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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: July 10, 2011 @ 12:15 pm

    Left-Right Politics at Last?

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    It is being put about that blogging is already outmoded. Twitter is the new black! Certainly after – what, two years now, or is three? – I can say that the blogosphere has its plusses and minuses. There are some highly-intelligent and thoughtful respondents but then there are others who make you wonder if  responding to blog-posts is a substitute for the basket-weaving therapy of old. In any case, I have been busy with work for the print edition in the past while and did not get a chance to post anything. Here’s an analysis-piece from yesterday’s paper: politely-expressed comment and disagreement most welcome!

    THE PACE of events in Irish society has left little time or opportunity for reflection. The economic crisis has seen one sensational or shocking financial disclosure and business collapse after another. Our high streets and commercial quarters are replete with empty shopfronts and ghost office blocks, and you wonder whether they will ever be rented. Uninhabited housing estates lurk on the fringes of our towns as a guilty reminder of the excesses of the Celtic Tiger.

    When the going gets tough, the tough get going. But are we tough? Can we cope with and even overcome our difficulties? “Never waste a crisis,” they say (was that Rupert Murdoch?) Can we emerge as a better, more close-knit community, with a clear sense of ourselves and where we want to go?

    The centenary of the 1916 Rising comes around in five years. Debates will no doubt rage as to whether it was a good idea, but there is no denying it was a defining moment. Without it, this State would quite possibly not exist, at least not in its present form.

    We have sovereignty in the political but not in the economic sphere.

    As I write, officials of the bailout troika are in town for the latest review of our progress in implementing this ignominious bailout.

    On the presidential campaign trail, Bill Clinton used to say, “I still believe in a place called Hope”. This was a reference to his home town of Hope, Arkansas, where his grandfather, who ran a grocery store, used to give out goods to hard-pressed customers without charge, making a note of it for future payment. That system used to operate in Ireland too. The local grocer would give out food “on tick” and write it all down in a book (the debts weren’t always paid.) In the supermarket era, people just “max out” their credit-cards.

    Yes, this society has lost the personal touch, but there have been other social changes, not all bad. One of the good developments is the apparent final demise of Civil War politics in this year’s general election.

    We may complain about the calibre of our politicians and what they do in our name, but at least the debate is about issues, and people are voting on the basis of policies and competence and not family tradition and the horrors inflicted by one side or the other in a previous generation.

    The main side-effect of this new approach to politics has been the near-disappearance of Fianna Fáil. This extraordinary development had been threatened for a long time, and even now it is hard to come to terms with it.

    That is not to say the party may not revive itself and at some unspecified time in the future come back into government. But it will be on the basis of its economic programme and perceived ability, rather than family loyalty or the old divisions in the republican and nationalist tradition.

    The party is holding a think-in at a Dublin hotel on Monday, when no doubt some of these issues will surface. Following Brian Lenihan’s death, Fianna Fáil now has 19 of the 166 Dáil seats, compared with 84 out of 148 after the 1977 general election.

    Another remarkable, little-analysed turnabout is the fact that Labour has become the second largest party in Leinster House. It now has 37 TDs, compared with 16 in 1977.

    For decades, commentators and observers have longed for an Ireland where left-right politics would be the norm. We now appear to be moving in that direction.

    Fine Gael, of course, has been the real success story. Under Enda Kenny’s leadership, the party has come within a stone’s throw of an overall majority, and it is gazing avidly at the glittering prize of Áras an Uachtaráin: heading up the State its forefathers established in 1922.

    The demise of old-style politics also reflects a society where political patronage, “jobs for the boys” and “looking after your own” no longer apply with quite the same force as in the past; like the corner-shop, they are going out of fashion. There are other positive developments and grounds for hope, even in these difficult days. This is a more egalitarian society than in previous times, not least due to greatly improved access to second and third-level education.

    That process was initiated by Donogh O’Malley and Seán Lemass back in the 1960s and continued by Labour when it eliminated third-level fees.

    This is an element of the Fianna Fáil legacy the party can be justifiably proud of which contains a clue to the path it should take towards renewal. Saying this, it is hard to avoid the feeling that, with its growing electoral strength and appeal, Sinn Féin may be the new Fianna Fáil. Like the drinks advert where the customers are blindfolded, it is not always easy to tell them apart.

    The party that can seize the banner of equality and fairness is the one that will prosper in the coming years. As in wartime, periods of economic hardship can lead to a greater levelling among the classes if the right leadership is provided.

