Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Tribes and Chieftains Are the Only Things That Count in Irish Politics

An article in yesterday’s Irish Times made a bold prediction about a change in direction of Irish politics:

Political leaders such as Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump not only redefined what their party stood for but redrew the lines of political competition in their countries.
A Leo Varadkar leadership of Fine Gael potentially presents a similar realignment of the Irish political system in a way that none of the other declared or potential candidates at this point appears to offer.

There is an elephant in the room here, tapping its foot impatiently.

The elephant is the fact that there is no evidence to suggest that leadership or ideology matters a hill of beans in an Irish general election. There are no general elections in Ireland; there are forty-something local elections, depending on the constituency count, with a government being formed as an afterthought to those individual local wars.

Two things matter in Irish elections – tribes and chieftains. Anything else is either a bell or a whistle.

Discussing the presence of Jim O’Callaghan and Stephen Donnelly on the current Fianna Fáil front bench, the author makes a point based on “my experience in the UK.” Experience in the UK is as much in Irish politics as experience on Mars, the Red Planet. Irish elections are utterly different from British elections.

The British House of Commons has 650 seats. There are four Independents among those 650 MPs, three of whom were elected on party tickets and either resigned or lost their party whips. The only Independent elected as an Independent in the 650 constituencies is Lady Sylvia Hermon, MP for South Down.

Dáil Éireann has 158 seats currently. Fourteen of those seats were won by Independent Candidates, possibly more depending on how exactly you count them (are the Independent Alliance or Independents 4 Change “Independent”?). This is a situation unthinkable in the British system, but it is par for the course in Ireland. Ireland has a completely different way of doing things. Completely different.

Those fourteen Independents got two hundred and fifty thousand votes in the last election. The Labour Party, worried about the “face on the poster,” changed leader after the 2014 local elections and ended up with 140,000 votes, slightly better than half that of the Independents, and with less than a third of the Independents’ seats.

So the crystal clear lesson here is that it doesn’t matter if it’s Leo Varadkar’s, Simon Coveney’s or JoJo the Dog-Faced Boy’s face on the poster. Irish elections are local elections for local people. Irish governments are formed by backroom deals on “issues” like Waterford Hospital, Stepaside Garda Station and flood barriers in Athlone, and have nothing on God’s green earth to do with “liberalism, globalism, equality of opportunity, enterprise and greater personal liberty and responsibility.”

And this is exactly the way the people like it. The system is set up to reward our lesser angels, and the current crises in the HSE, the Guards and the absence of any sort of contingency planning for Brexit is the result. The boys at home get sorted no matter what, and let the country take her chances with what’s left.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Due Process, and the Dogs in the Street


Whenever someone in authority in Ireland is under pressure for perceived wrong-doing, it is the done thing for whatever flack has been sent to RTÉ to defend him or her to insist that he or she is “entitled to due process, just like any other citizen.”

Where Aughrim is lost in so many of these things is that the interviewer invariably accepts this notion. But the interviewer should not. The interviewer should instruct the flack to hold it right there, and tell the flack that the creature in question isn’t entitled to “due process, like any other citizen,” because the creature in question isn’t any other citizen.

If the creature in question were any other citizen, we wouldn’t be talking about him or her on Morning Ireland or the Six-One News or whatever. We wouldn’t give a fiddle-dee-dee what was done, by who, to whom. It would be the very least of our concerns.

The reason we’re interested in the actions of public figures is because those public figures have a considerable impact on the life and well-being of the community as a whole, and because of this, public figures must be held to a higher account than private citizens. It’s a necessary stop against corruption, jobbery, cronyism and many other evils, and God knows such a notion never caught on around here at all, at all.

Reader, have you heard that “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion?” It’s a two-thousand-year-old phrase that sums up the Romans’ attitude to people in public life. That not only must they themselves be models of probity, but those around them must be as well.

Contrast, this, then, with standards in Irish public life. For the past week, the media have been in a tailspin trying to chart who said what, to whom, and when, in regard to Garda whistleblowers and to what extent can we pin them on this. Because it’s only when pinned down that an Irish public figure will put his or her hands up and admit it’s a fair cop. Otherwise, the tradition is to say nothin’ and tough it out.

Those sagacious observers, the dogs in the street, couldn’t give an empty tin of Pedigree Chum who said what, to whom, and when. The doggies are convinced of the following facts:


  • Maurice McCabe was ballaragged scandalously, and he was not, is not, nor will he be alone in that.
  • The ballaragging didn’t happen by accident either. It’s not what you’d call an Act of God, like.
  • The doggies don’t care how much the Garda Commissioner knew or didn’t know about it.
  • The Mutt-ocracy do care that the current Garda Commissioner was brought in because of the scandal surrounding her predecessor and, rather than cleaning that up, she’s made it worse. Therefore, these debates about her stepping aside are pointless. She’s got to go. If she won’t resign, fire her and put someone else in charge, and keep firing people and appointing new ones until the screw-ups bloody stop.
  • Katherine Zappone made a career from talking about children’s rights. How ironic, then, after a children’s referendum and the setting-up of a Ministry for Children, that the only thing Tusla seem to have done is played a part in a scandalous smear campaign. Goodbye, Katherine. Thanks for nothing.
  • Frances Fitzgerald. What are you for, exactly, Frances? You’re for the door, that’s one thing we can settle straight away.
  • Enoch Powell, that Wolverhampton wanderer and former UUP MP for South Down, once remarked that all political lives end in failure. Penny for your thoughts, Taoiseach.


As for an election not solving anything, whatever about the doggies, your correspondent is willing to give it a try, just in case it does solve something. Maybe, after the clown cabinet of the past year and the horror-show currently unfolding in the United States, the parties might be in a mood to behave in a vaguely grown-up fashion this time and present their plans like adults speaking to adults, rather than the usual rhetoric of orderlies in a mental home telling those fellows who think they’re Martians that the flying saucer will be here tomorrow to take them all back home.

As for our, the electorate’s, part, let’s all try to stop believing in flying saucers and get real while there’s still a country left to save.