Comment: What do local elections say about Ireland’s future?
THERE are two stories from this election and both of them lie with parties that like to be known as the Republican Party.
Much will be made of the rise of Sinn Féin but it is the slow growth of the Fianna Fáil vote that is just as notable. By rights Fianna Fáil should now be consigned to the pages of Irish history.
Never mind that the unearthing of historical Church abuse has shown De Valera’s Ireland to have been a place of dark corruption and that modern Irish politics has been defined by Fianna Fáil, the economic collapse and the social and political corruption that was the lie of the Celtic Tiger would surely be enough to bring any other political party to an end.
That it hasn’t and that so many people still see Fianna Fáil as the answer to our political problems shows how deep tribal loyalties in Ireland still run and shows that as a political society we are utterly incoherent.
It simply makes no sense that so many people would turn back again to Fianna Fáil so soon after unceremoniously throwing them out. But they have and it is not something we can take any great pride in. The only possible explanation, those old loyalties aside, is that this is all we know.
With two alternating parties of power, who have no ideological differences, this is obviously what the Irish electorate believe politics to be. A choice between managers of the economy who are fundamentally the same. The rise in votes for Independents is part of the same thing, a protest vote for people with no coherent ideology but a hotchpotch of local concerns from hospital closures to turf-cutting.
It isn’t politics so much as local housekeeping. This isn’t the school of politics that offers you a vision of society but more one that offers to get your guttering fixed.
And then there is Sinn Féin. Rightly so the story that will echo as a result of these elections, in and out of Ireland, is the confirmation of Sinn Féin as a part of the Irish political landscape, north and south. Whether we like them or fear them the truth is that there is now a very real possibility that, come the commemorations of 1916, Sinn Féin will be standing outside the GPO as members of the Government of the Irish Republic.
Something that might tell us how this came to be is simply looking at how the Irish media react to Sinn Féin. You might expect that the media would treat the party with an endless interrogation about their relationship to violence and illegality. And you’d be right. They do and rightly so.
We are going to have to keep asking those questions the nearer Sinn Féin get to power. But as much as that exercises the media there are other things that do also and at times it seems to a much larger degree. So the recent rise of one Sinn Féin candidate in Dublin was treated by one leading Irish Times commentator as a chance to smirk at the party’s TDs for only taking the equivalent of the average living wage.
That this should be seen as a point of mockery tells us nothing about Sinn Féin but an awful lot about Irish politics and the media who live next to it. Somehow corruption, self-enrichment and the worship of money is seen as the norm and the expected.
The turning away from self-enrichment and the treating of politics by public representatives as a way of affecting the future of the nation is seen as suspect and something to be laughed at. What does that say about politics and about the media who cover it? What does it say about the undoubted winners of this election, Sinn Féin?
One thing it could say is that, despite the continuance of Fianna Fáil, Irish politics might be about to change.
Sinn Féin, who knows, maybe here is a genuinely new way of doing politics. Isn’t there something to be said about TDs who show their commitment by only taking the living wage, especially after the chancers and gurriers who have been TDs?
And for all of those voters who trooped in and ticked the same old weary box next to Fianna Fáil it wasn’t only Sinn Féin who popped up in the other corner. Put aside for a moment all of those doubts about Sinn Féin and put aside too the nagging worry that as a nationalist party Sinn Féin might yet turn out to be Ireland’s UKIP.
For amongst this election of council seats, European seats and by-elections a certain Ruth Coppinger will be taking her new seat in the Dáil as a member of the Socialist Party and will be yet another TD taking only the living wage.
Its been a long time coming and James Connolly and Archbishop McQuaid might be turning in their graves at the thought of it, albeit for very different reasons. But after this election we can legitimately ask. Is Ireland turning left?