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Was he right?

George Lee, economist and former Fine Gael TD

After spending some time in the political wilderness after the demise of the Progressive Democrats, I felt the urge again to join a political party. Fine Gael was the obvious choice for me, and on the 5 May 2009, the day George Lee was announced as a candidate for Fine Gael for the Dublin South bye-election, I applied to join. I believe from hearsay that I was not the only person to do so that day. I did so because I felt it was an indication that the party was taking the economy seriously, the issue more than any other that needs to be addressed in this country. It was not the only reason I decided to join, but it did serve as the final push.

I am very disappointed then that he has felt that he was given no input into the party’s policy since his election in June, and that he has felt that the best thing for him to do was to resign. I had hoped that Lee might have been promoted in a frontbench reshuffle, perhaps as Spokesperson for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, held by Leo Varadkar. But this did not happen. Failing that, he could even have been appointed as a general front bench spokesman, without a portfolio, but with the assumption that he would speak frequently on economic issues.

Instead, according to Enda Kenny’s statement today, he was appointed to chair the Parliamentary Party’s Economic and Business Affairs Committee. To my mind, this does not in any way seem like the position he deserved. Of course most TDs must climb the ranks and are appointed to party positions on the basis of seniority. But in the case of clear talent, there should be exceptions. George Lee gave up a steady job in RTÉ to run for the Dáil, and had a right to expect a better party position than he received. He had a right to wonder if the party valued his expertise or his name.

I wish him well personally in the coming months, while I imagine that he will take some time to himself before deciding on the right course of action for himself.

Personally, I hope that this will prove as an impetus for the party to focus properly on the issues at hand. It should play less of the political game, and present clear ideas for the electorate. The party had a massive boost last year in polls, becoming by far the largest party in the country in terms of council seats (with more councillors than Fianna Fáil and Labour combined). This was, however, in no small part due to the unpopularity of Fianna Fáil. In the most recent Red C/SBP Poll (pdf), Fine Gael was still the most popular party at 36%, but had slipped in support, while Fianna Fáil had gained support to 23%. This is still a significant gap, but as the election does not need to be called until May 2012, the party will have to shape up, in terms of both presenting clearer policies and confident leadership, if it hopes to maintain that lead.

The Irish electorate would like to throw the rascals out, and the party that has led the country since 1997 deserves that. But the opposition need to prove themselves worthy of government. The best we can hope for is that today’s news serves as a catalyst for this.

  1. 8 February, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    Hey, I joined the same day too!!

    I can’t believe he’s just left like that. Good riddance to him!
    It’s clear that he wasn’t cut out for politics. Cracking after 9 months is not what the country needs. If he had more patience then he could have done a world of good.

  2. John
    9 February, 2010 at 9:58 am

    In fairness, just because George Lee holds an MSC does not make him some economics genius. He was a popular commentator, a good journalist capable of reporting on events. But as was shown in all his interviews yesterday, he actually had no policy proposals.

  3. Abcom
    10 February, 2010 at 10:07 am

    Two quick points; George Lee didn’t give up a job with RTÉ to run in the Dáil. In indeed, by resigning his Dáil seat he can return to RTÉ and his salary of €160k per annum no longer slumming it on a mere €92k.

    Second off, I don’t believe that holding a superior acadamic quailification in an area means you are the better person for the job. Sure, if George Lee was actively engaged in economics reserach, had a track record of detailed research and his own policy proposals, then yes, parachute him in for such a role. But he didn’t. He was a commentator, a good one, but just a commentator in the end.

  1. 13 February, 2010 at 1:23 am
  2. 17 February, 2010 at 4:03 pm

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