In an interview with RTÉ’s Raidió na Gaeltachta over the weekend former Tánaiste Mary Coughlan declined to rule out a return to politics. Translation – I want back into politics and I’m testing the water to see how pissed off people still are with me.
Sweary lost her Donegal South West seat in the Dáil as one of the highest profile victims of Fianna Fáil’s wipe-out in the 2011 General Election. The news that Sweary is about to make a return politics will be no surprise the average political loon. The former TD received a rousing reception from the Fianna Fáil faithful at a meeting in the Highlands Hotel last year and it is a serious possibility she will be on the Fianna Fáil ticket for the new Donegal five seater constituency at the next general election.
Sweary Mary told RTÉ’s Raidió na Gaeltachta, “I was under huge pressure everywhere I went. It was a herd mentality, and they took a lot of what I said out of context. ”
Let’s have a look at some of that context.
Between 2002 – 2011 the former Tánaiste held numerous positions in the cabinet. She was Minister for Social and Family Affairs 2002-2004. Minister for agriculture, fisheries and food 2004-2008. Following Bertie Ahern’s resignation in May 2008, Coughlan, in a cabinet re-shuffle, became Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Following another reshuffle in March 2010, she was transferred to the newly named Department of Education and Skills, retaining the position of Tánaiste. She was also briefly minister for health during the latter months of Cowen’s government following the resignation of Mary Harney.
The former Tánaiste was a political journalist wet dream, she earned numerous derogatory monikers, Sweary Mary, Typhoid Mary, Calamity Coughlan and blunder woman. Only Micheal McDowell has earned more nicknames.
As minister in the department of Social and Family Affairs Coughlan was responsible for inserting into legislation a definition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman, all because a gay pensioner successfully petitioned the Equality Authority to allow his male partner to travel as his ‘spouse’ using the pensioner’s travel pass. You’d think politicians would know by now never to cross a pensioner, gay or otherwise.
Not happy with bringing in discriminatory legislation. Two months later, Coughlan told a European Union conference on family and social policy that Ireland would never be ready for same-sex marriage or gay adoption. She probably meant Fianna Fáil would never be ready for it. Apart from two or three senators, one suspects for political expediency. Fianna Fáil have turned a corner on the issue and will support same sex marriage.
During her tenure as Minster for fishes, food and keeping farmers happy, (a thankless job). The country’s last two remaining sugar factories closed. As sugar beet growers now had nowhere to sell their beet, cultivation of the crop ceased in Ireland. In fairness, it was a heavily subsidised industry and was the right thing to do at the time.
She was also responsible for implementing measures to deal with the threat of the potential spread of foot-and-mouth disease from Britain. Which she handled quite well. Alas in later ministries our Donegal heroine succumbed to the often fatal – political foot in mouth disease. In a rare case of her not getting in trouble for speaking her mind, she told a farmer to “fuck off” while on the 2007 campaign trail.
As Minister for Enterprise, Trade and employment people really began to question the wisdom of having Coughlan as Cowen’s back up should anything have befallen him.
During the Lisbon Treaty debate Coughlan said larger European states have more than one European Commissioner. In fact, the bigger states lost their second places on the Commission in 2004. It could have been worse I suppose, she could have said that she did not read the treaty, like Brian Cowen said.
Coughlan really upped her gaffes a notch and confused leaving cert biology and physics students everywhere when she said the IDA would be marketing Ireland as the innovation Island – “like Einstein explaining his theory of evolution”. She made the remarks when speaking at an IDA ‘Innovation Ireland’ launch on the “smart economy”. The Smart economy never recovered from that blow, and neither did her standing with the IDA.
In the same week in an Irish language interview, she referred to her coalition partners in Government the Green Party as “Na Glasrai”. That’s – the vegetables, to you and me and the other 90% of the population who don’t have Irish as their first language.
In a row over medical cards, she said “Of the savings of €100 million, 86 million is for GPs and €30 million is for pharmacists”.
She also famously claimed “There will be no supplementary budget” – five days before the announcement of Eh, an emergency supplementary Budget.
“The public finances are under control” – she uttered in the same interview. In her defence, Cowen and Lenny had a habit of treating the rest of the cabinet like mushrooms filling them with shite and keeping in the dark.
Probably the most damning criticism came from John McGuinness, Fianna Fáil TD for Carlow-Kilkenny and current chairman of the public accounts committee. He criticised Coughlan saying “She’s not equipped to deal with the complex issues of dealing with enterprise and business within the department. And neither is the department”. Ouch.
It should be noted that McGuinness’ credibility (stop rolling your eyes) was subsequently undermined when it was revealed that he had hired external public relations advice in an effort to undermine Coughlan and enhance his own profile as a Minister of State within her Department. He ended up getting sack anyway from his department anyway.
So, how’s that for context Mary? More importantly can she get on the ticket and win a seat?
The short answer is yes to both. The other candidate expected to run for Fianna Fáil in the new 5 Seater Donegal constituency is Senator Brian O Domhnaill. But Senator O Domhnaill is being investigated by SIPO for allegedly fiddling his expenses. The SIPO action relates to an investigation concerning travel and subsistence claims made by Brains O Domhnaill between 2006 and 2007, when he was a member of Donegal County Council. He is currently in the high court arguing to have his case heard in Irish by people who are bilingual, because it infringes on his human rights if he can’t have his case heard in Irish. Not content with having the physical appearance of a jockey he is certainly trying to prove has the bollocks of one also. If SIPO finds adversely against him, he can kiss good-bye to a general election outing. Adverse findings made by against you even by the toothless SIPO are frowned upon these days.
Sweary’s other main obstacle to getting on the Fianna Fáil ticket comes from the impressive vote getter Pat “the Cope” Gallagher who has indicated he might also run in the next general election. Pat has contested eight general elections, three European elections since 1981 and has been elected on every occasion.
Sinn Féin will take two seats in Donegal, with one seat each going to Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and the last seat up for grabs between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Thomas Pringle.
Ultimately this is Fianna Fails worst electoral nightmare. Micheal Martin is trying to make a clean break with the calamitous past, (even if he was a cabinet minister for fourteen years himself) while a former proven vote getter that stands a good chance of getting re elected might want back in. It’s hard to argue the case for a Fianna Fáil nua if someone with Mary Coughlan’s tainted past is allowed to make a comeback.
If Sweary decides not to make a come back she always has her lump sum of €237,000 she received when she lost her seat and her annual pension of €140,000 to keep her warm at night.