What if…a Right-Wing government was elected in Ireland (part 2)

The announcement by the Ceann Comhairle that Eve Hennessy had been elected Taoiseach was met with a wave of shouts and boos from the large demonstration that nearly filled both Molesworth and Kildare Streets. The signs, announcing “#StopTheSteal” and “the election was stolen” gave a clear indication as to the views of the crowd. Ogra Shinn Fein, who made up a significant proportion of the crowd, also held up signs calling for a “republican court” to put the outgoing Taoiseach on trial for collaboration because she announced that she did in fact accept the election result as legitimate.

Outgoing Sinn Fein ministers were abused far more than incoming NDP TDs.  The outgoing FF ministers had all lost their seats to either Sinn Fein or the NDP.

The speed at which the new government moved surprised many, despite the fact that it had all been clearly telegraphed by Hennessy from the election. Over 40 pre-prepared pieces of legislation were placed before the Oireachtas despite massive protests from the opposition parties who attacked the government for “steamrollering” the parliament. Hennessy replied by extending the sitting hours of both houses.

Her new cabinet included two incoming senators she announced she would be appointing, one a well-known millionaire businessman, and the other a leading UCD scientist as Minister for Science and Technology. The first bill rushed through the house was to reduce the number of ministers of state to 10, but to allow her to appoint non-TDs to the position, an action that was surprisingly constitutional. Among her nominees were the head of the HSE so that he would be directly answerable to the Dail. Another surprise was the appointment of a well-known right-wing commentator as Minister for Animal Protection, an appointment which only surprised people who had not been paying attention. The new minister personally led Garda raids against suspected puppy farms, as well as bringing in much heavier sentences for animal cruelty.

The first hundred days was a carefully coordinated schedule of a new bill a day, with Hennessy or a minister giving a short video on Twitter explaining the purpose of the legislation. Hennessy was very public in declaring that if opposition members were constructive about crafting legislation in good will, then opposition amendments would be welcomed. The smaller parties found that she was telling the truth, whereas Sinn Fein just opposed everything.

Hennessy regularly addressed the country directly by social media, with her Twitter account becoming the most followed in Ireland. She pointed out that many bills would have a provision built into them that if they were rejected by the Supreme Court, the government would have a right to put them directly to the people as constitutional amendments.

Bills which passed included giving the minister for justice the right to reduce specific insurance awards, for juries to be informed of a defendent’s previous criminal convictions, and for a requirement for previous convictions to be considered in sentencing. Another bill permitted the government to to hire and run unused prison spaces in other countries, and to place convicted Irish prisioners in them. All three bills were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, and all three were referred to a referendum to be held in the near future.

The government also announced that it would be running a pilot Garda drone programme deploying drones with facial recognition abilities over the city as needed. Civil liberties groups condemned the policy, but footage showed the drones to be having a serious effect on moving on anti-social groups.

The minister for finance, a former dentist, announced a radical programme in the run-up to his first budget. He would host a summit in Dublin Castle where the various NGOs who received billions in taxpayer funds would be asked to publicly justify their expenditure levels, and how their rising budgets had delivered better services. He surprised many by promising that he had no intention to cut the amount spent by a cent. He would not be rising it either, and those NGOs who proved themselves more efficient in service delivery would be able to bid for the funds of other less effective NGOs.

The announcement caused an uproar and huge demonstrations by NGO groups, with some refusing to attend the summit. He pushed ahead, and the summit was an eye opener. Some of the NGOs put up a solid defence of their operations, were totally transparent in their operational costs including salaries, and faced down critics robustly. Others struggled and were indeed outraged at even being asked to participate. But the last image of the summit was the vast digital screen behind the minister showing the cumulative figures rising as each NGO added its figures. It became apparent by the close of the summit that some NGOs had nothing to fear from the next budget, whilst others were in big trouble.

Six months into the government the people went to the polls again, voting in the referendums on Insurance claim reform, sentencing reform and the right to send prisoners abroad. They also voted to elect county-level mayors who would give political instruction to the county chief executives. Each county had the right on their ballot paper to vote for “No elected mayor” as an option instead, a choice that only Cork City chose.

The majority of majors elected were either NDP or Sinn Fein, although Dublin Fingal did elect an Alphabet Left mayor. The three referendums passed narrowly.

The government’s first budget did not disappoint its supporters nor avoid sending its opponents into hysterics. As promised, the government held spending increases to 1% above inflation, and delivered tax rebate cheques across the country, with a three week period with which taxpayers could return them to the Revenue to be added to general taxation revenue. Some 12% of cheques were returned, with data showing they came from upper middle class areas in Dublin, Cork and Galway that dovetailed nicely with where the Labour party’s modest first preference vote was located. An attack on the policy by the leader of the Labour party was replied by the Taoiseach asking her could she not have just given her windfall to her butler instead?

