Rebel Fianna Fail TD Jim McDaid last week called for a general election in February or March just half way through the political term. Whilst many on the ground, angered by the Government’s handling of the economic crisis are calling for the same thing, it once again throws into the spotlight a man with a marred political and personal life and raises questions as to his motives for his political actions.
Mr. McDaid, a general practitioner by profession, was elected to the Dail in 1989, aged 40. He was appointed Minister for Defence in 1991, from which point his political career as much as his private life has been blighted by failings and misjudgments.
The very day Charlie Haughey gave him the defense portfolio, he was pictured standing beside James Pius Clarke, the Maze prison escapee who successfully evaded extradition. This blunder cost Mr. McDaid a position in the cabinet until 1994. The high point of his career came in 1997 when Bertie Ahern appointed him as Minister for Tourism, or as he became known, the “Minister of Fun”. However he was dropped in 2002, the point at which he claims he returned to his lifelong weakness for drink after several years of abstinence. In the same year, he was quite criticised for being quoted, or misquoted, for describing people who commit suicide as “selfish bastards”.
His explanation, both then and now, was that he was quoting a friend who herself had a child commit suicide, and that it was an angle he had never considered before and wanted to publicise. Rightly or wrongly, it serves as another example of a political career notable for blunders rather than successes.
The most memorable event in his public life, the moment that has come to define him, was in April 2005, having been at the races he was stopped driving three times over the legal limit and the wrong way up a dual carriageway outside Dublin, despite having spearheaded the 2002 drink-driving awareness campaign. Perhaps what is most surprising is that he was not dropped as a Fianna Fáil TD until November 2008 when, in the aftermath of the Jade Goody furore, he abstained on moral ground from voting on the government plans to keep the age for cervical cancer screening at twenty five. In choosing to fail to support the government he lost the whip, becoming an independent TD. Was this a principled move or was he simply jumping a sinking ship?
His private life has proved no more successful. In a much publicised tell-all book, his wife of thirty two years, Marguerite, told the world of a marriage marred by alcoholism, gambling and (although he disputes this) affairs. The alcoholism he readily admits to; it has had a very public impact on his political career and more importantly an impact on his family. He frankly confesses that alcohol made him “selfish”.
This honesty proves to be his redemption. Whilst he feels wronged politically, he openly admits to his failings in his marriage. He is currently not drinking but admits he cannot say he will not ever “drink again”, the sign perhaps of someone who has fully grasped the longevity of addiction. Admirably, he refused to become embroiled in public mud-slinging in the aftermath of his ex-wife’s book.
To turn to the present, McDaid’s call for an early election is, he claims, the only way for Fianna Fail, who are currently sitting at a 22 percent approval rating, to avoid “total decimation”. As the current administration steers through Lisbon, Nama and the next budget, they lose public favour, and he claims that a government made up of Labour and Fine Gael would not change “one iota”.
The unabashed concern with party-politicking opposed to the good of the country, which you may say is at least honest, suggests a lack of concern for the interests of the country. If a new government was elected, surely decisions made over Nama and the 2010 budget would better reflect the wishes of the Irish people and hold more legitimacy with them then.
On a further level, the charge has been laid that his calls for an early election were not about Fianna Fail at all, but originated in personal motives. It is possible that he holds the hope that an election held when the government is at its weakest will give him the best chance of getting re-elected as a technically independent candidate in his Donegal North East constituency.
The question to consider is this: would an election be good for the country? No. Whilst there may have been mismanagement and mistakes made by the current government the reality is that, as McDaid himself claims, a Labour/Fine Gael coalition would change very few of the current measures being employed to tackle current problems. This government should be given an opportunity to implement these policies, at which point they should be judged on how successful they have been. Most likely, a new coalition will be formed to build on whatever has been achieved and, hopefully bring Ireland out of its current woes.