Consistency can become a vice

Consistency is viewed by most people as an admirable trait. You know where you stand with people who are consistent. If someone tells you one day that they’re admirers of Tyson Fury and the next that they can’t stand the big lump, you tend to dismiss that person as a flipperdygibbet.

But there’s a case for arguing the exact opposite. If on Monday your child tells you that she doesn’t have to worry about crossing the road because she’s got magical powers, her repetition of that claim on Tuesday, Wednesday and every other day of the week would be consistent but alarming.

So when Fianna Fail TD for Waterford, Mary Butler, says that its position of not dealing Sinn Féin “had been consistent from before the election”, her followers probably seize on the c-word and praise her. More detached thinking would see it as an unreasonable attitude remaining unreasonable.

And when Fine Gael TD for Meath East, Helen McEntee,  says that her party had consistently said it would not work with Sinn Féin, the consistency in question could be interpreted as a steady determination to ignore the voice of the electorate, which delivered Sinn Féin the highest number of votes of any party.

The remarks of Mary Butler and of Helen McEntee are helpful, however. They make it clear that both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael share an abiding terror that Sinn Féin may take its place at the heart of southern politics. When they say they’ve been consistent in their refusal to work with Sinn Féin, they risk the nineteenth-century judgement that Tallyrand made of the Bourbon regime: “They have forgotten nothing and they have learned nothing.”

Ten out of ten for consistency, guys. For growth in political thinking, null points.

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