Fine Gael TDs have been outshone by their high-wattage left wing counterparts.
Sometimes it seems that the only TDs who are actually taking the place seriously are the Independents and more especially the radical left TDs. This is why the TV cameras seem to be so often focused on those back rows, where they are stirring it up.
And the same left wing TDs seem to know that the real action is outside the Dail where they also make a bigger impact than their mainstream, colleagues. They certainly get media coverage disproportionate to their actual size.
This really struck me when I was on the Vincent Browne show recently on TV3. Clare Daly TD was on the show and her arrest and release that day for trespassing at Shannon airport dominated the discussion. But we also watched a long clip of her fellow socialist Paul Murphy, in the Dail, raising a separate issue, about public procurement.
Afterwards, I went home and watched RTE’s Oireachtas report (to unwind!) and the show was dominated by Paul Murphy (again), Ruth Coppinger and Richard Boyd Barrett.
And now that Paul Murphy has been sent for trial for false imprisonment (a punitive and rash move by the State, in my opinion) this will garner Murphy and his friends even more valuable publicity.
Just compare this deservedly high profile of the radical left with the lack of coverage, again deserved, for the rather nondescript, constituency-obsessed lobby-fodder of the larger parties and particularly of Fine Gael, who have failed to transform, or even shine in the Dail chamber.
Indeed, as you move leftwards, you usually get a more high profile, more articulate and effective TD – and that’s not something I like admitting. FG with its big intake in 2011 has been disappointingly quiet and without passion and ideas. One can exempt some of the more effective Cabinet members from this, incidentally, but even the backbench Five a Side, which advocated prudent public spending, gang were put to bed. Can they rediscover their voice?
Fianna Fail, with its reduced size, offers better fare, and the Labour party representatives are better again. But often the most effective energy and focus seems to be with the high-wattage left. Mick Wallace alone has shone a light on penalty points and questionable NAMA deals.
Of course, it helps (the media) that the radical left have strongly defined messaging, and often strongly defined, and colourfully dressed, personalities. This aids the media and sets up an appealing contrast for framing the discourse.
And there is a lesson here for the bigger parties. It means that however small the hard left might be, they now end up defining and polarising the political landscape. Our bigger parties are still too centrist and not differentiated enough. They think they can muddle through and not have to make the case for the non-left position. But they are wrong.
And part of this complacency is our unreformed and often lacklustre Dail which, despite these limits – or because of them – offers high profile opportunities for ambitious left wing deputies and independents to define the agenda. With an enlarged Sinn Fein and left wing presence next time out, this will be even more the case. It really is time that our non-left TDs got off the fence.