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Irish poll gives grist for the mill of endless political speculation

February 29th, 2016

Unfortunately for Ireland, it’s not all over bar the shouting.

The 2016 general election was held on Friday February 26, but when and how the new government will be formed is anybody’s guess, and the guessing is going to be prolonged and probably wrong.

That other cliché, about “the people have spoken, but we don’t know what they’ve said”, has been over-ventilated in the days since the election. However Fintan O’Toole in The Irish Times had a crack at decoding, and his analysis is worth reading.

Ireland, as most readers would know, was hit savagely by the Great Financial Crisis. Over-reliance on property lending and purchase, particularly by small banks who should have known better, meant that the whole economy came crashing down in 2008. This, post the failure of Goldman Sachs, could be traced back to the spread of derivatives and mortgages for people who could never pay them back, as best described by US author Michael Lewis.

So in Ireland – famously described as “the Wild West of European finance” by The New York Times – imprudent and unregulated behaviour in the banking sector eventually led to the impoverishment of the nation.

However, not all pigs are created equal, and the wealthier pigs generally got off very well. But if you were an Irish person on a small fixed income, with a disabled child, trying to make a living in third-level education or the building industry, you were in trouble. Government cuts appeared to fall mostly on the poor, and the imposition of universal water charges caused a rage and refusal that became durable.

After the crash of 2008, unemployment soared to 15 per cent – and that was only what was admitted. Many people could no longer pay their mortgages, and, seven years later, the full fallout of this was only becoming apparent as more and more families sought emergency accommodation.

So what was happening in Kildare Street, home of the Irish Lower House, the Dail?

The government which presided over the property madness, the “Celtic Tiger” boom, was turfed out at the 2011 election by a furious electorate.

Five years later, however, the party which comprised that government, Fianna Fail, has come back from its decimation and now, two days after the election, holds 43 seats in the 158-seat lower chamber, the engine of government.

The previous incumbent, Fine Gael, holds slightly more seats. The two parties are old enemies dating back to Ireland’s civil war in the 1920s, and once it would have been unthinkable that they would join forces to govern.

But that was then: this is now, with an array of small parties and independents taking a third of the seats in the new Dail – a refreshingly democratic but unworkable mixture. The two big beasts will have to bury their tusks and talk about working together. This is what the pundits have been saying on talk shows in the lead-up to the election, and what the paper of God, The Irish Times, says, not too forcefully, in its editorial on the election result.

Much has been made, almost gleefully, of Ireland possibly joining Europe in a new way, by being one of the countries (see Spain, Belgium) which in recent times have struggled for months to form a workable government following elections.

From this observer’s point of view, the thirst for power, or office, is so strong in the professional politician that, most of them, would sell their mothers to get a toe in any administration.

And that is one of the reasons why the rise of the Independents, on one hand, is a very good thing: such people know they have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being in government , or running a Ministry. But they still want to be there, representing their constituents and making short those who are in power do not ride roughshod over the rights of all.

If democracy is sought, the roots of the word have to be respected: demos, the people, and kratos, rule.

When the people speak, they don’t always do so in neat joined up sentences. That is something we all have to accept.

 


 

 

 

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