Irish voters must be realistic in the next election

There is too much at stake to continue with the current shambolic arrangement

‘The best that might happen in the next election is that the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of Irish politics finally form a coalition government, rather than repeat the present nonsense.’ Photograph: Alan Betson

‘The best that might happen in the next election is that the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of Irish politics finally form a coalition government, rather than repeat the present nonsense.’ Photograph: Alan Betson

 

It is not just an Irish political crisis. But how we vote at the next election, and what we demand from our politicians, can still make a big difference to our lives and to those of our children.

The Oireachtas may have been no worse in the past sometimes, but it has to be better now.

There are international threats to the Irish State, not least from Brexit, a Trump White House, climate change and global overpopulation.

The wrangle about mere water charges has been unbearable.

If the purpose was to provide an efficient system of delivering clean water into the future, and at a cost related to how much water people use, our politicians have collectively failed.

Long-fingering and mutual recrimination are the names of the game. There is a housing crisis, shameful Garda mismanagement and a ramshackle health service. You wouldn’t run a small shop this way.

We are not all convinced by those whispering that the Irish economy is rising splendid, phoenix-like, from the ashes.

But Fianna Fáil is certainly back in business, ambushing Fine Gael and playing its old tricks to get hold of government.

Loss of confidence

And that is partly the nature of politics everywhere. The Belgian intellectual David Van Reybrouck points up the loss of confidence in politicians across Europe, the punishment that increasingly fickle electorates mete out to minority coalition partners and the loss of power by national legislatures in the face of international forces.

Van Reybrouck’s recent polemic Against Elections: The Case for Democracy is not just a stern “can do better” – it is a “must do better”, to voters and to those whom they elect.

Lamenting the state of the nation is a perennial pastime. When Jack Boyle declares to Joxer in Seán O’Casey’s play Juno and the Paycock that “th’ whole worl’s in a terrible state o’ chassis [chaos]”, he gives vent to a sentiment that has echoed through bars and tearooms for generations.

But if governments are not perfect, they are also not all the same. Some are better than others, either because of smarter policies or better personnel, or both. It helps when electorates act realistically.

Our current arrangement is scarcely government in anything but name

We must cut our coat according to our cloth, and do so as fairly as is reasonable. There may be no lucky bailout for our economy next time. Even if there is, we know now that it comes at a great cost.

Many people have felt the pain that continues to flow from the sudden death of the Celtic Tiger. It will be a long time before some voters trust bigger parties again.

So more likely, at the next general election, is a repeat of the last outcome, leaving fractured and small protest groups facing Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

The best that might happen then is that the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of Irish politics finally form a coalition government, rather than repeat the present nonsense.

Hard decisions

It is also possible that enough voters will, for the sake of some kind of stability, switch from Independents and smaller parties to Sinn Féin and give it sufficient seats to form a coalition with Fianna Fáil, or even Fine Gael.

That might make some hard decisions easier.

Few people vote deliberately for a coalition, and certainly very few foresaw, let alone desired, the kind of arrangement we currently have. It is scarcely government in anything but name.

We are living in a small and marginal Irish state that for a few decades enjoyed a standard of living that we can no longer afford. That party is over.

During the mid-20th-century, an old European joke was retooled to apply to Ireland. It used to be said that: “In Berlin the situation is serious but not desperate; in Vienna, the situation is desperate but not serious.”

When Winston Churchill adopted that phrase: “The situation is serious but not desperate,” to give hope to his people during the second World War, an Irish listener is said to have retorted: “Over here the situation is always desperate but never serious.”

It’s an amusing quip, but as with any joke there is sometimes no element of truth in it.

When jobs increasingly become precarious and the expectation of owning a home withers, when people die or go blind because health services are not what they reasonably could be, and when the public loses confidence in its police force, then matters are not just serious.

The absence of convincing government can come to seem desperate at such times.

The least we should do is worry about how we vote.

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