Hodder Headline Ireland (2005), 448 pages
Irish History & Politics
Ruairi Quinn is on the right of the Labour Party and his autobiography Straight Left, A Journey in Politics charts his rise from student politics (where he was apparently nicknamed Ho Chi Quinn) to leader of his party. He is the currently the Minister for Education although the betting money would be on him being shuffled out of his ministerial position before the next general election. Quinn has proven to be a highly capable Minister during his times in government. He was the first Labour Minister for Finance and he succeeded in running a budget surplus, decreasing unemployment, increasing economic growth, and managing not to overheat the economy. It is interesting to speculate how Ireland’s economy have fared if Quinn been at the financial helm for a few more years. Instead some of Quinn’s successors favoured the gombeen economic policies that played a significant part in bankrupting the country.
Straight Left begins in Quinn’s childhood, continues through days as an architecture student in UCD, and covers his first steps into local politics. Quinn’s straight talking style annoys some of his critics but it is sometimes refreshing to hear a politician get angry about something he truly believes in. He pulls no punches when describing the idiosyncracies of dealing with Noël Browne in the 1970s or his dealings with the left wing of Labour (including current President Michael D. Higgins) during Mary Robinson’s successful presidential campaign. The internal workings of the merger of Labour and Democratic Left (who in turn were a splinter from The Workers’ Party who were the political wing of the Marxist Official IRA!) are also fascinating.
The faults of Straight Left are the same as virtually any other political autobiography. There is a tendency to over-emphasise your achievements and underplay your mistakes. There is also perhaps some truth in the left wing of the Labour Party’s belief that Quinn’s experiences leave him somewhat detached from the traditional working class voter. Nonetheless Straight Left is well written and an interesting read for anybody interested in Irish politics. Ruairi Quinn is now 68 and it’s debatable if he will stand in the next general election. His recent battle with the teachers’ unions (including a megaphone attack by a former Socialist Party member) have shown that Quinn can still provoke his opponents. You might not agree with Quinn’s planned reforms to the Junior Cert exams, or his suggestion that primary school teachers should pass honours maths in the Leaving Cert, or that teachers take shorter holidays, but at least you get the impression that he is working on new ideas and not simply keeping his head down until the day he can claim his ministerial pension.
Without Power or Glory – Dan Boyle of the Green Party’s account of their time in government
The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000 – Diarmaid Ferriter’s essential account of modern Ireland that covers much of Quinn’s time in the Oireachtas