Why Fine Gael should be the party to propose Constitutional reform
On 6 December 1921, Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which recognized this country as a sovereign state. In August 1922, Griffith died and Collins was shot, and the other Pro-Treaty leaders, under W. T. Cosgrave built up the institutions of the state against the background of a civil war continuing into 1923. After a successful decade in office, in 1932 Cumann na nGaedheal peacefully allowed power to pass to those who had fought against them in the civil war. Then after sixteen years in opposition, in 1948, Fine Gael declared a republic, fully achieved the following year. Decades later, in 1987, Alan Dukes showed political courage in the Tallaght Strategy, putting the economic fortunes of the country ahead of the political opportunity presented by a minority Fianna Fáil government.
None of this is in any way relevant to the fact that of all parties, we are the ones who are now promoting a significant Constitutional reform. Far too often, I find, Fine Gael has a tendency to refer to its past. This will not win us votes. The only fundamental reason we have to be presenting this case is that we have the opportunity, now more than ever, and there is the political will in the country for this change. Phil Hogan has presented a well thought-through proposal on political reform. It is ideas like this about the future of the country that we have to sell ourselves with. Those for whom the Treaty is still the most salient issue will vote or not vote for us regardless of our reminding them. For those who rather view politics as being based on the change we can introduce, appeals to the Treaty or the image of Michael Collins merely make us look backward-looking. As a graduate of history, and interested in Irish history as much as most in politics, of course I know what side I would be on in that conflict and in many others. But that is not the basis of my membership of Fine Gael. I would have no qualms about saying that I believe that Seán Lemass was probably the best Taoiseach this country has had.
Rarely do opposition parties have ready such a range of innovative and radical different policy approaches as Fine Gael does now. That in itself is something those selling the party shouldn’t forget to communicate. If we succeed in that, we really do have the opportunity to get the electorate enthused about the next government.