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December 12th 2001

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Behind Closed Doors
with Cross Bencher

FINE GAEL RESURGENCE

The court-house polling booth in Donegal was always the most visible political battle-ground in the South-West constituency on election days - there were so many characters in action down through the years with their political colours proudly pinned to lapels.

Fine Gael would often win the court-house but it was always fiercely contested in a proper political spirit with never any hard feelings in the aftermath. Well, who ever could have hard feelings towards Christy Gallagher? ‘Big’ Christy, as he was known, was the local Fine Gael councillor and he lived opposite the court-house in Bridge Street where the family ran an egg business and a turkey export business, pre-Christmas.

Christy was truly larger than life and he dominated the election day scene through his sheer size and imbued the occasion with the beautiful spirit of democracy at work and a total absence of any intimidation. Yet he could be heard cajoling the voters from as far away as the other side of the Diamond. Christy himself stood for Fine Gael in a couple of general elections without success.

It is likely that Donegal Town will have another Fine Gael candidate in the coming General Election. Big Jimmy McGroary and Jim White contested the Fine Gael convention along with Dinny McGinley on Sunday night last.

Dinny, being the sitting TD, got the nod with 179 votes followed by Jim White with 127 and Big Jimmy with 74. As only one candidate was being chosen on the night, it was no surprise that the outgoing TD won, but the entry of Jim White into the fray and the support he received will liven up politics here from now until the election. It must be a near certainty that White will be added on by Fine Gael headquarters and this will surely lead to a resurgence for the party throughout Donegal. They will be seen to be once again taking seriously the business of politics.
The reason that I mention the effect a White candidate will have throughout the county goes back to the 1977 election when Co. Donegal was a single 5 seat constituency; Jim White topped the poll with 10,672 first perferences - 200 votes ahead of the legendary Neil Blaney. Other famous politicans such as Joe Brennan, Paddy Harte and Bernard McGlinchey trailed in their wake.

In 1981, when the South/west reverted to a three seater, Jim White was re-elected comfortably in between Clement Coughlan and Pat the Cope Gallagher and they were surely a mighty trio of political performers. Garrett Fitzgerald wasn’t big on Donegal politicians and Jim White was overlooked when putting his government team together. For a man of such energy and commitment to be sidelined was a blow which led to a personal re-think. He left politics and built a large hotel business which culminated last year in the purchase of both the Abbey and Central Hotels in Donegal Town.

So he is now back again in politics with his energy and committment undiminished. There may be some who will say that they can’t come back, but anytime White was on the ballot paper Fine Gael had their best performance. He may not get elected but he will put the wind up Fianna Fail, so the re-introduction of Pat the Cope into the field is now even more likely. White entered the fray in 1992 at the last minute and Fine Gael increased its share of the vote by five per cent.

The leading contenders in the 1992 election were Pat the Cope, Mary Coughlan, Jim White and Dinny McGinley. It looks like the same pack of cards again after ten years but this time we have a joker in the shape of Thomas Gildea as a wild card. What once looked dull for us in the south of the county is turning out to have potential for a lot of debate and excitement. White, being a tuned-in businessman will push the development of South Donegal to the top of the agenda. If elected and Fine Gael were back in Government, White would make an excellent Minister for Finance in the mould of McCreevy, the favourite for the job, Jim Mitchell, is surely a non-starter after his budget debate performance.

Like Jim White, Jim Mitchell has Ballyshannon connections but not as strongly White’s investment in Donegal and its future now makes him a Donegal Town man and I can see Big Christy’s ghost hovering around the court-house on election day in anticipation of once again winning the Donegal booths for Fine Gael.

MC CREEVY’S LAST BUDGET

What can one say! McCreevy is some operator. Some commentators say it is his last and best budget but the question is - did he stoop to borrow or did he not?

Seemingly everybody in the country can go into hock like there is no tomorrow, except the Minister for Finance. Remember sixteen years ago nobody in the country could borrow any money - that’s the way things were because the then Finance Minister had the whole country in hock up to the neck through excessive government borrowing. That Government were borrowing at rates of 12% - McCreevy could borrow at 2.5%, but if he even thinks about it there is consternation - something wrong surely.

Indeed in the bad old days McCreevy was always the one to be most consternated, so it is ironic that he has now resorted to borrowing once again.

There is no getting out of it - he had a budget deficit of close to a billion pounds, so instead of going to the commercial banks where he could have borrowed very cheaply he raided the piggy banks which had been built up in the last few years.

The piggy banks were there for the rainy days. Bertie Ahern says we are in the rainy days so it’s all right.

Bertie probably thinks truthfully that these must be the rainy days with the Bertie Bowl being shelved, but you can be sure McCreevy is aware that the rain hasn’t really started yet - all we have seen so far is a drizzle.

So we can allow McCreevy his entry into the record books knowing that there is nothing lost on him, but make no mistake about it, the Government will be borrowing before the year is out. And a good thing too, it may be the only way to keep the Tiger alive.

Charlie McCreevy is often painted as a rigid doctrinaire and he doesn’t mind this picture, but in reality he espouses nothing more than common sense. This entails looking realistically at the facts with a prudent eye to the future. He will try to control spending and he will succeed, but if the revenues don’t measure up, he will borrow. There will be no cutbacks but he will demand value for money. His competence will allow him the necessary flexibility of mind.

The economist Keynes, on being taken to task on expressing opinions that seemed contradictory to opinions offered a year before replied - “when the facts change, I change my opinions - what do you do sir?”


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