Coherent, capable and caring government must be elected

Michael McDowell: Inanity and evasion beat reason in depressing TV debate

RTÉ’s leaders’ debate at the National University of Ireland Galway on January 27th: Voters are being offered a mind-blowing set of policy choices, many of which are also prosperity-blowing.  Photograph: Niall Carson

RTÉ’s leaders’ debate at the National University of Ireland Galway on January 27th: Voters are being offered a mind-blowing set of policy choices, many of which are also prosperity-blowing. Photograph: Niall Carson

 

When Peadar Tóibín finally admitted the true nature of the Sinn Féin party, his revelations were seen by some as newsworthy. It is a centrally controlled political machine, which operates on instructions from apparatchiks theoretically under the control of its árd-chomhairle. No real dissent is permitted.

Elected representatives are instructed on how to vote and what to say by unelected officials. They have no choice as to who is employed in their office. Many of them are actually subordinate to those who work in party offices in Leinster House and in Stormont.

When Michelle O’Neill was made leader of the party in Stormont in succession to Martin McGuinness, there was no hint of a contest and no indication as to whom the decision was made by.

Close to 20 elected Oireachtas members and councillors left Sinn Féin complaining of bullying over the last five years. But no one in the media delved deeply into the underlying causes.

The serious business of electing 160 TDs to put in place a government for the next five years seemed wholly removed from the Galway studio

Normally, elected public representatives have sufficient standing in their own right to resist bullying and coercion – not so in Sinn Féin. They are all oath-bound to take binding instruction on any matter as directed by the party’s central controllers.

Efforts in Monday’s TV debate to examine that issue and Sinn Féin opposition to the Special Criminal Court were successfully brushed aside by Mary Lou McDonald in a gale of vacuous cliche and evasion. Of course, it’s difficult to control a seven-person panel. But RTÉ fell down in not requiring a straight answer on a straightforward issue.

Blather and cliche

That debate was depressing. Vacuity, inanity and evasion simply talked down reason and interrogation. Blather and cliche prospered while reason perished. The important participants clearly simply hoped to survive unscathed; the unimportant participants became self-important because they were afforded a phony equality that belies their poll standings of 2-5 per cent.

The deadly serious business afoot of electing 160 TDs to put in place a government for the next five years seemed wholly removed from the Galway studio.

Yes, the participants were asked about coalition intentions. But in large measure they dissembled. The idiotic proposition that it is arrogant for one party to state clearly that it will not coalesce in government with another party was lent credence by the moderator.

It simply is not arrogant to say that you will not coalesce with a party with policies or values incompatible with your own; it is honest. It is childish to assert that it is somehow undemocratic or disrespectful of another party’s mandate to make it clear to voters in advance of an election that you will not be sharing government with it after the election. That is called clarity.

If Sinn Féin cannot find prospective partners to form a coalition, that is because the people as a whole will have left them in that position by their votes. Perhaps Sinn Féin would look in the mirror and ask itself whether tight control by a small cadre centred in Belfast is holding it back. Perhaps they might permit dissent and open debate. Perhaps they might respect the status and autonomy of elected public representatives.

After all, members of Dáil Éireann and indeed Seanad Éireann are constitutional office-holders – not just messenger boys for party headquarters.

Political sectarianism

Making sense of the shards in the political kaleidoscope is all the more bewildering when you look at the Rangers-Celtic political sectarianism between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

But then we are never really told why there is a division between Labour and the Social Democrats. Is it ideological?

And while political scientists can explain the schisms in Marxist ideology that divide Paul Murphy’s new party from Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit, their voters are systematically denied access to such information.

Voters are being offered a mind-blowing set of policy choices, many of which are also prosperity-blowing. Basic income for all, four-day weeks, free childcare, no property tax, wealth taxes, rewilding, reopening greenways as railways, 5,000 phantom nurse recruits, wage and welfare increases, tax cuts and an end to our corporation tax regime – it’s all on offer.

Monday’s debate frightened me somewhat. I hope many, like me, will use the last weekend of the campaign to work out how best to use our votes to avoid chaos

Spoiled for choice? Or ruined by nonsensical choices? That is the question.

At the end of the day, we need a buoyant revenue base to pay for social justice programmes. We need to balance the books. We need to attract investment and to grow native enterprise. We need to deliver housing. We simply can’t lose the opportunity to elect a coherent, capable and sustainable government.

Green issues are being mentioned on the door. The non-green, day-to-day political agenda is where most choice lies.

Monday’s debate frightened me somewhat. I hope many, like me, will use the last weekend of the campaign to work out how best to use our votes to avoid chaos and to elect a Dáil that will deliver a coherent, capable and caring government. An awful lot rides on it.

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