It shall be our duty to promote the development of the
Nation’s resources, to increase the productivity of its soil,
to exploit its mineral deposits, peat bogs, and fisheries,
its waterways and harbours, in the interests and
for the benefit of the Irish people.
Democratic Programme of the First Dáil
Throughout the entire history of the State, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have dosey-doed their way in and out of office, with Labour selling their souls for the occasional ‘excuse me’. Such was the rhythm of Irish elections. Until it wasn’t. After generations of batting the electoral ball between two right-wing parties along Civil War lines of loyalty, in the last three elections, we voted in unprecedented numbers against the ‘ruling’ parties of the last hundred years and for outsiders, non-politicians, single-issue warriors, and the like. The effective message from the electorate was a pox on all your houses.
Those votes, scattered as they were among independents and small parties, still left us, every time, with a Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil pas de deux. In 2020, however, much of that vote for change coalesced around Sinn Féin and other left-wing parties, leaving the picture even murkier than before, with an effective three-way tie between Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and Sinn Féin, and still no clear winner.
We could stay locked inside this continuous shuffling of votes back and forth forever, in never-ending stagnation. This isn’t a hiccough. Those three elections have made it clear that something important has changed and is still changing. The dislocation, the dissatisfaction, the anger, and the cynicism, all speak of a desire for something new—and the clear shift to the left in the last election gives us an idea of what that something is. If only we could come up with a coherent, collective response (A very Irish coup).
None of the smaller parties, learning from the mistakes of history, were willing to go into coalition with anyone and break the stalemate, except for the Greens, obviously. Eamon Ryan is gambling that the climate toward climate change has changed enough to get through a major piece of Green policy; if it pays off, he may lose at the next election anyway. And few people know that better than Eamon Ryan, because it happened before.
But the biggest losers could very well be Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in a grand coalition in the middle of a global pandemic. The big threat for both parties isn’t biological. It isn’t even political. It’s existential. If they stand too close together, either one or both could disappear in the last puff of smoke to come out of the Civil War; that is, as soon as enough voters recognise that the only ideological or practical difference left between them is who shot Michael Collins and they’ve agreed to let that lie. The rest is just bickering and poll dancing.
GE2020 was the election that everybody, in fact, lost.
A very Irish coup
Albert Einstein said that we can’t solve problems with the same thinking we used to create them. Though we do keep trying. Swinging endlessly between two parties that come from a socially conservative, right centrist, and redundant tradition of party politics in Ireland got us as far as the mess we’re in. But take Einstein’s word for it, it’s not going to get us out of it.
The pandemic has drawn a sharp divide between those who could lose their houses or their jobs or their lives because of the pandemic, and those who are calculating how to foreclose on mortgages that will become ‘distressed’, who will use job losses to depress wages, or who talk out loud about the premium represented by the death rate among older citizens making houses available and reducing the cost of pensions.
Three elections that nobody won and everybody lost
After a century of batting the electoral ball between two right-wing parties, in the last three elections, we voted in unprecedented numbers against the ‘ruling’ parties of the last hundred years and for outsiders, non-politicians, single-issue warriors, and the like. The effective message from the electorate was a pox on all your houses.
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