Watching recent events in Greece, I have been wondering what are the prospects of Irish people responding in such a demonstrative manner to similar austerity measures which are surely just over the not too distant horizon.
Whatever one’s feelings about the prospect of teargas and baton charges in Irish cities, surely even the most conservative observer feels some sympathy for a people who are standing up and saying, very simply, “this is not fair”.
The outcome of our recent general election was a predictable and in many ways understandable protest vote. There was a catharsis felt by the majority of the people, in showing Fianna Fáil the sense of betrayal and anger at what has happened. It was the Irish people saying “this is not fair”. However, the question must now be asked, are the Irish electorate politically ignorant? Many enjoyed the look on disappointed FF faces, but what kind of protest vote elects a party who were always going to continue down the path of their ill-fated predecessors? This is an uncomfortable thought but when one considers the swing to Fine Gael, very much the other side of the same coin, something does not add up. One can blame FG for reneging on election promises but anybody with their eye on the political ball could not have expected a radical policy departure from those of the outgoing government.
Or perhaps this is too harsh on a people who have never been significantly divided on ideological lines. Perhaps the lack of competent alternatives is an issue.
The “Gilmore for Taoiseach” slogan was always ridiculous, considering Labour were never going to run enough candidates for this pipe-dream to be a possibility. Their underwhelming campaign, of course, would have put paid to the prospect in any case. The long-awaited policy drive could be generously described as an anti-climax. “Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way” was an insult to the intelligence of the people and Joan Burton’s inexplicable behaviour on the Vincent Browne show must have had the pinkest of the pink turn (briefly) red. Yet they did reasonably well. Worryingly, future cuts and job losses endorsed by Labour could have the effect of turning potential voters for the left off the prospect. Labour, for some reason, are still classed by the media as a party of the left. The media, of course, is a matter for another discussion. A lengthy one, at that.
Sinn Fein were big winners of course. But again, there are questions here. Does the migration of Gerry Adams to these parts set them back somewhat? They talked the talk at times and in the final weeks of the last Dáil, Pearse Doherty was a breath of fresh air. I believe there are many who will not find it in themselves to vote SF while protagonists of the war remain prominent. Adams, to many, will be the man of many ambiguous words regarding violence (and the not so ambiguous “they haven’t gone away, you know”). Since Adams took the reigns of the party in the Dáil, he has been unimpressive. It cannot be lost on people either that SF are vocal in opposing cuts in the South while implementing appalling measures a few miles up the road.
The U.L.A. will need to figure out what they are. Are they a party? No they are not. Nor are their attempts to consolidate their alliance without major issues. Nonaligned members appear to be peripheral. Their candidates also showed a spectacular ignorance of economic issues during the election campaign. “Tax the rich”. “There is still plenty of money in this country” did not stand up to scrutiny and sounded little more than sloganeering. They will, of course, be prominent in anti-water campaigns, so may gain kudos, but not, I believe, many converts to Trotskyism.
My own crystal ball has been clouded by pessimism, so I’m loath to make any predictions as to where we are going to find ourselves in two, five or ten years.
But one thing is certain. Unless somebody or some group makes a connection with the people and shows proper leadership, things will not improve.