch. More than anything, his collection of quotes from people around him saying nice things about him is embarrassing. The self-congratulatory tone makes this a tedious book. Where it is strong, however, is when it deals with the “peace process”, which takes up over half the text. This detail will be useful to historians and gives a good insight into the way Reynolds worked. Ahern’s book, by contrast, is shorter and deals more directly with the main events in his life, laying them out as he saw them. This is a well-written and straightforward account, defending his position against rumours. Only when he speaks about his personal life does he seem to be reflective and thoughtful, if also slightly sentimental. His analysis of others seems to be accurate and incisive, but he fails to turn that analysis on himself.If these are not great books, how do we rate the men? Political leadership is a difficult subject. There is no clear definition of what it means, though we think we know it when we see it. And it is something people crave. At a time when many claim there is a lack of political leadership in Ireland, it would appear that we want in a leader someone who recognises a problem, proposes a solution and convinces the necessary people to overcome barriers to implementing that solution. It is also nice if the solution works. There are many factors we think essential to the make-up of political leaders: vision, charisma, character, intelligence, values, courage, power, creativity and ability to communicate with and convince people. One problem is that many of these are not easily defined and almost impossible to measure. One obvious way to judge leaders is to look at the outcomes they produced. The problem with this approach is that no two leaders face the same circumstances. Some leaders are faced with types of crises that others never had to deal with. Some have opportunities to lead that others, facing different constraints, have not. And some people are suited to particular situations and not others.Because of Brian Farrell’s now forty-year-old book Chairman or Chief? we’ve tended to think of our Taoisigh in these terms. The problem is that we’ve seen Irish leaders who are temperamentally chiefs being forced to act as chairmen. Indeed De Valera, known as The Chief, was probably in fact a chairman as far as his method of running government goes. And this dichotomy reduces to one dimension how we consider our political leaders: did they lead or did they follow? The idea of chairman or chief resonates with a common way of thinking about leadership: is it transactional or transformational? Transactional leaders are those who negotiate and bargain their way through the system. They are bullies, who persuade by threats and inducements. Transformational leaders are the “weather-makers”, those who “recognise a particular need or demand of a potential follower”. They focus on ends, and rather than do deals to achieve such ends, motivate the follower to change his or her goals. We expect such people to have the intelligence and imagination to set out a vision and the oratorical skills and political nous to convince others. On this definition, the number of transformational leaders that appear is low. Most political leaders will tell you that they are always forced to do deals, to offer one thing for something else. In fact there is rarely evidence that people change their political opinions on the basis of leaders’ rhetoric. George Edwards, in a recent book on the US presidency, The Strategic President, argues that what we see is that leaders are able to read public sentiment, often changed by changing circumstances. Leaders can sense an opportunity and act accordingly to achieve their goal. People will accept radically different policy in changed times. So Thatcher was able to take advantage of the British “winter of discontent” in 1979 to change the direction of the Tory party and impose neo-liberal economics on the British people. Ireland nationalised banks, just a few years after it was a proposition that existed only in Joe Higgins’s imagination. Oratorical skills, though important, can be overrated.Most leaders are strategic players who have to engage in transactions, but who also have goals. We expect them to have a vision for society, to have the intelligence to recognise or devise a solution to a problem, to have a sense of what the public will accept, and to have the character or political nous to overcome the constraints of practical politics. How do Reynolds and Ahern rate on these criteria?Ireland’s two major problems in the last forty years have been the undeveloped economy and violence in Northern Ireland. If we trace the conception, if not the birth, of the Celtic Tiger to about 1987, then both Reynolds and Ahern can be considered lucky to have taken office when they did. Of course they were part of the government that oversaw the conception, and so can claim some credit, but it would have probably happened without them. On the North, Reynolds took over when there was hardly much cause for