The Acceptable Opposition
Brendan Howlin is acceptable. Michael Martin is acceptable. People who vote for them have more of a right to be listened to than those who vote for the likes of Mick Wallace, Clare Daly and myself. That is the reason why over the last week both The Labour Party and Fianna Fáil have been allowed to move centre-stage on the issue of Garda malpractice. Mainstream journalism does not really accept the result of the 2011 general election. It does not accept the result of the 2016 general election. Unless you come from the old guard of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour then you are irrelevant in the eyes of mainstream media, with a few rare exceptions.
After years of seeing the big three political parties attempting to run this country and failing miserably, the people decided they wanted a change – more variety, more representatives that spoke like they did themselves, that looked like they did themselves.
Our media found this disturbing. After years of simply having to engage with three parties they now had to deal with a myriad of groups, alliances, different individuals. Rather than actually listen to us, however, they classified us a rabble; rather than honestly analyse what we say and report it, they dismissed it, rubbished it, diverted attention from what we were saying by talking about what we looked like.
So when people such as Clare and Mick raised issues about Garda malpractice, spent months on end in the last Dáil building the house that is accountability, their efforts (for the most part) went unreported. Question after question was tabled, tactics perfected and employed to make it more likely that those question would be discussed orally and not dismissed as they are when replied to in written form. Experts on policing were consulted, Bills were constructed – a huge body of work.
Yet when push came to shove, and despite all that work, last year it was Michael Martin given the credit for bringing the whole fiasco with Shatter and Callinan to a head. What Mícheál Martin said in the Dáil about Maurice McCabe was all said before by Mick and Clare. Was it said more eloquently by Mícheál, more passionately, with any more depth of knowledge? No – anything but. But it was said by the leader of Fianna Fáil.
The house of accountability so carefully constructed by the real opposition was moved into by the acceptable opposition, with the media driving the removals van. Mícheál Martin, the man who instructed his party to vote against ombudsman legislation which would have changed everything, was now the man to change everything.
Which brings us to the present. The new champion of our mainstream media, the new acceptable opposition, is Brendan Howlin. Forget the fact that when in Government, Brendan trashed Mick Wallace’s attempts at bringing in decent ombudsman legislation; forget the fact that Howlin himself introduced Whistleblower legislation which is useless; forget that Howlin ‘sat idly by’ as Enda Kenny made a joke of allegations that there was heroin dealing taking place at Athlone Garda station; forget all that because, you know, there is an acceptable opposition and there is an unacceptable opposition. The Labour Party’s turn has come to wear that acceptable hat.