In essence, though, Fine Gael is doing little more than replacing its doppelganger, the centre-right Fianna Fail; and maybe I’m wrong, but my sense is that this administration, even if it runs the full five years, will go down in history as a holding government, a bridge between the worn-out politics of the post-Civil War generations and a political outlook that governs with one eye on the future rather than the past.
In the Wicklow constituency, where I’ll be voting, Independent candidate Stephen Donnelly (above, right) seems to me to come closest to encapsulating the coming change. His policies, as detailed below, are by turns brash, ambitious, naïve and heartfelt:
Give banking debt back to the banks.Leaving aside the moral aspects of Irish taxpayers having to fund the IMF / ECB bailout, which is largely linked to the gambling debts of an elite gang of financial incontinents, I believe that the banking debt and the bailout will have to be negotiated as a matter of course, on the very simple basis that you can’t get blood from a stone. As I understand it, the mood in Europe is one that it makes no sense to run Ireland into the ground and get no money at all out of the country; better to ease the conditions and make sure that there’s some kind of constant cash flow being milked.
Renegotiate the IMF bailout.
Start a National Reconstruction Bank to fund job creation.
Attract investment for jobs in Wicklow.
Improve education standards for our children.
Reform the political system - change the people and change the rules.
The idea of a National Reconstruction Fund for job creation is a laudable one, even if it’s largely a retread of the old IDA, and I’d wonder where said funding might come from - presumably from telling the IMF / ECB to take a walk.
Attracting investment for jobs in Wicklow is again laudable, although it smacks of insularity and the parish-pump politics that has bedevilled this country for generations now. Meanwhile, it’s impossible to argue with improving education standards for children.
It’s in the reform of the political system that I think Stephen Donnelly and his fellow independents will matter most in the new Dail. For the most part, Independents have a bad name in Irish politics right now, largely due to the pork-barrel antics of the likes of Jackie Healy-Rae and Michael Lowry, which at one point last year led to a major European newspaper running a picture of the gombeen-looking Healy-Rae in his flat cap under the headline, ‘Is This The Man Holding Europe To Ransom?’
I’m hopeful that Stephen Donnelly represents an entirely new kind of Independent. I’m hopeful that - the ‘jobs for Wicklow’ policy aside - he’s one of a new breed that will be inclined to work for the good of the country as a whole, not just his own constituency and voters. I’ve argued in the past that too many elected Independents would be a bad thing in terms of their potential to destabilise any government dependent on their whims; now, with Fine Gael headed for an overall majority, or more likely a coalition government with Labour, a rash of Independents buzzing about Dail Eireann might well be exactly what this country needs.
Because what this country needs in terms of true political reform is a brand new political party, one that has no ties to the Civil War, that owes no debt to either big business or the unions; one that is young, brash, naïve and ambitious, and preferably left-leaning, an anti-Progressive Democrat party to counter-balance the centre-right politics of what has historically been a Fine Gael-Fianna Fail hegemony.
There have been a few abortive attempts to establish new parties in recent years, and there are a number of embryonic parties running candidates in this election, but the nature of Irish politics is such that it’s very difficult for a new party to gain traction with the electorate unless, as was the case with the PDs, they’re a disaffected rump of an established party.
What may well trump Irish political history is the election of a record number of Independent candidates, enough of whom will share a common cause to establish not just a technical group in the Dail to provide it with speaking rights, but a platform on which can be established a coherent political party in its own right. It won’t happen overnight, of course, but given the number of credible Independent candidates going forward for election, it’s certainly a possibility.
And so I’m voting for what I believe to be the most credible local Independent candidate, Stephen Donnelly. Where previously Independent TDs such as Jackie Healy-Rae and Michael Lowry had the capacity to destabilise the Dail and hold Irish democracy itself to ransom by their pork-barrel demands, a group of organised Independents have the capacity to destabilise the Irish political system itself, to prove that the tired old men (and they’re mostly men) and their tired old ideas have run their course. At the risk of sounding ageist, I’m voting for Stephen Donnelly not just on the basis of his policies but because he is young, and because for the first time in my life I’m not voting for myself, but on behalf of my three-year-old daughter.
To mangle Yeats entirely, this is no longer a country for old men. The country of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, of Labour and Sinn Fein, is with O’Leary in his grave, even if Enda Kenny and Michael Martin, and Eamon Gilmore and particularly Gerry Adams, have yet to realise they’re little more than the living ghosts of ‘those dying generations’, the death rattle of insularity, petty vengeance, violence and power for its own sake, the last gasp of a political system that has given us ‘leaders’ of the calibre of the snake-oil salesman Bertie Ahern and the venally corrupt Charles J. Haughey.
“Age and guile,” as PJ O’Rourke once said, “beat youth, innocence and a bad haircut.” Except Stephen Donnelly has a bald head on young shoulders. The future is surely ours.