hope – true John Major had replaced Margaret Thatcher, but there was no sense at the time that Major was going to engage with the problem. Beyond that Reynolds claims to have had a vision for an entrepreneurial economy, but it’s not clear how he sought to bring it about. Ahern, when he took over, had his agenda set for him. The “peace process” was ongoing if faltering, the economy was growing and, it seemed, only needed to be managed. Ahern offered no vision for how he would see Irish society after ten years of his premiership beyond the ubiquitous “peace and prosperity”.Reynolds’s vision for peace in Northern Ireland depended on the Irish government engaging with Sinn Féin, something most people at the time found unpalatable. Haughey had used Martin Mansergh to open lines of communication with Sinn Féin, but these were undeveloped. Reynolds accelerated these initiatives, keeping them secret from his cabinet colleagues – he is probably right to have considered that any moves involving dialogue with Sinn Féin were likely to be blocked by the PDs under Des O’Malley. These moves were politically risky, though when the coalition collapsed and despite a poor election result he found himself back in government, this time with Labour, he confided to Spring, who gave his cautious support for the policy. He seems to have worked hard on this, and his engagement with politicians like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, who had come to the conclusion that the political strategy was the best option for progress towards achieving Sinn Féin’s goals, coupled with John Major’s involvement, eventually led to the Downing Street Declaration and an IRA ceasefire. He was rightly feted for this achievement. However, domestic politics suffered. As Taoiseach one is forced to engage with a whole range of policies, even in areas where one has little interest. On taking office from Haughey, Reynolds was immediately confronted with the X-case and the abortion issue that the Supreme Court decision required government to confront. He was less adept at dealing with this delicate issue. Reynolds was impetuous, always willing to make a decision, sometimes without considering all the evidence. He did not like to read long briefs. This was not unreasonable when one considers the number of areas a Taoiseach has to deal with and he was probably unfairly derided for asking officials to present the issues to him on a single sheet. But Reynolds was impatient with formalities (including some cabinet conventions). He saw issues in black and white and despaired at equivocal advice, unwilling to accept that some issues are grey. As a company owner he was used to getting his own way, and Ahern suggests in his book that this was a problem, in that Reynolds assumed that a directive from him would immediately be translated into action and results. Beyond the North it is difficult to point to policies with his signature. Certainly the economy continued to expand, but his main policy in this area seems to have been to create county enterprise boards – which were scarcely the driver of Ireland’s growth. He was good at meeting business leaders, an important part of the job, and he encouraged inward investment. He could do a deal, but beyond that he just let policy muddle on. It is obvious in the way he conceded to Labour nearly any demand it made that his interests lay north of the border.He also created problems within his party. Fianna Fáil is the most tribal of parties, and attacks on the leader are usually seen as a betrayal of some natural law. Certainly this is Ahern’s attitude: he defends his attachment to Haughey on the basis that loyalty to the leader and loyal to the party are paramount. He simply cannot understand why anyone would put principle ahead of party loyalty, and considers them perverse for doing so. Reynolds, in supporting the last attempt to remove Haughey for what he saw as his (scarcely recently formed) “presidential style” created enemies within the party, but he compounded these enmities by excluding from his cabinet almost anyone considered close to the former leader, with the exception of Ahern. As Taoiseach, Reynolds was an excluder, creating cliques within his own party and deliberately antagonising coalition colleagues or at least showing himself insensitive to their position. Electorally his leadership was not popular. While he could connect to the Fianna Fáil base, he created enmity beyond that, and as well as delivering Fianna Fáil a low first preference vote his polarising influence ensured that the party failed to make any seat gains through transfers. His inability to deal with cabinet government or issues that did not interest him meant that what he regarded as “the little things” but others might have called trust (or rather its absence) eventually led to Labour leaving government, cutting short his premiership and a partnership between Fianna Fáil and Labour that might have lasted a decade or more. Albert Reynolds can rightly look back to huge achievement in his career. He transformed how