Reflections on the Peaceable Exchange of Power in Ireland

A scene from the recent campaign. One very welcome outcome is the death of the political-environmentalist movement of the Green Party, lead by John Gormley, pictured above.

I never liked Fine Gael.

I’ll qualify that statement somewhat. Fine Gael ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility in this election. The Smaller, Better Government idea was key to the public sector policy espoused in their Manifesto, which proposed to cut the size of the state by ten percent during their first term. That’s a great start. Normally, I will vote for any party that aims to cut spending, reduce the deficit and not increase the tax burden. It may be a far cry from what I, as a libertarian, incessantly demand: an end to the graduated income tax, the de-nationalisation of money, the abolition of public schools and all aspects of prohibition on victimless human vices, such as marijuana use, gambling and prostitution.

We live in a world of compromises, however, and many of my friends were surprised that I did not enthusiastically embrace Fine Gael in 2011. Shouldn’t I endorse the most ‘small government’ party in the Dáil?

No, I would not, because I never liked Fine Gael.

I remember Fine Gael in 2007, and even way back in 2002, at the somewhat disinterested age of thirteen. Fine Gael, on those occasions, was clearly running on a social justice, left-of-centre platform. Remember the ill-fated ‘Celtic Snail’ campaign? How about the constant rallying against the infrastructure deficit? Like Fianna Fáil, they were promising the world: more hospital beds, more schools, and more spending of almost every kind, which could be magically achieved without raising taxes. Goodness, look at Enda Kenny trying, badly, to present himself as an FDR figure without scaring anyone away by actually articulating a clear legislative agenda:

At least they were never as bad as Labour in 2007, which had a campaign predicated upon increasing individual happiness, and remedying the ‘stress’ of everyday life. I still suspect the whole thing was drafted by Scientologists. All my life, until the release of the 2011 Manifesto, Fine Gael seemed to me to be another Labour Party in Ireland. More accurately, they were populists – just like Fianna Fáil. Only they were less good at it, forever doomed to be out of power until the electorate got bored with Fianna Fáil, or Fianna Fáil made an insane foul. Plus, the fact that they consistently needed to rely on Labour to obtain power made the party a bitter pill to swallow.

The first and only Irish party I became a member of and supported was the Progressive Democrats. They seemed to be the only folks with brains (which is probably why they were widely hated) and I thought they could keep Fianna Fáil in check. So I voted for the FF/PD coalition. The PDs were still hindered by the accursed legacy of the Civil War, however. They never could carve out a support base in a country where support for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael could transcend generations.

I am ashamed I once gave indirect support to a party without any real vision, but merely a populist agenda that cut taxes yet still spent and spent much more. A party that was a slave to the special pleading of special interests. I did so because the other crowd were the loony-lefties. Fianna Fáil, it turned out, were no better. Economic populism is endemic to the left. It has no place on the sensible right.

I suspect Fine Gael is just more of the same. For years it has been the similar, valueless accumulation of schoolteachers and bogmen whose only selling point was it wasn’t Fianna Fáil. The 2011 Manifesto, if adhered to, has the potential to change all that. I could be the most significant document in Fine Gael history. It all depends on the role of Labour in the next government, with whom it is of utmost importance to keep out of power. Fine Gael has gone on the path of a centre-right platform. It’s not perfect, as they still support job-killing provisions like minimum wage increases. Proposals to abolish the minimum wage, however, may be too shocking for the Irish masses, and especially the influential Irish poverty industry centred around those like Fergus Finlay.

Irish writer Shane Coleman said the Civil War parties of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would not last another twenty years. It was in 2007, when people laughed away his warnings that half of Ireland’s construction sector jobs could be lost during the imminent property market downturn. It turned out that over 53% were to be lost. Only an economic disaster would force such a change. Forget Michael Martin warning against Ireland adopting a ‘tired’ national debate between left and right. A debate between two shapeless blurs is even more tired. The dissolution of this Civil War system is imminent. Soon we will have a fiscally responsible, centre-right party whose main opposition will be a continental-style ‘democratic’ socialist movement.

That, I think, could be the real legacy of the 2011 General Election.

The Fianna Fáil movement could be left out in the cold indefinitely.

 

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About Cranky Notions
Reactionary. That fella from the Norris scandal.

4 Responses to Reflections on the Peaceable Exchange of Power in Ireland

  1. Colman says:

    Good post John.

    I too believe that we’re witnessing the begininning of the end of Civil War politics. Fine Gael’s move to the right has been interesting and while I’m no fan of the party, I do believe it’s important that we develop a left-right political divide in this state, and from that point of view Fine Gael’s ideological realignment is welcome.

    However, Labour’s impatience and hunger for Ministerial positions will be the death of them. They, as the likely minority coalition partner, more than Fine Gael, will suffer at the next election after making unpopular decisions in government. This, obviously, will damage the Left, but it will benefit Sinn Féin.

    Sinn Féin ran an excellent campaign and set solid foundations for future gains in many constituencies. Also, they’re increasingly distancing themselves from their murky past. There are Northern Ireland Assembly elections in a month or two, and there’s a very real possibility that Martin McGuinness could become First Minister. 2011 will be a historic one for the party.

    The future’s very uncertain for Fianna Fáil. I just don’t know what to say about them.

    • Thanks Colman.

      Fianna Fail may be able to build itself up if it becomes the largest opposition party in the Dáil, which is what I am most worried about.

      Sinn Féin performed very well, though Garret Fitzgerald noted they did not gain any more votes in Dublin than they had in 2007. Perhaps this is their peak. Every factor was with them, with the dire economic situation and the unpopular EU/IMF deal which increased nationalistic and radical feeling.

  2. Gubu World says:

    Excellent Post John

    Ireland will never have a party that advocates small government (Ron Paul style). Fine Gael and the now obsolete PD’s flirt with the concept occasionally but it will never take off. Like most Europeans we just don’t buy the argument that the state has little or no role to play in economic matters. This is especially true in Ireland where the Irish Citizen Army (James Connolly’s crowd) played a key role in the 1916 Rising and subsequent conflicts with the British. The legacy of Trade Union involvement in events from 1916 to 1921 has created a sense of union entitlement to be central players in Irish political and economic life. The unions in Ireland are here to stay. They may expand or be curtailed from time to time but they will always be here. Government intervention is a fact of life in Ireland. I would like to see it limited, I suspect you would like to see it eradicated. I can never see this happening.

    • I had never considered the 1916 legacy, good point. It certainly helps explain this undesirable ‘social partnership’ scheme that has leeched on Irish productivity.

      Ron Paul style libertarianism certainly isn’t going mainstream in Ireland, or virtually anywhere else for that matter. Policies like that will need to be confined to think-thanks, academic gatherings and such. The UK has excellent resources in this regard, with the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Adam Smith Institute, the Freedom Association and others. I think the success of these reflects Britain’s fine tradition of liberalism and Enlightenment philosophy, thinking especially of John Locke and Adam Smith.

      The best we can hope for is a Thatcherite-style wing of Fine Gael, like that which exists in the UK Conservative Party, centered on groups like Conservative Way Forward. It would be interesting to see how the likes of Varadkar and Creighton try to make their views into governing policy in this administration.

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