Reflections on the Peaceable Exchange of Power in Ireland
February 26, 2011 4 Comments
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.