The new minister for defence, a former independent TD with a strong military background, announced that whilst there would not be substantial increases in defence spending that year, there would be next year, and he outlined the following actions by the new government. A national internal security service (some wags deemed it CIUNAS) would be set up, and the state would be making substantial investments in its ability to patrol and defend it seas, both above and below the surface. He also announced that the state would open negotiations with France to base French fighters in Shannon as the beginning of a process to train Irish pilots for eventual air defence capabilities. A number of French Rafales would be leased for training purposes. Sinn Fein attacked him on the proposals, and his reply that he was not surprised that “the deputy for Thames House” was opposed to “us finally taking our airspace back off the British” resulted in the chamber having to be cleared by the Ceann Comhairle.

Eighteen months into office, Hennessy went online to announce that Ireland would be joining a number of EU countries in supporting the creation of an EU refugee safezone in North Africa.

She was pro-immigration, she said. Many immigrants have made a major contribution to this country, and one can be Irish not by being born here but by regarding Ireland as your home. But it must be pro-managed immigration, and in an age of mass migration caused by climate change it is simply no longer viable for countries to be open to anyone even with a legitimate reason. Therefore, it shall be the policy of Ireland to set a specific and generous number of refugees every year, and to guarantee a decent standard of living to those refugees. Direct provision shall be replaced with purpose built facilities designed to educate and integrate refugees into Ireland. Ireland shall not accept more than that set quota in that year. I understand that this is a controversial policy and therefore I propose that all New Democrat TDs shall have a free vote on the matter.

Finally, the left declared, the far-right mask slips. There was a giddiness at the government openly addressing immigration policy. Significant anti-NDP demonstrations, which were a weekly occurrence, took place outside Leinster House. But the media were quick to point out that the main opposition party were curiously silent on the matter. The reason was no surprise: polls were showing that Sinn Fein’s core base was by far the most anti-immigrant group in the country, and the NDP’s campaign of holding public meetings in SF strongholds on the issue was causing problems within the party.

At the same time Hennessy, aware that her own party had a considerable liberal base, moved quickly against the hard-right. An executive order (an American device she had started using which, whilst having no legal basis, was useful for declaring government priorities) was issued to the Garda Commissioner, Director of the new national security service Sciath and the minister for justice to clamp down on the far-right and anti-immigrant elements in the country. Arrests of Russian-backed far-right elements soon followed. The NDP’s very considerable social media operation was very quick to communicate how the far-right hated her for mocking their Great Replacement theories, welcoming the return of the Israeli embassy, firm anti-Russian and pro-Ukrainian positions and solid pro-Europeanism. Her stylish elegance in particular seemed to upset the Incels, who were quick to denounce her for being sexually available and yet not sleeping with them at the same time.

The day of the vote was one of high drama as the NDP was very quick to identify and publicize every Sinn Fein TD who voted against the policy. To the surprise of many, the former Sinn Fein Taoiseach who had been ousted came out clearly against the policy, and advocated an open and generous refugee policy. She accepted that many Sinn Fein voters would not like what she had to say, but this was a matter of conscience and she was voting that way. On the final count, two thirds of Sinn Fein TDs voted against the new policy, and a third of NDP TDs voted against, with the policy just narrowly rejected. Hennessy graciously acknowledged the defeat. She then announced that the government would instead put the policy in a referendum on the same day as the next general election.

The launch of the MyRepublic app was a cornerstone of the government’s reforms. The app would allow every citizen to determine and apply for any government service, payment or grant they were entitled to. It would also tell every individual citizen exactly how much they contributed to the state in taxes, and what they received, and the information would be available to all in real-time though anonymized data. It would pay tax credits and rebates direct to bank accounts, and even inform citizens of payments they were eligible for but not receiving. It would also cut down on fraud, as it required biometric data.

Sinn Fein immediately launched an attack on it as a Big Brother tracking device, but Hennessy refused to back down, because she was well aware as to why SF were really against it: it would allow the party’s welfare base to get its payments without the party’s TDs acting as de facto brokers. Yet again another huge demonstration surrounded Leinster House and yet again the polls showed an almost equal division on the policy.

It was at this point that Hennessy as the Sinn Fein leader to a private meeting in her office, to put a simple question. The government was considering proposing electoral reform, and switching to a form of the New Zealand electoral system. It would mean that 100 seats would be elected as single seat constituencies by Single Transferable Vote, with the remaining 70 filled by a party list system with seats allocated proportionately to every party that gets more that 5% of the vote. She also wanted to reform the Seanad by letting every single voter select a vocational panel to affiliate to. Her question was this: she would not proceed unless Sinn Fein would support both in the referendum.

