New Politics is a disaster and is damaging not just Irish politics, but almost certainly Irish democracy too, writes Donal O’Keeffe.
There is an uncomfortable truth to the Bonzos’ cynical summation of the democratic process. That truth struck me last year, and I suspect it struck many other Irish voters too, when the outgoing Fine Gael-led coalition was handed – unambiguously – by the electorate its walking papers and yet we still somehow ended up with a new Fine Gael minority government.
In a country where kicking to touch is our national sport, the Civil War parties looked at the numbers, decided that they couldn’t possibly have a grand coalition or another election and instead settled on the confidence-and-supply arrangement which allows Fine Gael to pretend it’s in power and allows Fianna Fáil to pretend it’s in opposition.
And they called it ‘New Politics’.
This deal kicks to touch the very business of government until such time as Fianna Fáil thinks it has a chance of getting a better result. (As Michael Lookit Fitzmaurice TD memorably classified it, “A chicken watched over by a fox”.).
In the meantime, the Irish people get a government and a parliament in utter paralysis, with little or no legislation passed and a catalogue of crises – health, mental health, homelessness, Brexit and all the others – long-fingered indefinitely.
Anything, of course, rather than answer the difficult question at the heart of Irish politics: What exactly is the difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael? And why, exactly, aren’t they the same party or at least in coalition?
Watching the handbags over the appointment of former Attorney General Maire Whelan as a new judge, I was struck that Micheál Martin’s aggrieved attitude answered those questions.
Martin might as well have straight-out whined at new Taoiseach Varadkar that the difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is supposed to be that Fianna Fáil gets to pull strokes and Fine Gael gets to be morally superior.
Clearly, outgoing Taoiseach Enda Kenny left incoming Taoiseach Leo Varadkar what Fianna Fáil Senator Martin Conway called “a political stink bomb”, but Varadkar easily won the Dáil set-piece when the Fianna Fáil leader huffed and puffed and the new Taoiseach just sniffed that if Micheál felt that strongly about it, sure he might as well blow the House down.
Bloodying Fianna Fáil’s nose may very well hasten the next election, of course, but it will also play well with the Fine Gael party membership, two thirds of which wanted Simon Coveney for their leader, but had to accept Varadkar in what was clearly a win for the Haves over the Have Yachts.
Fianna Fáil has made a lot of noise about trust being broken, and the former Endapendents are making noise too, with Shane Ross muttering belatedly. Lord Ross, Ireland’s most voluble champion of judicial reform, was presumably distracted until now by the news that this Government will address the single most important security issue affecting our island nation and re-open Stepaside Garda station, bringing law and order at last to the mean streets of Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown.
New Politics is taking its toll too on the bits of the opposition not in effective coalition with FG, all sound and fury and signifying increasingly nothing.
Whither now the Labour Party? Well, the party of James Connolly is busy implementing its extinction agenda, gamely telling you that you’re remembering Austerity wrong and anyway, it would have been a lot worse if not for Labour holding back the Blueshirts a bit and going into government was nothing to do with topping up ministerial pensions and it’s a cheap shot to even mention ministerial pensions.
Who else? Well, there’s only so much of the polished outrage of Sinn Fein that anyone can take seriously, or the megaphone populist anger of the far left, or the sad, well-meaning irrelevance of the Green Party, which once propped up the single worst government in the history of the State and for selling its soul, didn’t even manage to secure climate change legislation.
Who am I forgetting? Oh yes, the Social Democrats. That’s okay, they’re down now to two finalists for the title of the Social Democrat.
The talk has got louder and angrier in the talking shop that is the 32nd Dáil, but there’s no disguising that a talking shop it is. New Politics is making Irish politics less and less relevant and we can see from our two nearest neighbours why that is a very dangerous thing.
Turnout at last year’s general election was 65%. A third of us couldn’t be bothered to vote. Those of us who did vote can look at what we got and shake our heads.
These are dangerous times for democracy. New Politics isn’t helping here.
The next time Leo invites Micheál to bring down the House, Micheál should call his bluff and let the cards fall where they may.
UNWANTED ADVICE FROM THE GHOST OF RENUA
I see on Twitter the ghost of Renua Ireland is represented now by a policy director called Gary Kavanagh, a lad whose pastime seems to be trolling the #RepealThe8th hashtag on Twitter. I suppose it’s fitting that a man from a self-described ‘anti-abortion’ imaginary political party is offering women the unsolicited advice to basically be less shrill if they want to repeal the 8th Amendment, when of course the last thing he wants is repeal.
Keep it down, there, ladies.
It seems to me that if telling women to shut up was the sort of advice that might actually help pass an amendment which would give Irish women control over their own bodies, then that would surely be precisely the one time that those who feel Irish women shouldn’t have control over their own bodies would stop telling women to shut up.
Ireland’s new Taoiseach took to the stage at Dublin’s Pride 2017 march on Saturday. It wasn’t Leo Varadkar’s first Pride, but it was his first as Taoiseach and he is the first Taoiseach to attend Pride.
“I don’t think I have in any way changed things for you,” he told the crowd. “I think all of you, and all of you who are part of this great movement, you have changed things for me.”
To tell the truth, I really don’t like the man’s politics, and I think his demonising of the unemployed just to appeal to the Blueshirts’ Hang ‘Em And Flog ‘Em wing was utterly shameful, but there’s a symbolism, I think, to a gay man being Taoiseach and his sexuality being really no more remarkable to most of us than that of his predecessor. (Nice lycra, Enda.)
We’ve a long way to go before all Irish citizens – and those of us who are not citizens but who instead languish here in warehouses – are truly equal, not least when twelve of us a day are exiled because of the 8th Amendment, but fair play for taking the stage, Leo, and fair play for saying that you’ll press for marriage equality in the North.
We’ll keep you to your word, Taoiseach.