Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Times They Ain't a'Changin'

No in-depth analysis of the election results here, I will leave that to others and, in any case, the outcome has left me a bit too weary to do so. In years gone by I would probably have spat fire and declared myself to be disgusted at Fianna Fáil edging closer to an overall majority and Fine Gael approaching fifty seats at the expense of smaller, left-wing parties but I am rather sanguine about the choice made by the Irish people to maintain the status quo (or, perhaps more accurately, to return us to the status quo of an earlier age). The economy, so far, is still buoyant and there is no sense of panic among the electorate; that much was known before the election. As for Fianna Fáil and Bertie Ahern being punished for their blatant corruption, that was never going to happen at the ballot box, as it has never been something that has exercised the concerns of Irish voters too much. I remember my uncle at the time of the 1989 election, complaining that it 'said a lot about this country that blackguards like Seán Doherty and John Ellis coast to re-election while decent people like Ted Nealon struggle to get returned'. Ireland is far from being the only country in the galaxy where that is the case however - one need only look at the selection of convicted crook Alain Juppé in Nicolas Sarkozy's cabinet for proof of this. There may come a time when the flagrant abuse of public office by Irish politicians will be effectively tried in court but it will never happen on election day.

The real opportunity missed is for a more civic-minded governance that might have eventually got the country's infrastructural shambles sorted out, the health service upgraded to something resembling that of a civilised country, and faced down powerful interest groups such as the publicans, the builders and the auctioneers. But we all know what party takes care of them. Socially-progressive legislation from Fianna Fáil is most likely going to take the form of the (admittedly admirable) tax on plastic bags. They might even surprise us and fob us off with gay marriages and stronger civil unions for all, but it won't go much beyond that.

Though I've never voted either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael in my life, I grew up in a place where people seldom voted anything but either, and Ballymote returned for the first time in history two TDs - one Fine Gael, the sitting TD John Perry (himself a disgruntled renegade from FF a long time ago) and the other, the former Senator Eamonn Scanlon, of Fianna Fáil. I know both men (or certainly knew them better when I was growing up) and I am not so bolshy that I can't wish them both well. In a clientelist system like Ireland's, ideals, or even ideology, count for very little, and I am man enough to accept that, as I am to accept that the depressing prospect of a Fianna Fáil-Labour coalition (five years of which will only damage Labour) is very much alive.

Ideology (or a naïve belief in it) did for the Progressive Democrats, who have experienced a sore encounter with the face-cloth of history. The party's appeal has shrivelled to less than 3% of voters, and their relevance is now in question - after all, who needs a free-marketeer fringe party in a booming economy where nobody calls into question the primacy of the market? To the best of my knowledge Michael McDowell has become the first party leader (or major party leader, at least) in history to lose his seat (Dick Spring came very close back in 1987). I am not claiming any unique insight here as it was a view held by many but this is how I assessed McDowell's election as PD leader last September. McDowell's retirement from public life is one of the few cheering things about this election but it is really only a battle won in an otherwise devastating war. Sad to see Joe Higgins, the Kerry Marxist who was hand-over-fist the most brilliant debater in the Dáil, lose his seat; as Donagh of Dublin Opinion says, Leinster House will be a duller place without Higgins and the keen sarcasm of the Ranelagh Rottweiller.


Dario Sanchez said...

It's funy that you call McDowell's defeat cheering.

Most people are lamenting his loss, but frankly I think he believed himself to be more clever than he was, and this high-mindedness obviously failed to fool the electorate this time around.

Also, a relation (brother, I believe), called Moore McDowell railed against falling literacy standards at UCD, which is a lie, so maybe I'm just not enamoured with the whole family.

Out of curiousity, did you get a postal vote?

seanachie said...

Postal vote in an Irish election? Such a thing is a veritable Urban Legend. I have spoken before on it here, and here. Us lads gone off foreign don't get to vote.

Dario Sanchez said...

Ah, it's a kind of up-yours-for-leaving from the Irish government, I see.

Well, even if I do go abroad, it's not like my vote made any difference this time around.

Cashel Hill said...

Perry was in FF? That's news to me. How long ago are we talking now?

BTW McDowell wasn't the first leader lost. Frank Cluskey was unseated as Labour leader in 1981.

seanachie said...

Thanks for the clarification re: Cluskey.

Perry's FF membership goes back a long time, to his Ógra days in the late 70s. He left the local Cumann in Ballymote for the the expedient reason of being passed over for a council candidature. Not exactly a high-profile defector then but Perry is a man whose political heritage and culture is pure Fianna Fáil.