Discontent and the electorate
Sir, – Stephen Collins wonders why so many people who have “done reasonably well” under recent Fine Gael- and Fianna Fáil-led governments voted for radical-left policies that have ruined the likes of Venezuela (“Well-run economy must provide basis for any plans”, Opinion & Analysis, February 21st).
In the late 1970s, The Irish Times columnist John Healy used to chide Garret FitzGerald for, he claimed, wanting to run an economy and not a country. Sadly, now all the establishment parties adopt FitzGerald’s technocratic approach. However, technocrats tend only to ask whether a policy is “effective”, not whether it is legitimate.
Perhaps this helps explain why some voters increasingly feel that the political elite do not just ignore their concerns about issues such housing, immigration and cultural change, but actually disrespect them as individuals.
This trend is not just confined to Ireland of course. The “yellow vest” movement in France, Trump voters in the US and Brexit voters in the UK all rebelled against an establishment that ignored their needs and concerns. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Stephen Collins writes: “The election results indicate that about one-third of the electorate has bought into the notion that Ireland is truly a hellhole in need of a dose of the kind of radical left-wing policies that have ruined countries like Venezuela.”
Let’s leave aside that Venezuela was never the kind of advanced industrialised, educated and high-tech service and manufacturing economy, with a stable political and legal system and highly functioning administrative state, that modern Ireland is; even though this obviously makes any suggestion that policies adopted by the government of Venezuela would inevitably have the same effect on Ireland utterly ridiculous.
There are two problems with your columnist’s analysis which merit more serious discussion.
First, that the policies which were popular at the recent general election are radical. They simply aren’t.
Our nearest neighbour – indeed, the northeast part of this very island – has had a vastly superior health service to ours since at least the 1940s. Universal, free at the point of access, cradle-to-grave hospital and primary healthcare is not “radical”. It has been a basic tenet of social democracy for nearly a century. Nobody in the last election was even proposing that we overhaul our fractured, semi-private healthcare landscape into an NHS-style system anyway – just more funding for the system we have, alongside the Sláintecare reforms that every political party believes are absolutely necessary.
Meanwhile, in Vienna, 60 per cent of residents live in public or community-owned housing; in Helsinki, 70 per cent of land in the city is publicly owned – and homelessness has fallen dramatically.
Nobody in Ireland (regrettably) was suggesting anything even remotely like this level of State intervention in the housing supply.
Countries all over the world operate sensible rent-control policies. Only very late in the day did it become a matter of political controversy here that the State pension age would increase to 68; while in France, even floating the prospect of it increasing from 62 brought the country to a halt in waves of general strikes. And yet, we have no refugees fleeing a French “hellhole”. In German cities, public transport runs 24 hours a day for much lower fares than here.
Second, Stephen Collins appears not to have noticed that the Irish electorate has in fact been sending the same message since 2011, with increasing frustration. In the 31st Dáil, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil between them had 95 seats; in the 32nd Dáil, 93 seats; in the 33rd Dáil (the most recent election) this has fallen to 72. In 2011, the electorate gave Labour 37 seats; in 2016, Sinn Féin took Labour’s place as the single largest left-wing bloc of 23 seats, but there were 19 Independents (a clear sign of frustration with mainstream politics) and various other left-wing groups. Now we see Sinn Féin rising precisely to where Labour was in 2011, by offering broadly the same social democratic (note: not radical) message as brought on the “Gilmore Gale”. Is Mr Collins so quick to forget the “radical” messaging of that contest?
The truth is simple: there is a substantial voting bloc in this country – probably a strong majority – who want to bring our country’s public services in line with our northern European neighbours.
Indeed, perhaps if so many young people had not been forced to emigrate since 2011, the share of the left vote would be even higher; although it is not simply young people who want social democratic policies. Older voters, obviously, are strongly motivated by healthcare and pensions – something Stephen Collins seems to miss in criticising other demographics for lending Sinn Féin a preference.
Until whoever takes power follows through on this desire for robust social democracy, this same proportion of the electorate will continue to express its discontent ever more vociferously.
People who voted left since 2011 do not believe that our country is a hellhole. On the contrary, it is precisely because we think so highly of our State that we believe it can and should intervene in “the market” to deliver public services and provide a social safety-net.
Call me a radical, but I for one think that is what a government is for. – Yours, etc,