Populism and politics

Sir, – I feel compelled to respond to Neil Cronin and Niall Ginty's (separate) defences of centrist democracy, apparently under threat in Ireland from "populist" forces similar to those unleashed in the US on January 6th, 2021 (Letters, January 8th).

Neither correspondent chose to name the source of this supposed threat, perhaps to maintain the delicious frisson of fear which keeps centrists cosy in their beds at night.

We may safely infer, however, that their comments were directed towards Sinn Féin (after all, next to the more excitable cohort of the party’s supporters, it is only militant centrists who view Sinn Féin as a material threat to the status quo).

This concept of “populism” deserves closer scrutiny. The term has no fixed meaning, but is most commonly deployed (in Ireland, at least) to lampoon policies which privilege the public interest over the demands of the wealth-hoarding classes.


It is, of course, entirely a coincidence that the “sober”, “realistic”, “pragmatic” path advocated by opponents of “populism” is always the one which further enriches the rich.

Indeed, this caricatured “populism” – the promise of goodies which cannot be delivered in the real world – could more aptly be applied to the establishment’s handling of the ongoing pandemic. How else to account for its insistence that no amount of death or disease can, or should, interfere with the consumption patterns of Fine Gael’s and Fianna Fáil’s voter base?

How else to describe its belief that schools, pubs and restaurants exist in a magical bubble wherein the laws of epidemiology do not apply? How else to define its habitual and divisive haranguing of (always unionised) workforces as privileged elites whenever their interests conflict with those of the State and its corporate clients?

Theirs is neither a productive nor a popular form of populism, but it is (alas!) the closest thing to such a phenomenon which currently exists in our politically impoverished State. – Yours, etc,




Dublin 4.