Irish politics would be more interesting if it were actually about politics.

Wouldn't it be nice if we had someplace dedicated to discussing politics?

Wouldn't it be nice if we had someplace dedicated to discussing politics?

I am associated with politics. My family, my work colleagues, my friends, people who read my blog all ask me about politics when they see me. Occasionally, some say to me “You know, you should run again!” That’s when I sigh, and tell them the great truth about Irish politics that people who have never been involved don’t know: People who are interested in politics rarely go into Irish politics.

Imagine the country appointed a new manager of the national football team. Imagine he was asked his (we still haven’t reached a her yet) opinion about who he thought was the greatest footballer of the last twenty years. Supposing he replied ” Don’t know. I’m not really into football.”

That’s Irish politics for you, right there. In the US, UK, in France, debates are had about the values that drive politicians. Republicans are against President Obama’s healthcare policies because it clashes with their values of individual freedom. In Britain, the Tories want to cut spending because they believe a big state restricts individual freedom. I don’t agree with either of these stances, but I can see where they come from, and more to the point, it is possible to read and watch politicians in those countries argue and debate the values that inform the actual details of their policies.

When was the last time our two largest parties actually debated their reasons to exist, what it was that they stand for? If you put the FF and FG parliamentary parties in two seperate rooms, and ask them to come up with the values they subscribe to, would there be any that weren’t interchangable? Labour is only marginally better. It does have values, but they seemed to have been last revised in the 1970s. Just watch the way Joan Burton spits out the word “profit”. The one party that has actually revised its values is Sinn Fein, and seems to be still doing it. Yes, history has forced that upon them, in that shooting protestants has fallen out of fashion, but as a party it is engaged in an internal debate about what, post armed struggle, it is for.

In fairness to the parties, it is not entirely their fault. I once discussed with a candidate why his election literature was so bland and meaningless, and he made the point that actually telling voters where he stood would alienate voters, as opposed to win them, because he felt that Irish voters vote against ideas. It’s a fair point. In the US, gunowners support the Republicans, and pro-choice activists support the Democrats because those parties support their values. Yet in Ireland trades union members vote Fianna Fail, and big business never supported the PDs. Is it any wonder that we as voters are constantly disappointed by our politicians? They haven’t a clue what we really want, because we don’t know ourselves. Most American voters class themselves, as conservatives, moderates, or liberals. Imagine asking an Irish voter to classify herself? Could she? Probably not, because, unlike Americans, whom we dismiss as being dumb, we don’t actually put any thought into our political convictions, and we’re suffering for it now.       

6 thoughts on “Irish politics would be more interesting if it were actually about politics.

  1. Even though looking under the lid was their job? They certainly appointed and paid a guy enough to do it.

  2. One way to look at government policy during the boom was that it allowed the generators of wealth (the private sector) retain a large amount of what they put in (through low taxes) whilst dispensing to the public sector a large part of state’s income (increased salaries funded by increased tax revneues). In this sense it could be said a rising tide lifted all boats for a while. The government put money aside for a rainy day (NPRF) and invested in infrastructure (new schools, motorways, train stations etc). What it did not to was look under the lid too closely with regard to the banks etc.

  3. James, I find myself defending this and previous FF governments on the basis that many of the sources of today’s problems come from policies which the Irish people actually voted for three times. For example, many of our mortgage probelms could have been prevented if the government had restricted the ability of the banks to lend to more precarious borrowers. Having said that, such a policy would have been bitterly opposed by the very members of the public that it would have now saved. I accept that.
    But where FF has failed dismally was in carrying out the duties of government. Was it reasonable to assume that the minister for finance was making sure that the last financial regulator was doing his job properly? Yes it was. Was it reasonable to assume that ministers were making sure that the public service changes were being implemented to bring about the savings to partially fund benchmarking? Yes it was. But tehy didn’t, and the 77 odd FF members of our lower house, whose constitutional duty to supervise our ministers it is, didn’t either. The government did have a mandate, which was to be paid for and to take responsibility for these duties and therefore the failings. After all, who else was in charge?

  4. Suffering for it now in what way? If we had known better we wouldn’t have elected FF, is that the subtext?

    It amazes and annoys me when people talk about the government having no mandate. The government and the Taoiseach have the mandate of the people in the last general election and they have a mandate for every piece of legislation that goes through the Dáil by a vote where they command a consistent majority of the democratically elected representatives.

    Governments are elected to govern and that is exactly what they were doing. People seem to expect an election because circumstances have changed. Were they voting for a yellow brick road or for an administration to govern them in good times and bad? I certainly voted and campaigned for the latter and anyone who did otherwise only has themselves to answer to.

  5. >>we don’t actually put any thought into our political convictions, and we’re suffering for it now.

    Excellent point. Are we plain lazy? Or do we ‘think’ we’re smart by letting others do the thinking for us? Are we being dishonest with ourselves and reneaging responsibility?

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