Protected against the rise of populism?


Sir, – John McManus provides an account of the prevalence of Independent politicians and local politics in Ireland and the consequent protective effect against the rise of “a populist strongman” in Irish politics that is both incomplete and misleading (Opinion, August 10th).

In recognising that the current state of Irish politics is far from one extreme of ideological polarisation and the associated consequences of centrifugal political competition, McManus omits the consequences of the opposite extreme, whereby local, regional or ethnic groupings define political competition.

Politics dominated by local interests not only means that “it makes running the country a tad difficult”; but it also, if allowed to proceed to its logical extreme, creates an environment where a “populist strongman” can still thrive.

One only has to look at the state of many political systems in Africa where politics is organised on regional and ethnic lines such that leaders attain power not by promising to further the national interest but by promising the distribution of resources to their followers and their ethnic support base. Voters in turn do not punish misbehaving governments, but will continue to vote along ethnic or sectional lines in the hope that rival groups will be kept out of power.

The extreme of locally or ethnically dominated politics without some ideological diversity in a centralised state that McManus fails to describe creates a complete absence of even a minimal critical assessment of government policy by voters and represents a failure of democracy.

While Ireland may be relatively safe from an ideological “strongman,” this may only be because it has rendered itself more vulnerable to the other variety. – Yours, etc,



Castleknock, Dublin 15.