    The one great worry for proponents of social change is that emigration will once again act as a safety-valve. Many of our bright young people are looking to foreign shores for their future. That makes it even more imperative to hold firm and get through our current economic difficulties so we can once again believe in a place called hope.

    The challenge for the centenary of 1916 is to regain our economic sovereignty. That would be the best way to ensure we can cherish all the children of the nation equally.

    • D de Breadknife says:

      Maybe Deaglan but you’re hardly at the cutting edge (haha) of journalism yourself are you? Not exactly up there with Alan Rusbridger…same old guff hardly ensuring Political accountability…Irish journalism is like the sightly slower less interesting little brother of the UK who they so desperately want to be and can’tbecause they just haven’t got the necessary qualities… Your blog might have been more sucessful had you been less inclined to enter the arena and encourage that which you now whinge about like you were an objective outsider…And the comments were not that interesting…neo liberal right Right/FF/FG schoolboy sychophants…

    • D de Breadknife says:

      Twitter is for twits..give or take a consonant..

    • Painted Lady says:

      Yeah……….I think I’m beginning to hate this blog as well………worse than Rupert Murdoch

    • Michael says:

      I read your piece yesterday and wanted to comment on it online. I’m glad I can now. I disagree with your analysis. You say; “The main side-effect of this new approach to politics has been the near-disappearance of Fianna Fáil.”

      I think it is the other way around. The defining feature of the last election was the major rejection of Fianna Fail by voters across the country, and most of the rest of what we are seeing in politics is a consequence of this.

    • peter barrins says:

      @1 – clearly you don’t know very much about journalism.

    • peter barrins says:

      The world today is tiny in the context of communication yet people have never been further apart. The internet has provided us with email, facebook, twitter and a host of other social networking possibilities designed to bring us closer together, but humanity has never been further apart, with loneliness being the biggest malaise of our time.

      As we head for the 100th anniversary of the 1916 rising one cannot help but suspect that those who took part and who signed the Proclamation, would not be very impressed with the republic that has since emerged. Perhaps in historic terms a State of 100 years is still young and being formed, which might explain why Ireland does not seem to have any clear vision about what Ireland should be. There has been a spectacular lack of leadership, of vision, of philosophy, and the so called celtic tiger years really showed the Irish at their worst. The drunken Irish partied like it was 1999 and simply did not know when to stop. Politically the main parties in Government have been focused on remaining in power and political point scoring, while the tribunals and other revelations of recent years highlight a culture of corruption and cronyism.


      Perhaps the most recent general election is an indication that Irish people are starting to vote on the basis of policies but I’m not so sure and only time will tell. Clearly, when politicians such as Healy-Rae and Lowry are getting elected, there are still large segments firmly attached to the parish pump. Also, let us not forget that 42% of those who voted in the 2007 General Election voted for Fianna Fail, which was led by a man with serious question marks hanging over him. The electorate was obviously motivated by their bank balances rather than principles, which hardly reflects well on our supposedly excellent education system. Like anything else, our society is only as good as its weakest link, and there are still a great many weak links in Irish society.

      There are too many inequalities. All one has to do it look at the stark contrasts between postal codes in Dublin city, the child abuse scandals, care of the elderly, services for people with intellectual and physical disabilities …

    • P L says:

      @ 3 – Oneself
      Didn’t really mean that, sorry Deaglán, I like your blog…….that was the Pinot Grigio talking yesterday afternoon (usually drink v dry white vin de table Francais at the weekend but the Ginot Prigio was at a knockdown price in the store where every little helps yesterday, and awful it was too – tasted like rosewater smells) but in veritas, I have to say that it is making me sick the way FG seems to have taken over the media (and a helluva lot of media comment-traitors) with this anti-FF propaganda. In my opinion, this country is still, and will probably always be psychically divided between adherence to either of the civil war parties……….at least until hostile aliens attack and then we might unite for obvious reasons – a common enemy. The truth is that FG got into power, not because of any brilliant strategy on the part of Enda & Co, which over the long, long years in opposition had consisted in formulating a great plan for “change” and the betterment of this country, but rather –and the truth is much more simple – it all happened accidentally – a great opportunity arose when the Global Economic Crisis struck. The people (single collective) was groaning in desperation and despair and needed a scapegoat – no need to analyse – what happened was obvious and as the pre-election false promises are being broken, one by one, we realize that there really was no other response to the crisis other than the four-year plan put together by FF. The current government will get a trashing at the next election and so it goes……….thought I saw a UFO last night……
      (ps wish more people would comment though…….always the same old FG trolls and the usual vicious stab at yourself and everyone else by Madame de la grande Bouche…)

