Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Resigning Is Only Defiance Left. My Resignation From The Ruins of Fine Gael

Dear Sir,

I had no idea how hard this letter would be to write. Despite the fact that I'm like a man who has found half a worm in the

apple he has bitten, I've gone to far, done too much, lived to long in Fine Gael to find repudiating the party a simple task. In my father's house being part of Fine Gael stood for a type of political morality: we supported Fine Gael because we did not want the largesse of the state because we did not want the taxation, bankruptcy and corruption that largesse entailed. In his house tacit support was no support at all so I have canvassed, campaigned and been director of elections, certain the party I supported was the best option for the country.

Our loyalties in a party are not an abstract idea or even the policies it from time to time it holds, but rather to the men and women we know, trust and with whom we are willing to share a political foxhole. We identify ourselves by a political affiliation and form bonds in our own small community that reaches across generations and into the wider country. We believe in the party because we believe in our neighbours, friends and families who belong with us. Severing ties of such depth is done at personal cost, only when the ties that bind are corroded to the point of unbearable pain.

This government was elected with a mandate for change, the people who voted for Fine Gael expected the cost of Government to be lowered and economic freedom increased. Canvassers and voters alike knew the country was bankrupt but they expected and were promised political courage and honesty. We did not get the change for which we campaigned; the electorate did not get the change for which it voted. Almost every Quango created in boom time folly still exists. Simple, popular, eminently workable promises, such as the one to replace FÁS with a voucher scheme, have been disregarded while the party has begun an agenda of social destruction for which it received neither votes, nor mandate nor support. If there was a sizeable constituency of voters with the opinions upon which the party now insist then Eamon Gilmore would really be Taoiseach and Fintan O'Toole, Tanaiste. We grumbled but those ties of loyalty held longer than they should.

In the last months and weeks those ties have been burnt, melted and ruined by the Abortion Bill and the actions of the party leadership in forcing it through.

Fine Gael promised, Enda Kenny promised, we promised on doorsteps that Fine Gael was a pro-life party. Those promises were broken. By being a member and a canvasser I was made complicit in the breaking of those promises. I've listened to a Senator describe the bill as "pro-life" and been lied to, publicly and fluently, about the pre-legislation situation, by a Cabinet Minister. Lies only made the shame worse.

This is not an argument about a bill which introduced abortion and which the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party knows introduced abortion. The party leadership lost all those arguments on the merits of the bill but by possessing and abusing the power of the whip, and with the support of a radical faction within the party, have still triumphed. This triumph is pyrrhic victory, but King Pyrrhus knew what was happening to his army,  Fine Gael leadership seems blind to the effect on Fine Gael's core vote and membership.

For those of us who oppose abortion having the party for which we campaigned break every promise it had made on the issue, and introduce abortion in legislation, was a shocking betrayal. How could we continue with Fine Gael now that abortion was the party's policy? The fact that it was policy adopted not democratically and with discussion, but by fiat of a small, powerful, and stupid cabal neither diminishes the damage nor excuses the wrong.

If that betrayal was ferocious, it was made infinitely worse by the application of a three line whip to the bill. Abortion legislation cannot be anything but an issue of conscience, a subject alien to the party whip. Hare coursing was an issue of conscience to for Alan Shatter, that abortion was not for Fine Gael makes a double mockery of the broken promises and any pretence the leadership had to moral authority. In the most cynical analysis, the use of whip deprived the party of diversity or ambiguity so useful in an election, but the more profound effect was to morally bankrupt the party. The leadership cabal are without any polictical morality, the party's conservatives revealed as spineless cowards.

I need not remind you that Fine Gael members choose their candidates who must then be ratified by the parties National Executive. The party leader has neither de jure nor moral authority to announce the de-selection of Oireachtas members. TDs and Senators are being threatened and  targeted for defying a whip that should never have been imposed in the first instance. When Fine Gael's candidates for the last General election signed the party pledge, Fine Gael was a pro-life party, a position re-iterated publicly by the party leader. Mr Kenny has stuck rigidly to his position that that those TDs and Senators will not be candidates in the next election. In this he has defied both the rules and traditions of the party and exposed the leadership’s lack of confidence in its own argument. Eternal damnation is extremely poor politics and has no at all place in a democratic party.

If functioning opposition is needed for good government then far more important is opposition to bad behaviour and ideas within a political party in government. We saw for far too long where tolerance of bad behaviour in the ruling party took this country. That no voice was raised, that no opposition coalesced, no fight was offered to the leadership on this shocking and brutal crushing of conscience, that totalitarian bullying passed unremarked, is a terrible sign of the abyss into which Fine Gael has been plunged.

The consciences of members are vital to a political party, the twentieth century has shown us enough of the evil to which lands fall prey when the power of political parties is harnessed to a disregard of individual conscience. Each individual enriches the decision making structures with their own moral outlook, protecting party, politics and country by applying their own, individual judgement to issues. If sceptical individuals with moral consciences have to be convinced, there is much less chance of bad ideas gaining sway. This is a powerful restraint on unfettered power of political cabals and a guarantee that parties themselves will not become prey to extreme, minority opinion. Fine Gael has now made a precedent of the brutal crushing of conscience and that precedent will not be easily unwound. The damage to Irish politics is as least as deep as the damage to the Fine Gael Party itself. The damage to the nation is beyond explanation.

Much of this damage has been facilitated by the rise of professional political hangers-on, both elected and not. Between the spoils of political office and the insistence by party leadership that it controls the fount of nomination, there now exists a class of people who see themselves dependent on the party leadership for grace and favour. These people know no loyalty except to their own immediate interest; know no conscience except that informed by the leader's need, no political wisdom except personal pragmatism. They are reed bed through which any fashionable political opinion may sound if puffed by power but they offer nothing in sustenance or electoral success. They are leeches but with the temporary power of numbers and party apparatus. 

There was, in this rubble, still the vestigial signs of the party to which I had willing given my loyalty. The TDs and Senators who braved the worst bullying ever seen in Irish politics since the Civil War, who refused to subjugate conscience to convenience, who sacrificed career sooner than vote harm, those were my Fine Gael and I'm immensely proud that I was lucky enough to call at least one of them a friend long before this. The treatment of this brave seven makes it impossible for any pro-life member to stay within Fine Gael. The party is now a cold place for people with pro-life or socially conservative views, war has been declared on us and we are refugees in a Damascus of the mind.

Loyalty is a a valuable gift and virtue, a basis for much of our free society. Like all virtues loyalty can be perverted and it would be deeply perverse to allow loyalty to family, friends and the memories of those I loved to be perverted into the service of evil. 

I cannot remain a member of a party that so easily breaks promises, disregards conscience and is openly and ferociously hostile to the values I hold. 

I will not remain a member of a party that introduced abortion.

I resign.

I resign but in truth there is nothing left from which to resign, Fine Gael has died. The Abortion Bill killed the Fine Gael for which I hung posters, knocked on doors and pored over tally figures. The party to which my inherited loyalty was given no longer exists. In their arrogance the leadership cabal have created a political tragedy. Act I has been performed, the rest of the play waits grimly in the wings. 

I am, 

In Sorrow and Sincerely,

Paddy Manning

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