The Message: Our Patience is Running Out

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil need to end the posturing and hammer out a deal, which will provide the country with a sustainable government.

By the time you are reading this we may have a new government. Far more likely, however, we won’t.

At the time of writing, it is six weeks since the results of the general election became clear, constituency by convoluted constituency. And since then we have been treated to a game of political charades that has bordered on the absurd, with both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil making a pretence of talking to a liquorice all-sorts of independents in the hope (alleged) of forming a minority government of some kind with their support.

From the outset, both parties knew that the numbers just didn’t add up; and besides, that it would be impossible to meet the ridiculous accumulation of demands that the independents would make if they were to be relied on not to sink the ship at the first sign of disagreement. It was self-evident throughout that the two biggest parties would finally have to sit down together and work something out, whatever that something might be...

The two leaders were in very different positions at the end of a bruising election campaign. From the moment he announced the polling date, Enda Kenny performed badly, to an extent which took even his most astringent detractors by surprise. Indeed even the manner of the announcement smacked of a childish kind of gamesmanship. Enda then fumbled his way through the various leaders’ debates, looking like a strange hybrid of human and automaton, not quite able to get all the pre-digested lines out in the right order.

He also made a few dreadful, unforced errors, in effect giving the ball away just outside his own penalty area. The worst was his characterisation of those who didn’t buy the FG line about keeping the recovery going as whingers, striking an arrogant note that went down very badly with the long-suffering electorate. It was a bargain – for Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, that is: three own goals for the price of one. As a result, the Taoiseach was barely hanging onto the Fine Gael leadership by the time the whole election fiasco had played itself out.

Humorous Note

Micheál Martin, in contrast, had performed relatively well in the leaders’ debates. As the electioneering went on, he grew in confidence. He looked better able to think on his feet, more natural and articulate. While Enda was doing a pretty good impression of the Incredible Shrinking Man, Micheál Martin grew noticeably in stature.

Well, the past six weeks have undone a lot of that. For a start, no one else has emerged yet as a credible leader of Fine Gael. Simon Coveney has put in the best performance among the potential contenders, but Enda Kenny looks stronger now than in the immediate aftermath of the result being declared.

And Micheál Martin? Fianna Fáil’s first mistake was to try to portray the election as some kind of ringing endorsement of the party. Some of their TDs seemed to think that they had won an overall majority, when in truth the party is still but a pale shadow of its former self. They won 44 seats. Fine Gael won 50. They are still well behind.

A bit of humility might have been in order. Instead, every time a microphone was stuck under a Fianna Fáil TD’s nose, they collectively sounded more and more arrogant, as if everyone else should dance to their tune. Inevitably they started to sound like a cracked record. “The people voted for change,” they repeated, as if that made any sense at all.

The people did not re-elect the Fine Gael-Labour coalition that romped home in 2011. Fine Gael’s support dropped significantly. And the electorate delivered a severe hammering to Labour. All that is true. But the concept of political ‘change’ in Ireland right now means vastly different things to different people. And the rise of a plethora of independents across the country underlines that.

You could argue that the people voted for a mess – and that this is what they got. But they most certainly did not vote en masse for a Fianna Fáil-led administration – and sounding like you think that you have a divine right to run the country only makes a party with less than 28% of the seats, sound like a bunch of bullies with gross delusions of grandeur.

The Fianna Fáil line of trying to make a virtue out of not going into government with Fine Gael because they had said during the election campaign that they wouldn’t also struck an unintended, humorous note. Suddenly, Fianna Fáil was the party of principle! IDT, as a country woman I once knew said, whenever she wanted to underline the absurdity of any posturing.

One of the great assumed truisms of Irish politics is that we have a very sophisticated electorate. I could never see it. We seem to be very good at electing TDs who are hopelessly narrow in their interests and who are afraid to do anything that might upset the horses. As a result, in Ireland change only comes after years of relentless pressure and campaigning. For politicians, with the occasional honourable exception, it is never about what is right. The focus, instead, has always been on taking as few risks as possible.

Historic Compromise

Which is why gross hypocrisy has been one of the main currencies of Irish political life. A male politician – most of them have been male – might be fucking five women at the same time, but still oppose the introduction of contraception or indeed divorce. Making the right noises in relation to family values mattered far more than being consistent in what you said or did. And the Irish electorate – the sophisticated Irish electorate – were prepared to swallow all of this. At times, our politicians seemed to have PhDs in dissembling.

Of course, the politicians were a microcosm of Irish society. Hypocrisy and dishonesty were okay. As long as you could get away with pretending to be pious, you were fit for the Dáil. When you look back at what we created – a country in which the most appalling viciousness, bullying and physical and sexual violence against children and teenagers was rampant – then the idea that the Irish electorate is ’sophisticated’ has to be seen for what it is: a pathetic form of self-delusion.

Everyone involved in the process of negotiating the formation of a government now needs to realise that it is time to go beyond the appalling, dishonourable, tribal sleeveen-ism that has ruled the roost here for so much of the 100 years since the rising of 1916.

When the results of Election 2016 were announced, we had hoped that the politicians from the major parties might rise to the occasion and produce the kind of historic compromise that would genuinely change the political landscape. Instead we have had charades. Well, people’s patience with the messing is running out. If the party leaders don’t have the courage to do what needs to be done, then another election would be far better than a period of stupidly unnecessary turmoil.

Fianna Fáil can screw things up royally. Fine Gael too. Whichever one is responsible should be held to account by the voters. Let the devil take the hindmost...


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