the Irish and British governments deal with the problems in the North. But it is paradoxical in that where his approach to Northern Ireland showed his ability to see other people’s points of view, he completely lacked this in dealing with cabinet government in the South.If Reynolds was pig-headed, Bertie Ahern can credibly be regarded as a political genius. He recognised early on that if he was going to stay around in politics he needed a secure base, and his organisation in Dublin Central was regarded as a model of ward politics. His closeness to Haughey helped get him promoted quickly and he was a very hard worker on top of his brief. Though still young, by the early 1990s he seemed to have been around for a long time, and Reynolds’s dismissal by Haughey gave him the opportunity to take over Finance, giving him the experience he would need to make him a credible candidate for the leadership of his party. Finance was not the happiest time for him: he was not only overruled on his opposition to a tax amnesty but he also faced a currency crisis. That Ireland would have to devalue was probably already determined, but his handling of the matter, and in particular his tendency to make off-the-cuff remarks to international financial journalists, put the currency under more pressure and probably cost the state quite a lot of money.Where Reynolds was impetuous, Ahern was careful and patient, often to the point of indecision. He was probably wise to decide not to contest the leadership when Haughey stepped down, influenced perhaps by the poor treatment he received from Reynolds’s supporters in the run-up to that contest. When he did take over, and was disappointed not to immediately become Taoiseach, he worked on reviving Fianna Fáil organisationally. But he did not impose on the party any vision of Irish society. His vision, one supported by his party, was simply for Fianna Fáil to be in government. He was a poor leader of the opposition in the Dáil, and his becoming Taoiseach depended on his consummate campaigning skills and his ability to turn a first preference vote that almost crippled Haughey into a workable Dáil majority. Like Reynolds, Ahern was very concerned with the North. Here his negotiating skills, learnt in the Department of Labour, were of great value and within a year of his taking office the Good Friday Agreement was signed, with all giving him immense credit for this achievement. His patience, likeability and almost congenital desire to avoid confrontation and conflict helped him in this. He effectively handed over control of domestic policy to Charlie McCreevy and the PDs. His failure to get agreement on his most favoured policy, the building of a national stadium, showed his lack of power in this area. One policy he was interested in was social partnership, and he effectively used the ever-rising exchequer revenues to buy the compliance of a union movement that was happy to be bought off. But he differed from Reynolds in that, by all accounts, he was on top of every brief and quite critical of ministers making inputs without having “done their homework”.He achieved what he wanted. He stayed in power without much dissent from within his party or from society. A natural campaigner, he almost achieved an overall majority for Fianna Fáil, and by bringing the party back into government earned the respect and obedience of his deputies. He learned that leaders need to stay in touch with backbenchers and effectively did this by giving them a quiet word of encouragement. He was also careful not to accentuate the divisions within the party. His party wanted to be healed and he facilitated this by bringing all sides into his cabinet ‑ even some he would have been forgiven for dropping. His conservative reshuffles meant that the personnel changed, but only slowly. He overcame the problems that this might cause among an ambitious backbench by creating jobs for everyone, at the taxpayers’ expense.When the 2004 local and European elections showed that there was some unease with Fianna Fáil, this willingness to use taxpayers’ money to solve any problem that arose accelerated the growth of the public sector. Ahern shifted left and claimed to be influenced by Bowling Alone, a book by the US political scientist Robert Putnam, in which social capital is crucial to the effective operation of society. Yet none of his policies seemed to be influenced by the logic of Putnam’s arguments. Having removed McCreevy, he put a more pliant minister into Finance. Ahern’s answer to troubles was to spend money so that every vested interest would be happy. That none of this seemed to work did not matter: he could claim that he doubled spending on health, or whatever other policy issue or area emerged. Public sector pay rose well above the rate of inflation, but little was conceded in return. This put pressure on the public purse and added fuel to an already overheating economy. Ahern’s major concern was to win the next election, and arguments about the long-term sustainability of his spending policies were either not