    • @1,2,3: All the same person, AKA Ruby, etc., etc. Your tone gives you away, mon ami! Anyway, despite your shnaking regarder comments on Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein, you are culturally what less-polite people than me would call a “West Briton”. A Big One! Alan Rusbridger a very fine fellow no doubt but my heroes and heroines and role-models tend to be reporters, not editors, with due respect to the latter category.

    • @4: I don’t see any real difference between a major rejection and a virtual disappearance …

    • P L (Painted Lady) says:

      @ 8 — Deaglán
      Deaglán you’re right about comments @ 1 agus 2 being by the same “commenter”……..but comments at 3 agus 7 are by me (not the same “commenter”) and I would have thought my comment @7 which was connected to, and in response to my own comment @3 would have made that obvious. You have to realize you are dealing with females here Deaglán — and the figaries is well known…

    • Michael says:

      Deaglan I think we misunderstand each other. II read your column as suggesting that there has been a major shift in Irish politics; a left/right divide, a rejection of dynastic politics and clientelism and that the downfall of FF was a consequence of this shift. Whereas I think the opposite. These changes in politics you identify in this column are actually a side effect of the rejection of FF.

    • peter barrins says:

      @7, I’m not sure that FF need any anti FF propoganda – their record in office speaks all by itself. I do agree that FG were the default other option for a nervous electorate who are unwilling to lean any further left than Labour – which, let’s face it, is not very left at all!. The irish political landscape still carries the worn remnants of the civil war and it could well be another generation or two before such linkages are forever banished and something new emerges. People before Profit, SF and other left leaning TDs are to be welcomed, but their economic policies are crude and unworkable if Ireland wants to remain part of the global economic system.

      @4 i’m confused… the only way FF is ever going to disappear is by electoral rejection, surely?

    • RPE McCarthy says:

      1916 was an extremely expensive way of marking something that was inevitable – self-governance. It was inevitable. I see no reason at all to celebrate it. I would greatly admire a Government that took a decision to shift the focus away from blood sacrifice to a noble, bloodless day like the transition of power to the Free State Government on December 6th 1922. That day was the first of all the bloodless transitions we have had over the last 89 years and that day alone is to my mind one worth celebrating.

      As to the recalibration of the political landscape, I can see room on the floor of the Dáil but it is to economic right of Fine Gael and to the ethical and moral left of Fine Gael / Labour. Fine Gael will hold Labour back on social issues, as they are held back on economic issues (as I see it naturally). Others would like see it contrarywise.

      There is room for a party than advocate strong libertarian economic values and progressive societal views. Whether or not Fianna Fáil can move in that direction is another question.

      If they want to differentiate themselves from the government they should let the Shinners and Lindependents attack Labour from the left on economics. FF and the Rindependents can attack FG from the right on small government, waste, Croke Park no longer being affordable (on grounds of economic growth falling short).

      All the opposition can attack both FG and Labour for failing to introduce progressive legislation (e.g. the long overdue childrens referendum) etc.

      FF needs to modernise its look touch and feel to survive. It is losing the over 65s which are its core vote to the graveyards. The country is open to arguments for and against euthanasia, gay adoption, full gender blind state marriage, abortion etc. The black and white reactionism is receding and fighting a vanguard operation for people that are against everything and for nothing is not a sound means of staying around forever.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      I think we’re going to have to rethink the idea of an Irish Nation so that it doesn’t necessarily involve an Irish State per se. I mean a sovereign independent State. Because when you don’t have economic sovereignty you don’t have political sovereignty and when you can’t control your ports you can’t control your sovereign and indefeasible destinies (I mean again not just ports in the physical sense but all the other dimensions of economic activity resource extraction and war too). Lisbon/Lisbon 2 represented the real death of Irish democracy as we understood it anyway. And the 200 billion and rising millstone round our necks just put the tin hat on that. So we’re going to have to rethink what it is to be ‘Irish’ and ‘of Ireland’ and ‘Irish citizens’ too. See you lost another one of those latter in Letters Page last week. Losing one might be said to be a mistake but losing two? And both of us still breathing? Tch. Need to be careful. Could become a trend. Which I suppose brings me onto community, the building block of Nationhood. Perhaps that’s a value that a recovery could centre round. It was one we’d lost sight of in the Celtic Liger somewhat. Atomised, fragmented, society has lost its sense of community round these parts in so many different ways. What else could explain a man in his forties lying in a Limerick street last week having his head kicked in by a 12 year old and a 15 year old? Heard a mention of that on the radio today. I tell you the cracks may be only beginning to show but the pressues and faults that give rise to them are deep and long. It’s only inertia that’s holding the whole thing together still.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      “but then there are others who make you wonder if responding to blog-posts is a substitute for the basket-weaving therapy of old” – yuou could. And I’ll hazard you’d be right and that moreover both would fall under what the boffins would call ‘Cognitive Behavioural Therapy’ and the old Greeks would call Know Thy Self.

