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The parallels between Irish and American controversies, in a wild week for politics

Those who say they know what lies ahead – in either country – are either clairvoyant or just plain wrong, writes Larry Donnelly.

Larry Donnelly Law lecturer, NUI Galway

POLITICAL WATCHERS ON both sides of the Atlantic have had more than enough to occupy their attention as of late with extraordinary developments unfolding at breakneck pace.

Here in Ireland, additional troubling revelations about the shocking treatment of the Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe resulted in serious unrest within the Fine Gael-led Government and provoked Sinn Féin to table a motion of no confidence in the Government.

A contrary motion prevailed, but the controversy has badly damaged the reputations of some key figures and exposed very deep divisions. Although it seems that the Government will survive, it now is clear that Enda Kenny will not be Taoiseach for much longer.

New Indeed jobs Source: Niall Carson

Meanwhile, in the United States, President Donald Trump fired his National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, purportedly because he misled Vice President Mike Pence by claiming that he had not discussed sanctions imposed on Russia in the waning days of the Obama administration when he spoke with that country’s US Ambassador in late December.

Having denied that any such conversation took place repeatedly in the national media, Pence was furious to learn – evidently through the media – that it had. Yet it also has emerged that President Trump was informed by then Acting Attorney General Sally Yates weeks ago that the topic of sanctions came up.

So, two scandals have come to light in two very different nations that are 3,000 miles away from one another. They are not entirely dissimilar, however. Each is a “who knew what and when did they know it?” episode of high political intrigue that – for the present moment, at least – has dwarfed the far more important crisis that precipitated it.

The potential longer term political consequences and the impact on these overarching crises of the recent, frenetic days on both sides of the Atlantic merit further examination.

Fine Gael is at a fork in the road. Like him or loathe him, Enda Kenny has been at the helm of the party for many years. And his track record, in many ways, is unassailable. As such, choosing a new leader – always a big decision – is hugely significant.

Leo Varadkar has long been considered his probable successor. Yet his near celebrity status as a politician will certainly take a hit in the weeks and months to come. Critics call him mercurial; even his allies say the cut and thrust of politics is an unwelcome feature on his radar screen. Varadkar’s will not be a coronation, and Simon Coveney will prove a difficult opponent. The outcome could eventually result from the rather labyrinthine system the party has for selecting its leader.

At the same time, Fianna Fáil, though seemingly holding all the cards in the wake of a very solid opinion poll this month, is also in uncharted territory. How much longer will the party endorse the “confidence and supply” arrangement? How will it react to a new Fine Gael leader? If a fresh face appeals to the public, might some in the party argue that Micheál Martin should have pushed for a vote against the Government and that his unwillingness to do so is just the latest evidence of his indecisive nature?

These complex twists and turns, however, won’t solve any of the obvious problems within An Garda Síochána or ameliorate the plight of Sergeant McCabe and his family (and others). With yet another public inquiry regarding the conduct of the country’s police force upon us, it’s only logical to question if anything will ever change. Some advocates posit that external voices are needed. Others assert that they will be drowned out. It is hard to know who is right, but it is distressing to think of where things stand.

Stateside, President Trump appears determined to obscure the sentiment that brought him to the White House. His “America First” message, in a country where the dominant mood is isolationist and pessimistic, is a political winner. But the president’s outsized ego cannot withstand even the most superficial of questioning. Reasonable doubts are castigated as “fake news”.

Trump visit to UK Source: PA Wire/PA Images

The Trump administration’s posturing on Russia and other issues is so bizarre because it is so unnecessary. The reality is that most Americans do not want more military interventions, which they believe are futile, and deem Russian incursion in Eastern Europe as a problem that does not implicate vital US interests. They think difficulties in a region 4,000 miles away are a matter for Europeans to resolve. Accordingly, why the Trump administration would resort to back channels with Russia and invite cogent criticism from conspiracy theorists, rather than openly engage diplomatically, defies logic.

An improved relationship with Russia would be a good thing for the US and for the rest of the world. That this truism – not to mention the sudden, Damascus-like conversion that the global left has had to the moral probity of the CIA and FBI – is the subject of denial is another sad consequence of what Americans decided last November. That Donald Trump, who espoused views that are impossible to classify or reconcile ideologically, was elected president, in itself, suggests that strict adherents on the right and left need to get over themselves.

Here and there, this was a wild week in politics. And those who say they know what lies ahead are either clairvoyant or just plain wrong.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, a Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and a political columnist with TheJournal.ie and IrishCentral.com.

Larry Donnelly: ‘Listening to Trump voters, I am surprised, disappointed, bewildered, fascinated and enlightened’ >

Also: ‘After Trump and Brexit, the centre ground of Irish politics shouldn’t take their position for granted in 2017’ >

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About the author:

Larry Donnelly  / Law lecturer, NUI Galway

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