The SF’s leader’s gut reaction was to reject both out of hand. He was considerably to the left of Hennessy and despised her government. But he was not an idiot: such a reform would cement the two party system, with nearly all the single seats almost certainly going to SF or the NDP. He asked for time to discuss it with colleagues.

If there was one star of the government aside from Hennessy, it was her finance minister whose fiscal policies were receiving praise internationally. As part of his reforms, he had insisted that government departments and agencies prepare their budgets not from an existing sum plus extra basis, but from a zero sum basis, justifying the outcome of every cent. Such an approach was very detailed but quickly revealed large amounts of spending that simply were difficult to justify, such as buying levels of supply because they had always been bought, regardless of usage. He allowed the more progressive civil servants (and there were many) to make a pitch for redirecting wasted spending towards other areas in their departments where they could justify it. He even allowed a reward scheme where a percentage of money saved was paid in bonuses to those civil servants who identified the saving.

The election of Senator PJ Okono as the new leader of Fianna Fail was not much of a surprise. Born in Nigeria, Okono had moved with his parents to Galway at the age of three and had become a local celebrity. He became a local GAA star, played for the county, established a successful local business and switched easily between Irish, English and a number of Nigerian dialects. He topped the poll in the first local election he contested, and it certainly didn’t do him any harm that he had the build and looks of a young Idris Elba. He was also a talented speaker, and within weeks of entering Seanad Eireann the move was on in FF to replace the barely functioning cadaver than currently led the party with Okono. As the 2034 local elections approached, Okono moved quickly, pulling Fianna Fail, Labour, the Greens and the Social Democrats into a detailed pact agreeing candidates and a common statement of values, and a third way between SF and the NDP. The Progressive Front started to moved in the polls.

As the local elections approached, SF found themselves facing challenges. The fact that Sinn Fein controlled half the elected mayors in the country meant that SF mayors had a record that had to be defended. Hennessy’s local government reforms had given mayors 100% control over property taxes and commercial rates, but also local budgets. A cut in LPT Revenue was automatically deducted from local services unless the mayor could find an alternative cut. As well as that, every household (through the MyRepublic app) received its LPT bill with the name, face and party of the mayor who set the rate clearly on it. Both SF and NDP mayors were having to spend as much time defending their records as attacking each other, which had been Hennessy’s plan. There were also striking differences in how different counties were being run. Some NDP counties had sharp cuts in commercial rates, and advertised as much, bringing in new startups. Dublin Fingal (or East Caracas as some in the media called it following it’s twinning with the Venezuelan capital and the opening of a taxpayer funded Dublin Fingal “Embassy” there.) had its commercial rates massively increased by its Alphabet Left mayor which had resulted in many businesses closing and relocating. She had also abolished local property tax which had sent house prices soaring as rich people bought homes there whilst keeping their business elsewhere. She was currently involved in a fight with the local Gardai over their refusal to physically prevent businesses from leaving the county. #BuildtheFingalWall became a popular pisstake.

Mayors were becoming the new political celebrities on account of the good ones showing innovation. The SF mayor of Cork county (the city still had a Dublin appointed manager, being the only area to vote against local control), a former Cork South Central TD, turned out to be imaginative and good at building a coalition between business and the unions. The NDP mayor of Leitrim created a world famous literary festival in the county, even giving grants to open small bookshops and turning the county into a global tourist destination for booklovers.

After studying the polls, Hennessy decided to pull a Mary Lou and call the general election early for the same day as the local and European elections. She also announced that a referendum on the new immigration policy would be held on the same day.

Okono delivered a blistering reply at the launch of the Progressive Front campaign. The ragtag elements of what was left of Fianna Fail were thrilled to be in such a crowded room full of young people of all colours and creeds. It was a real novelty not to be shouted at.

“We know what Eve is doing here. This is classic Karl Rove, putting a hot emotional button issue on the ballot in the hope of stirring up an anti-immigrant vote. Well, let me be clear. Sinn Fein may wobble on this, but we in the Progressive Front will not. We will not deny anyone who claims asylum here. No one. If you do not like that, I respect that, and you can vote elsewhere, but it is time that Irish politicians speak clearly and honestly about what they believe, not pander in the hope of offending no one. My name is PJ Okono, I am a proud Irishman, and I am proud to give others the opportunity, no, the privilege, of becoming part of our great nation.”

The following week Vogue asked, with Hennessy and Okono on its front cover: “When did Irish politicians suddenly become so hot?”

The Guardian announced it was opening a permanent office in Dublin.

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