    • Two brief, and unrelated points:

      1. It would make a lot more sense to simply have a comment section on the original article, rather than re-posting it in its entirety here. You could then reply to the comments raised there on this blog in a more organised and coherent way, instead of having to come in and comment in this section, as you do, in a rather haphazard manner.

      2. I suggest that evidence of moving towards a left/right divide would be when the two parties assumed to represent those alternatives (FG/Lab) have been in opposition to each other for some time. But the opposite is the case: they are in government together now, and have been also at a local level for many years.

      More to the point, I have yet to read, here or elsewhere, of a single convincing reason why such a situation would be in any way superior to our current one. Why replace our civil war politics with that of France?

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      Maybe some day Behan will be wrong in what he said about drop the Neutron Bomb; leave only three Irishmen alive in the world, and you’ll find two of them in a corner together conspiring as to how best to shaft the third.
      I hope so. Some day. Please god. We can always dream hey?

    • @16: Not up to me to have a comment facility with the original article. On this occasion, I didn’t have it, but was anxious to get some feedback. I don’t understand your point about “haphazard” responses – wouldn’t they be equally haphazard in the other format you suggest?
      Anyway, thanks for your interesting response and for the Twitter message.

    • RPE McCarthy says:


      We have the politics of France at this very minute – la cohabitation. What the germans call a grand coalition.

      What we do not have is a right left divide in a meaningful sense. Rather, Irish political discourse serves as a centrifugal rather than a centrifungal force. That is to see like cotton candy on a stick, most things coalesce around the centre.

      This is a fairly deflating and dissatisfactory situation for many of us in the private sector whose pension funds are being raided by thieving rascals in the public sector and politics who have gold plated, index-linked pensions that parasite off the wealth created by the hard working private sector entrepreneurs, corporates and their staff across the country.

      What we don’t have because of the weakness of the officer of the Irish President is the stasis one associates with cohabitation in France where Presidents like Mitterand had to work with gaullists like Chirac, Juppé or Balladur as prime ministers (or indeed Chirac had to work with Lionel Jospin).

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      Deaglan, can I ask, respectfully, how long did it take to write your piece? I mean the article itself, from the moment you first conceived it thru first draft revisions amendmenta and so forth all the way thru to final submitted copy? I’m not having a go it’s a very good piece making many points with far fewer words than one might suspect one would take to say anything like it oneself. If one were even able. Would appreciate your answer. It’s a straight question. Tks.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      Far’s I can see we’ve had wayyy too much ”left-right” politics. Left-right-leftkright marched us straight over a cliff. Anyone tried suggesting otherwise got jeeringly told ”They’re all out of step bar our JOcky”. Try a new direction maybe. Yirrah never mind. Leopards. Spots. Nowt new under the sun. That still rotates round us an all.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      Feel like I’m back in the East again. Seeing as the new Irish ship of state’s a junk. Preferred the Asgard. The one that sank on 9/11 remember? Sermons in stones books in the running brooks signs and auguries shure who could have missed them?

    • peter barrins says:

      It would seem that we have quite a few pink wearing babies in the Dail of all political hues, rather than ‘pinko’ liberals. And one pink wearing, blondie, was obviously a little jealous of another, who has now been deeply wounded as a result of snide banter. Certain sections of the chamber are starting to look like the back of a slow class in a secondary school. Obviously these newbie politicians could learn a thing or two from FF about thick skins; perhaps some of the rejected FF ex-TD’s could set up set up in business as ‘thick skin’ consultants. Can one imagine what Mary Coughlan’s response would have been to such a remark….