understood or ignored for electoral reasons.That he succeeded in winning the 2007 election is a credit to his campaigning brilliance, but it was probably only his willingness to compromise, to avoid difficult decisions and conflicts, that kept him and Fianna Fáil in power for so long. Ahern and Reynolds could hardly have been more different in temperament. Reynolds’s willingness to make decisions, and his to hell with the consequences attitude probably contributed to his short-lived premierships. A figure who represented a middle point between these two extremes might have been more effective.With the exception of Northern Ireland, Ahern’s main legacy is a missed opportunity to radically transform the country. He didn’t create the Celtic Tiger, nor did he sustain it. While most academics working on Ireland before 2002 seek to understand the Irish miracle, after 2002 they start to question the fundamentals of the economy. Ahern’s lack of imagination about what could be done with the revenue economic growth afforded the government created a bubble, and anyone who questioned the policy of throwing money at problems was deemed unpatriotic. His reaction to accusations about his private finances, which ultimately brought him down, was inept, as he avoided dealing with the problems in a credible manner. Indeed his defence that he won the money on the horses seemed to show the extent to which he had ceased to care. His image as an “ordinary man” seemed less credible in the light of his use of private jets to fly to watch Manchester United from the luxury of a private box. His party knew that Bertie Ahern’s usefulness to it had ended. That he was seen recently joking with Seán FitzPatrick, formerly of Anglo Irish Bank, about the good old days shows how out of touch he had become.Taoisigh live in a bubble, where almost everything is done for them. They lose a sense of what is appropriate behaviour. Ahern apparently could see nothing wrong (or chose to argue that there was nothing wrong) with accepting money from businessmen. Nor could Reynolds appreciate that there might be a problem with his company benefiting from an unedifying, if legal, scheme to sell Irish passports in return for investment. That Ahern allowed cabinet ministers’ pay rises to go through at a time when they were about to appeal for public sector pay restraint shows that he had lost his political antennae – he was too long in the bubble. Had he become president of the European Commission in 2004 he might have left a better legacy. A new Taoiseach then might have been willing to take tough decisions on the economy, and Ahern would have been perfectly suited to the slow negotiations and horse-trading that typify policy-making in Europe.Many people are immediately cynical of politicians once in power – usually because of disappointment that the promise is never fulfilled. This is unfair on politicians, though their rhetoric usually encourages people to expect the most. Many complain that the Irish system is not one that allows an Obama to emerge, but we should note that many Americans also feel “deceived” by him, complaining (a bit prematurely) about his failure to deliver. But is there a problem with the Irish political system that discourages vision? There are some characteristics that one needs to get to the top in Irish politics, not all of which are the qualities one wants in a leader. Certainly one wants and gets cleverness and hard work, but the system requires all the major policy-makers to have safe seats in the Dáil. This encourages localism and short-term thinking. To be fair, both Ahern and Reynolds devoted more time to the North than to any other issue – something that offered scant short-term electoral reward. But the system also encourages career politicians – anyone in there wants to be a minister, and anyone who wants to be a minister has to be in there for a long time.People get into politics because they think they can make a difference. They work extremely long hours and endure tedium that would make most people run away. The life of a politician is unbearable to normal humans. So should we be thankful for their sacrifices? Electoral politics is a drug and many forget in the buzz of activity in and around Leinster House the reason they started. Election is followed by addiction to re-election and all that it entails. It is not just politicians who get hooked; political correspondents also find it hard to leave. For the deputies and senators the long hours spent travelling to and from your constituency are rewarded when you win some battle and get your fix. As with other addictions, a life in politics can be hard, but it is not necessarily productive. These books won’t show us that.


Eoin O’Malley lectures in Irish politics at the School of Law and Government, Dublin City University. His main research interests are the power of prime ministers, Irish
government and Irish parties. He is editing a book entitled Governing Ireland, to be published by the IPA in late 2010.

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