It’s our party and we’ll cry if we want to
It’s our party and we’ll cry if we want to


By Gene Kerrigan (for the Independent)

The two biggest right-wing parties have wasted weeks staging meaningless talks that can’t lead to anything. Panic? Indecision? I don’t think so.

The figures are irrefutable. The only prospect for stable government is, unfortunately, a coalition of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

Every day that passes without a decisive move increases political instability. And they casually reveal that they expect to continue in this way for perhaps eight more weeks.

It’s almost as though someone was trying to build a mood of frustration.

It may help if we consider an incident that occurred on the day after the election, as the results came in. On RTE, Pat Rabbitte of Labour and Roisin Shortall of the Social Democrats were commenting on results. They had been colleagues in government, then Shortall resigned.

Shortall now said Labour was being paid back for a series of budgets that hammered people on low incomes.

It was a devastating personal take-down.

Shortall, he said, had been in office for three of those budgets. Then she quit. The damning conclusion was inescapable - she had stood over government policy year after year. Then, with an election approaching, she hypocritically and opportunistically quit. Unlike her brave colleagues, she refused to take responsibility for her actions.

Trouble is, it wasn’t true. Shortall was in office for one budget, then she resigned. She told Rabbitte that.

Rabbitte just sat there, lips pursed, scowl on his face - a massive knot of self-righteousness.

He did not lie. No politician tells a lie so easily refuted.

He believed what he said.

Some human defence mechanism had drastically rewritten events in Rabbitte’s mind to justify his position. It was as though he could no longer distinguish the truth from what he needed the truth to be. He was the good guy, she was the bad gal.

That same self-righteousness underlies the behaviour of the caretaker government.

In their own minds, they are the good guys. They and Fianna Fail - by whatever dodgy manoeuvre - must maintain total control of the Dail.

Not just control of government - total control of the Dail.

The collapse of Labour isn’t a disaster just for Joan Burton. It’s a disaster also for Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

Consider this. From 1932, FF and FG had total control of the Dail. FF could usually rule alone. When necessary, Labour could be relied on to prop up FG.

One right-wing party controlled government, the other controlled the opposition.

Their differences were personal, tribal, stylistic, matters of detail - the differences existing within any large party.

Essentially, we had one-party government, comprising two wings of the same party.

From this stagnancy came a society riddled with corruption. FF didn’t bother disguising its relationship with big money. Haughey openly enjoyed the fruits of his misconduct. In the 1990s, while in office, FG’s party coffers went from debt to surplus in jig time.

For decades, at local level, the brown envelopes were flying.

In recent years, there emerged a significant bloc of voters lacking the tribal loyalties of the civil-war parties. They want effective, honest government and they’re not pushed about who provides it. Left, Right, Fine Gael, Sinn Fein, Enda or Boyd Barrett. They want what works and they’re intolerant of the gobshitery that over decades became institutionalised.

The old politics still has a grip on half the electorate, but it’s a dying demographic.

FF, and particularly FG, are indignant in their response to this.

The media too has yet to catch up. Consider the Rabbitte/Shortall confrontation. It was Miriam O’Callaghan’s job to go back to Rabbitte, to invite him to withdraw the damaging remarks RTE broadcast, perhaps to apologise.

Instead, she murmured something about how sad it was to see former colleagues at odds. It was almost as though Miriam is already President and was trying to build bridges.

Implicit in this was a failure to understand that the divisions in Irish politics have shifted. It wasn’t a spat between old colleagues, it’s a widening gap between the past and the future.

Similarly, the media approached the election as a contest between the old firms, with some outsiders allowed to provide colour.

Any suggestion that such outsiders might have a democratic role to play is ruthlessly dismissed. It’s as though the media don’t consider them real politicians, like Willie O’Dea and Michael Ring and Ged Nash.

The 2011 election broke FF’s grip. Fine Gael believed its day had come. The 2016 election broke FG’s grip.

For the first time in the history of the State, the biggest right-wing parties - while still dominating the government benches - don’t have enough support to dominate the opposition too.

For the first time in the history of the State, there is room for a varied opposition to grow that will test the policies of the Right. An opposition that isn’t confined to nitpicking and claiming they would be able to better implement the same policies.

It is this development that has caused FF and FG to seek any other outcome.

Yes, they fear Sinn Fein will be the largest party in opposition - but that’s how the votes fell.

Yes, they’ll have trouble selling the new reality to an ard fheis, but that’s called leadership.

There’s still a belief that all of this is just temporary - if they can waste enough time and if the voters can be scared enough or frustrated enough, things will go back to the old familiar politics.

And of course, it could happen.

In the meantime, they’re falling over themselves promising “political reform”.

Let’s reform the Dail, they say, let’s “do politics better”.

Enda Kenny’s been a TD a mere 40 years and it suddenly dawns on him that the Dail needs reforming.

And Micheal Martin, a novice of 27 years in the Dail, and he too notices the place isn’t all it might be.

They promise to rush through minor procedural changes - long overdue - in the hope that will suffice to convince us that they’re implementing the change we need.

Maybe they’ll get away with it. People have lives, they’re busy, there are many demands on their attention.

Change may yet be stymied.

By the way, on what do we base the widespread claims, made by politicians and media, that “the voters will be angry if there’s another election”?

We have evidence on this. Between June 1981 and November 1982 (18 months) there were three general elections.

Turnout in the first was 76.2pc. In the second it was 73.8pc. In the third, 72.9pc. A drop of a mere three percentage points. No evidence of electoral exhaustion. It’s not such a big deal, going to the local school to stick a piece of paper in a box.

How often will they make us do it again? Once, 10 times, 20 times?

Until we vote as they want us to - as we did in the good old days?

Or until they make us really, really angry.

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