The Haughey era is the last time succession so dominated the political agenda
20th September 2021
When I was a teenager one of the only occasions an Irish male could submit to public weeping was at the point in the movie Top Gun when a Tom Cruise associate died.© Provided by Extra.ie
So the delay of the sequel Top Gun: Maverick has been a personal Covid lockdown privation that has, well, almost moved me to tears. No.2 in my Covid entertainment loss chart was Succession, the latest series of which has been delayed until October. The HBO series has given us many things, besides actor Brian Cox’s astoundingly flexible use of the phrase ‘f*** off’.
We have seen a group of the most appalling, comically ruthless, degenerate adult children vie to succeed Cox’s ageing media mogul Logan Roy. Apparently, Roy has stayed on in leadership too long. The problem for his children is his ruthlessness, deviousness and intelligence far surpasses anything they can muster. So he endures.
In the absence of Top Gun and Succession we have filled the entertainment void with Irish politics. For not since the age of Haughey has politics been so dominated by succession.© Provided by Extra.ie Charlie Haughey Pic: Rolling News
After lacklustre elections the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste were saved from deposition by Covid and the two weakened leaders entered an unlikely Coalition. From the outset this Coalition was weakened by the leaders’ weakness.
Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar’s predicaments differ. Like Logan Roy, Martin has headed his organisation for so long that his personality has come to intimidate his potential heirs. The longevity of his reign as leader is problematic – he’s there for 10 years. More securely placed leaders – Charles Haughey, Bertie Ahern, Margaret Thatcher, even Franklin Roosevelt, flag after a decade. In Roosevelt’s case it was a world war that kept him artificially in power after 1940. In Martin’s case the Covid crisis has saved him. The end of his term as Taoiseach next year appears a natural end to his reign. And despite meek, putative challenges from other wings of Fianna Fáil the party has, in fact, a natural successor.
Speak across an otherwise fractured party and you will find rock solid support for Jim O’Callaghan, who according to witnesses, gave an outstanding address at the think in last week.
Fianna Fáil has many failings, but some of its parliamentary party kind of like each other. Fine Gael, however, far more closely resembles the Succession tragi-comedy.© Provided by Extra.ie Tanaiste Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney, after spending the majority of their ministerial careers plotting to succeed Enda Kenny, eventually fought it out for the leadership, with the more cunning Varadkar winning. However, Coveney, an archetypal well-heeled and entitled Fine Gael blueblood, appeared a natural successor. Now? He is fatally wounded and beyond the Department of Foreign Affairs he will not progress.
For his part, Varadkar assumed that he would cruise to the office of taoiseach next year. And the mistakes have flowed, at first a trickle, and then a torrent.
Varadkar and Coveney both gave grovelling apologies to their parliamentary party last week for Zapponegate. If the only thing you can offer to your colleagues is an apology, unaccompanied by solutions or a plan for reformation, then you are merely further weakened.
The Katherine Zappone controversy continues because it has still not been explained honestly. Coveney, on three occasions, has refused to tell this newspaper when he deleted vitally important text messages from his phone.
The main reason he was called back to the Foreign Affairs Committee was not his laughably ill prepared and porous testimony. It was because his colleague, Leo Varadkar, released text messages that nobody would have known existed had Coveney not mentioned them. Coveney was called back to explain why he had deleted his messages – but the committee, bizarrely, failed to question him adequately on this.© Provided by Extra.ie Pic: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos
There is also a gaping gap in the texts timeline between Zappone and Coveney. She thanks him for a job he says he didn’t offer her. As was said of Lyndon Johnson there is a credibility gap. For Coveney it cannot be filled; he is finished, despite getting a vote of confidence from his Coalition partners.
Varadkar stood by and allowed this foolishness to go on. He is being investigated by gardaí, perhaps unfairly, but it hangs over him. Yet it is his attendance at Zappone’s gathering that continues to turbo-charge this bottomless controversy. The lack of care for his position is palpable in his explanations for why he showed such a bad example to a suffering population. Initially he said the event ‘probably’ hadn’t violated Bord Fáilte guidelines. Subsequent disclosures show it did – and the guidelines were updated.
Fine Gael’s two most senior ministers made contemptuous errors and then didn’t bother to construct even a veneer of a narrative to cover their tracks. Still, at week nine, they have not explained why they did not inform the Taoiseach of Zappone’s proposed appointment. Coveney knew by March but never thought to tell him.
So, like a medieval kingdom without a legitimate heir – or heirs – the Government flounders. O’Callaghan, though impressive, has the obvious handicap of being outside Cabinet with no experience of high office. With Coveney finished, Fine Gael’s potential successors are Simon Harris and Helen McEntee. Harris has many attributes for leadership. The recent controversy over unproven allegations of leaking was a cackhanded attempt by party rivals to damage him.
The unfounded and anonymous allegations that he had leaked from Cabinet were brought into the public domain by Matt Carthy in the Dáil. However, in a disastrous radio interview Carthy revealed he had no evidence. The damage to Harris was minimal.
The succession deficiencies of Harris and McEntee (who returns from maternity leave in November) are perceived as the same by colleagues – they are seen as too young and too inexperienced. Yet Harris is 34, and McEntee is 35. Varadkar was 38 when he became taoiseach. Arrogance and weakness makes this Coalition far more unstable than it should be at this point in its lifecycle.
There was a long-running scandal in series two of Succession – the Waystar Royco cruise division cover-up. The crisis threatens to destroy the Roy empire. The solution is obvious to Logan: he needs a ‘blood sacrifice’. Someone has to go down and it isn’t going to be him.
Two things seem to be endless in politics at the moment: the Zappone affair and speculation on when it will end. It will end with a blood sacrifice. The sooner the Coalition understands ruthless actions are needed, the better. For us all.