I have in my gut a festering fear about Irish democracy. It’s a simple one, and it’s that many, possibly most Irish voters are hard-wired to be permanently discontent with their government. That our politicians are forever failing our voters because our voters don’t actually know what it is that would make them actually satisfied, or even partially satisfied, with their government.
Yes, I know how patronising it sounds. It’s not an indictment of voter intelligence, by the way. It’s a mixture of the consumer society we live in, where The Next Thing is always what we crave, and the permeation of our political system by marketing techniques that promise an emotional satisfaction that politicians simply cannot deliver.
Some politicians, that is. The decent ones who are genuinely trying to do their best for the society they represent. There are politicans who do emotionally satisfy their followers, of course. President Trump does, so does President Erdogan, and Prime Minister Orban. Partially by delivery, but primarily by keeping alive the fear of The Other that keeps their supporters always emotionally aroused. Protecting one from Them always delivers an emotional satisfaction of sorts
Irish politicians are perpetually over-promising, campaigning on such vague pledged outcomes that they can never deliver in the minds of many of their voters. Fine Gael (and Labour) from 2011-2020 turned the economy around, created thousands of jobs and through those jobs (something often forgotten) created the tax revenue that funds billions and billions in social welfare, housing and healthcare. Both were punished at the subsequent ballots for lying, which both did on water and property taxes, and also for not meeting the emotional promises they made.
Ah, but what about housing and healthcare? We all know that they are the defining issues, and they have failed to deliver. That’s correct. A&E on a Saturday night feels like a different country, not the rich Ireland of Silicon Quay or Terminal 2 sweeping new motorways but a failing country where nothing seems to work.
That’s the crux of the question though. We are being told that this was a change election, but was it? President Macron in France is currently suffering unpopularity from the reality that French voters have paradoxically demanded change without change. Is it possible that the fear from most Irish governing parties up to this point is that Irish voters are not much different from their French counterparts. Yes, they say they want change, right up to the moment you attempt to implement it, and then they turn on you. Change yes, but not THAT change.
They demand radical changes to Healthcare, but will they side with a reforming government against public sector unions and their families who oppose change except in an increased pay-packet?
Will they support a reforming government building much needed new housing actually on their street?
That’s the problem right there. Irish ministers of all political colours have proven themselves incapable of actually rallying voters to them when they attempt unpopular but unnecessary change. Why is that?
One reason is certainly a combination of lack of belief and imagination that they can actually deliver. Ministers who promise that closing small rural hospitals will be accompanied by air ambulances to rapidly transport patients then look like guppy fish when asked where are the actual air ambulances?
Our leaders need to take risks and show a bit of imagination. Want to close a small rural hospital? Grand. Before you do it, land a dozen brand new fully-crewed fully-operational shiny air ambulances in the old hospital car park, and offer the locals a lift there and then to the replacement regional hospital. Then maybe they might believe you.
Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are at a combined 42% in first preference support, which is what FF alone got in 2007. It’s fair to say the days of caution and inertia, of fearing to displease anybody and therefore please nobody are coming to a close. It’s time to take risks for change.