I recently had lunch with a number of people, one of whom was a Chinese citizen. During the discussion, we compared the western system of government with the one party state in China, and I was interested to hear my Irish compatriots lambast democracy and suggest that the Chinese system was the best way of “getting things done”. When I suggested that that included murdering millions of your own citizens, the answer given in reply, by both the Irish and Chinese, was that such a thing would not happen if “the right person” was in charge. I then asked my Irish friends to name which Irish citizen they would happily give total power to, including the power to confiscate property and order executions. They couldn’t name one, although they were vehemently opposed to any of the prominent Irish name I suggested.
I mention this conversation because it is becoming fashionable to dismiss democracy as a failed concept in recent times, indeed for people to suggest that we don’t actually live in a democracy anyway. Curiously, when you press people on this, it nearly always comes down to a vague observation based on their own personal circumstances: “The government is raising taxes and cutting spending, so it’s not democratic!” There is also a tendency to dismiss the EU, and other EU countries, as undemocratic because they won’t bend the will of their 500 million citizens to suit the demands of our 4.2 million.
It’s not helped by the fact that the Irish in particular have a permanent victim status affixed at birth, a national feeling that we are never in control of our destiny but the unwitting victim of the Vikings, the Brits, the EU, the bond markets, always some other power. Even within our own country there is a constant belief that a golden circle or clique actually runs the country for its own benefit. “But it’s true!” come the protests, the same people who then go into the polling booth and vote for the same parties that supposedly prop up this scenario. Bear in mind that since independence in 1921, the Irish people have never EVER given the largest number of seats to the most radical (by Irish standards) of the three main parties, the Labour Party, never mind Sinn Fein or the assorted non-sectarian, non-violent left wing parties that have been on the ballot since the 1970s.
The problem is not that Ireland is not a democracy. The problem is that the Irish people keep electing a parliament that actually looks like them, and they don’t like what they see.