From top: Paddy Harte and Peter Sutherland; Dan Boyle
This week has seen the passing of two Fine Gael luminaries, Peter Sutherland and Paddy Harte. Much like Marc Antony’s speech in Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ I write to praise them, because I feel they are deserving of respect for doing what they did, in the way in which they so did.
There are many, many things on which I would never be in agreement with Fine Gael about. The party’s general approach to economic and social issues brings about, to me, a more unequal society. It pays little more than lip service to environmental issues. Its attitude to policing and general justice issues ranges from the aggressive to the possessive.
The party, for some reason best known to itself, believes itself to be morally superior to Fianna Fáil. It isn’t.
These caveats I add in anticipation of those who are about to disagree with me, that to like someone, respect them or to acknowledge some of their achievements, is somehow to bend towards their political worldview.
It is a shared characteristic of both the Rabid Right and Rigid Left that any deviation from the standard orthodoxy must see the heretics challenged.
For my part I have no difficulty in saying that Peter Sutherland performed well as a European Commissioner. The Erasmus programme is a singular achievement. As a Attorney General he was right to state that inserting the Eight Amendment into The Constitution, would ultimately turn out to be self defeating.
Would I be a fan of his work at GATT/WTO? No I would not. The emphasis in these agreements sees the sustainable welfare of people, if at all, then as very much a distant afterthought. However, I do believe that his subsequent work on immigrants rights was formed on his belief for a more inter related, more inclusive World.
Was I impressed by his chairmanship of Goldman Sachs, or his board membership of several banking organisations? Again not really. He was a creature of his circumstance. I don’t believe there is any inconsistency in not liking what someone does, whilst admiring the ability they have in doing what they do.
Paddy Harte was a gruff conservative. He had left front line politics before I had entered it. I doubt there would many subjects of public policy on which we would have found ourselves in agreement.
He was implacably opposed to the murderous campaign of the IRA. As a TD for a border constituency that was a difficult opinion to hold. Nevertheless he succeeded in being elected time and time again, even if he never really troubled the higher echelons of national politics (he briefly was a junior minister in the early 1980s).
What I most admired him for was the work he did with Glenn Barr (once of the Ulster Defence Association) in bringing proper recognition to all the Irishmen who fought in the First World War.
History tells us that WW1 was a fruitless, unnecessary carnage brought about by the dying embers of empires. For many who participated they truly believed they were fighting for the rights of small nations, especially the right to become one.
Paddy Harte should be given enormous credit in helping bring the memory of these men back from the historical cold. As does Glenn Barr, whose own death in October 2017 seems to have gone largely gone unacknowledged.
I intend to continue my eccentric and eclectic approach to politics. I will still admire the skills, abilities and achievements of those with whom I vehemently disagree. Damn me.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle
Dan Boyle’s ‘Making Up The Numbers – Smaller Parties and Independents in Irish Politics‘ published by the History Press is available at all good bookstores now.