Rebuilding the State and creating a political and economic culture that people trust will be long and very difficult, but it can be done, because it has to be done, according to Fine Gael councillor Brian Walsh.
Last weekend Cllr Walsh and Sen Fidelma Healy Eames were chosen, ahead of long serving TD Dep Pádraic McCormack, to stand for Fine Gael in Galway West in the 2011 General Election.
It is now up to Cllr Walsh and Sen Healy Eames not only to retain the seat held by Dep McCormack since 1989, but also win a second seat in Galway West, something the party has not achieved since the November 1982 election.
Cllr Walsh is excited to have been selected to run in the election, but he paid tribute to Dep McCormack. “Last Sunday was the first time in 20 years I did not put a number one after his name and I am disappointed for him,” he says. “I served as Pádraic’s director of elections in 2007 and I consider him a close political ally and a friend.”
Cllr Walsh and Sen Healy Eames will face into an election campaign knowing the public want three things - to see Fianna Fáil punished severely; to see Fine Gael and Labour, try, despite the straitjacket Fianna Fáil and the EU/IMF have placed them in, to put Ireland on the road to recovery; and three, to see a complete and utter change to the political system, that will ensure the poison alliance of politicians, bankers, and developers, and the madness and irresponsibility they indulged in, is never allowed happen again.
This last point, above all, is what people want to see, and Cllr Walsh knows it is the very thing people fear most will not happen.
“People don’t just want a change of government, they want a change in our entire political system and culture,” he says. “The failed politics of the past is what has brought us to where we are today and it needs to changed radically.
“We must renew people’s faith in the political system and transform politics into a force that people can trust again. We desperately need politics that is about service, not about power and holding on to it at any cost. We need new corporate laws, and anti-cronyism legislation that will put politicians and business people in gaol if they ever behave like this again.”
Cllr Walsh says Fine Gael is committed to overseeing major change in the way the State is run. “Party leader Enda Kenny has pledged he will abolish the Senate, significantly reduce the number of TDs, reform the Dáil committee system, and give the public more of a say in the way legislation is enacted,” he says.
Such changes would be welcome, but the problems the State is now experiencing go to the deepest levels, and more radical change is needed. When France endured major crises - defeats to Germany in 1870 and 1940, the loss of empire in the 1950s - it began its recovery by drafting a new constitution. Surely Ireland needs to do the same and proclaim a Second Republic?
“Every source of authority in Ireland whether it is politics, the church, the financial sector, has been undermined and the culture of deference we had towards these institutions has been undermined,” says Cllr Walsh.
“There is now a real opportunity to effect fundamental change. We must also look at our Constitution and debate whether a set of rules and rights which was prepared in 1937 is still appropriate for society today.”
Both Fine Gael and Labour know the actions of Fianna Fáil and it’s dealings with the EU/IMF have left very little room to manoeuvre once that coalition comes to power next year.
“The arrival of the EU/IMF represents a new beginning and I have no doubt their intervention will help sort things out but they will sort things out in a manner not of our choosing,” he says. “We are going to have hospitals devastated. We will have children with disabilities who need specially trained teachers to help them, and those teachers are not going to be there. This is where Fianna Fáil and the PDs have brought us.”
Cllr Walsh says that honesty about what has to/can only be done, needs to become a cornerstone of the next Government’s approach.
“We need straight talking and honesty from government,” he says. “We need the truth from politicians and if we tell the public the truth from the outset, difficult as it may be to digest, we will win their trust and support. We are a resilient people and we will get through this.”