Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics

Noel Dempsey: Why good people don’t go into politics.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 26, 2010 in Irish Politics

Dempsey: Good, decent, and powerless.

Dempsey: Good, decent, and powerless.

Excellent piece by Noel Whelan here on the disgraceful, shameful cop-out that is the joint Oireachtas committee report on electoral reform. Just think, in Britain they decided in May, have announced the wording this week, and will have referendum in May 2011 on electoral reform. Meanwhile in Ireland we get yet another long finger operation by people we apparently pay to make decisions.

But Noel Whelan raises a bigger point, and it was brought home to me recently at a dinner with political activists. They have all given up and pretty much quit politics. I put the usual argument that is always put to me, and the response was interesting. I said “Surely, you have to be in the system to change it?” The response? “Look at Noel Dempsey. He got to the cabinet with radical ideas on political reform. He got to the cabinet! Higher than most activists ever dream of getting, and yet he is paralysed, can’t do a damn thing on political reform.” It’s a fair point because Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour are one party when it comes to this issue.

One activist made the saddest but most succinct observation I’ve heard in a while, when he told me that he had pretty much a limited amount of time in his life and so why waste it in a political system impervious to change?

Supposing you found a candidate who was committed to political change. Supposing you even helped get them elected. Then what happens? At worst they do a George Lee. At best they become Noel Dempsey.

A plastic bag tax. Have you really got nothing better to do with your time?

It’s easy to say I’m a cynic, but I’m not. Tears rolled down my cheeks when Barack Obama was elected (and I wasn’t alone in that, by the way) but is this country’s politics worth the same committment? Will tears run down anyone’s cheeks when Enda is elected Taoiseach, other than those who have a direct interest in his election? 

The truth is, Irish politics is now the preserve of the “this is quite a good job” crowd. They’ve pretty much won, and the people who give a damn are walking off the pitch looking for another forum in which to do something useful with their lives.

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