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      Constitution is subordinate to an undemocratic EU Commission populated by unelected and fairly unaccountable Commissioners and with a weak Parliament to provide a threadbare cloak of democracy. You call that political sovereignty? I wouldn’t even call it Home Rule.

    • Deaglan, funny thing about the “Fairness and Equality” banner is that we have very little debate as to what we mean by that. Do we mean that, for example, everyone, regardless of level of effort, should get more or less the same? Does someone who works overtime deserve to be wealthier than someone who doesn’t? We don’t even debate the difference between equality of outcome and equality of opportunity, even though each one takes society in a radically different direction. Indeed, is it fair for the lazy and the workshy (who do exist) to demand to be carried by the hardworking?

    • Dde Breadbin says:

      Just looked up West Brit…YOU take that back…! Hmphhh

    • DXII says:

      Left-right divide? With 90% plus of elected TDs coming from the Tweedledee/dum/d’oh camp?

      If this is what is classed as ‘serious comment’ in the Irish Times then please, please. please bring back the NOTW for the balanced opinions. .

    • peter barrins says:

      @25 – There is a difference between social inequality/justice and inequality in terms of absolute wealth distribution – although at the extremes the two are linked. An individual who wants to work over-time or work hard, or who is motivated to climb the career ladder or start their own business, obviously deserves to reap the rewards of their efforts in a capitalist system. However, like many of the bankers and property developers, they must not be allowed to do so in a manner that is or may prove detrimental to greater society.

      There remain segments of irish society where people are stuck in a cycle of poverty, drug abuse, petty crime, dysfunctional parenting, poor housing, poor or no education and so forth – this is the result of clear social inequality and it is the responsibility everyone to address and remove such inequalities. Indeed it is in everyone’s interest to do so because the outcomes associated with these inequalities spawn a host of social problems which are expensive to manage and contain. How much is the prision and free legal aid system costing annually?

      The fact that in Irish society it still appears to be acceptable to defraud the social wefare system, to work cash-in-hand while claiming benefits or basically ‘milk’ the system, indicates a culture that needs to change. A number of years ago there was tacit acceptance of drinking and driving, but today it is socially unacceptable – the same needs to happen with those who are, as you put it, “whorkshy”. There is however an absurd reality that in bare financial terms the Irish welfare system is structured, so that in certain situations, it is financially beneficial not to work – this too needs to be sorted out.

    • lillian says:

      Ireland : Resist the temptation to be American. Don’t spend all your time condemning the past. Look to the future. Find the solution. Let go of grievances and build Ireland up again. Don’t get caught up in an American civil war.

    • marmite says:

      Ironic that our status has been designated “Junk” since FG have taken the reins of eh…power
      In a few years’ time yiz’ll writing about “Fine Gael: The Junk Years” and the new “Warriors of Fortune” (you guessed it, the renamed Soldiers of Destiny) will be back at the helm. Can’t wait. This coalition is depressing..

    • La Tricoteuse says:

      You say you want left wing views but really you don’t…you’re out of your comfort zone…Happy Bastille Day…don’t lose your head…!

    • @18 I meant haphazard as in you having to come into the comments section here, and reply like anyone else. If there were comments on the original article, you could use this blog to write a post in which you would respond to the best/most interesting comments raised. Hence, this post would be one big reply, where you could address the themes and most striking points raised by commenters to the article. You wouldn’t have to reply individually, and you could wait for a few days. Hope this makes sense. Also hope your bosses revamp this site!

    • @ I see your point. Thanks.

    • olackmac says:

      ‘Equality’ and ‘fairness’ are such vague notions, and so agreeably innocuous. What is wrong with being ruled by a King? Who needs to have as much money as he does? He can do his kingly duties, and the peasants can rake their muck in peace and happiness, no wars or pestilence or famine or death, weather permitting. I most certainly, most, most certainly, do NOT owe my (as it happens free) third level education to the Labour party. I will not add that level of elevation to Eamonn Gilmore’s hidden smirk. I would have found a way to solidify my post secondary knowledge, even if it took, for example, working, or maybe, saving. And even if I had remained educationally dull, who knows where the ability comes from to question how it’s possible to look into every single interaction between two members of Fianna Fail in the past 80 odd years and judge it in larger part as ‘political patronage’ or ‘looking after your own’? I’m not a king. I’m a peasant being ruled by peasants. Not that Fianna Fail stand for as much as muck anymore.

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