Thursday, October 23, 2014

We Have Learned Nothing in Irish Politics

First published in the Western People on Monday.

I, for one, welcome our new overlord.
The analysis of the by-election results in Dublin South-West and Roscommon South-Leitrim has focused heavily on how voters are turning away from the major Irish political parties. This was especially obvious in Dublin South-West, where Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour managed just 26% of the vote between them.

To put that in perspective, there has never been a government in the history of the state that hasn’t featured at least one of those parties in its makeup, and now they can only manage one vote in four between the three of them.

Why the public are so disillusioned is certainly due to a combination of reasons, one of which seems under-discussed in the national media. Could the disconnect between the mainstream political parties and the mainstream of Irish political life have arisen because the mainstream political parties have treated the electorate like fools since the crash, if not before?

For instance: during the end of the bailout debate in the Dáil last year, the majority of speakers made a point of commending the Ballyhea Says No Protest.

Ballyhea is a village in County Cork. Every Sunday without fail since March 6th, 2011, a group of locals have held a protest against the bank bailout.

There is a better chance of the GAA stripping Kerry of this year’s All-Ireland title and awarding it to Mayo in apology for events in Limerick than there is of the Ballyhea Says No protest group doing anything other than getting colds now that the weather has got chilly again. The Ballyhea protest is an attempt to get toothpaste back into the tube or water to flow uphill. The world doesn’t work like that. It just doesn’t.

Ballyhea says it’s not our debt. Of course it’s our debt. If it weren’t our debt, we wouldn’t be bloody paying for it, would we? This is how the world works.

Does anybody stand up and say this in the Dáil? No, they don’t. If the people were told that the milk is spilled and is now gone, never to come back, could they deal with it? Of course they could. Milk gets spilled all the time and the world doesn’t end. The world carries on just the same. But the Irish political establishment doesn’t trust the Irish electorate to come to terms with that.

Whether they were right or wrong, whether they were had their arms twisted or they were just thick, the government that signed the bank guarantee were fully mandated by the people to sign that guarantee. That’s what representative government is.

The sovereign people elect representatives to make decisions on the sovereign people’s behalf. If the government screws it up, it’s partly the fault of the sovereign people who elected them in the first place.

This isn’t news. This principle goes back to the Ancient Greeks, before the birth of Christ. There is nothing novel in this.

But representative democracy can do something that toothpaste-back-in-tube movements can’t do. They elect someone else. And that is what the voters in the two by-elections are clearly eager to do.

That is what they did the last time, but they were sold a pup. The people remain eager to get what they voted for, and so we get the voting patterns in the recent by-elections. The sad thing for the country, though, is that the new dispensation is just as likely to be a mutt as the last.

Michael Fitzmaurice, the new TD for Roscommon South Leitrim, seems a good and honest man. The type of man on whom you can rely to help you when you need it and pretend after that he did nothing at all. In the case of Roscommon South-Leitrim, the man’s own decency and likeability may have had as much to do with his victory as anything else.

But the reality is that he’s just one man. One man can’t govern. To govern, you need to form alliances, and how many Michael Fitzmaurices are there in the Dáil? The Independents dream of some sort of we’re-all-Independent-together faction in the next Dáil, but where is the common ground between Shane Ross, Michael Fitzmaurice and Michael Lowry? The gap is too big to bridge.

And then you have the socialists. Paul Murphy, Joe Higgins, Clare Daly and Joan Collins were all in the Socialist Party once. Presuming that the Anti-Austerity Alliance isn’t one and the same with the Socialist Party, the four of them are now in four different parties, even though they all agree with each other on policy.

They all agree, and they can’t get on. They won’t be forming any government, or if they do, it’ll probably have broken down in the time it takes them to go the Phoenix Park to get their seals of office from the President.

Besides. The establishment parties aren’t alone in not being entirely upfront with the electorate. Paul Murphy was elected in Dublin South-West because he is anti-water charge. Most people who voted for him won’t be liable for water charges in the first place. There are places in Dublin South-West that are so deprived, so far removed from mainstream life, that even to drive through them feels like having crossed into another country.

If there were honest politics in this country, the only issue on the doorsteps in areas like Jobstown and Cherry Orchard should be that candidates would move Heaven and Earth to keep children in school and on the straight and narrow. Dysfunctional though the adults’ lives may be, if it can be brought through to them that it may be possible to save the children from perpetuating the cycle, that would a treble victory for the people, the community and the nation.

What did we get instead? Extraordinary placards that beseeched us to stick our water meters up our bottoms. Not quite Meagher’s speech from the dock.

So here we are. Faith is lost in the establishment parties. The only people to rally to Lucinda Creighton’s flag were those who had nowhere else to go. The alternative parties hope to get their chance but, if their slogans are a guide, it’s hard not to think of the men to whom WB Yeats referred in The Fisherman one hundred and one years ago – “no knave brought to book / Who has won a drunker cheer.”

There are no leaders here. The country continues to go around and around in pointless, hopeless circles.

Forgive us, Frau Merkel. Come back to Erin, Mr Chopra. We promise to be nicer to you than those beastly Scots, Mr Cameron. Please. Somebody take us in. We just can’t make it on our own.