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The protestantisation of Ireland?

by Frank Schnittger Fri Oct 21st, 2011 at 10:11:14 AM EST

David Adams, in a misguided but perhaps tongue-in-cheek piece in the Irish Times, seeks to cast the lambasting of Dana and Martin McGuinness in the Irish presidential election campaign as a reflection of the "fact" that southerners hate northerners and are just as comfortable with the partition of Ireland as his own northern Unionist and Loyalist community.

Reality is us northerners are not liked down here

It has become crystal clear during this campaign that people "down here" don't like us northerners very much. Not in any individual sense - I'm sure lots of southerners could think of a likeable person from the North, if they tried hard enough - but in an abstract way. To the southern mind, we're too abrasive, overly aggressive and, when it suits us, pigheadedly literal (the grating accent doesn't help much, either). And that's not the half of it. Ultimately, we're seen as outsiders - if not quite foreigners - poking our noses into a polity that's none of our business.

The shock on the faces of Dana and Martin as the harsh reality of southern partitionism sank in has been something to behold. Dana's previous outings coincided with the tide of goodwill that swept Mary II into the Áras and, a couple of years later, herself briefly into the European parliament. Dana must feel like she's landed on a different planet from 2004 Ireland. As for Martin (who can only be cursing himself for not being more suspicious of Gerry opting to stand in a Border county, rather than run for president), his taken-aback demeanour has, to me at least, often suggested the previously unimaginable: "Good God, these people make even the unionists seem friendly."

So along with everything else, and contrary to some gloomy predictions, the presidential election has, in its own fashion, even helped with mutual understanding in Northern Ireland. Pity there couldn't be one every year.

One can understand his joy, as a northern Loyalist, at northern nationalists being savaged by the "southern" media in a manner which would never have happened in Northern Ireland - in a still divided community sensitive to the risks of reopening a sectarian divide. However he provides no evidence for his assertion that 'southerners hate northerners'. The reality is that all of the presidential candidates have been criticised almost equally, and what we are seeing is "politics-as-normal" in a maturing, functioning, democratic polity. This is a case of Dana and McGuinness being slated for being old style catholic nationalists, not northerners.

Far more interesting is the fact that the election campaign can also be understood as a "protestantisation" of Ireland. Protestant, with a small 'p', to be sure, but nevertheless a seminal movement away from the catholic nationalist certainties of yore. One could also use the less controversial term of 'secularisation' of course, but many Catholics are no less religious in their outlook: They have just lost faith in their church hierarchy and in the conservative nationalist political forms that Catholicism has traditionally been associated with.


The separation of church and state is a more typically protestant obsession, as is the privatisation of religious practice and a "dissenting" approach to hierarchical forms of church leadership. Protestant churches in the south are actually thriving and many "mixed marriages" are opting to worship and raise their kids in protestant schools and churches in stark contrast to the historic Ne Temere decree which required that children be raised as Catholics and which devastated many small protestant parishes in the past.

This election is actually a rejection of two old style northern sectarians and an embrace of a southern protestant, David Norris, despite the absolutely disastrous campaign he has run (which would have sunk any other candidate without trace). Dana is the embodiment of old style catholic conservatism and stands at 2% in the polls; McGuinness the embodiment of militant republicanism who looks like doing no better than Sinn Fein's party vote. Gay Mitchell will do badly because he too represents old style partitionist politics.

Sean Gallagher, another "northerner", will do very well because he represents neither republicanism nor Catholicism. . Michael D.Higgins will do well because he represents neither a failed capitalism nor Catholicism, neither republicanism nor civil war politics.

This isn't about North vs. South. It is the protestantisation of Ireland in response to the moral corruption and bigotry of old style Catholicism and the republican project. David Adams should be glad, but it is he who has a partitionist attitude and who yearns for southerners to hate northerners. The fact is the electorate have become regionally blind and far more concerned with moving on from past antagonisms. If we do ever achieve a united Ireland, it will be one in which protestantism will have been a major influence and where regional and religious differences are of very little import.

So how has the campaign been going? The following table lists the opinion polls published since the field of candidates was formally finalised:

As I feared David Norris, the early front runner has run an absolutely disastrous campaign and has fallen rapidly in the polls. He is not alone in this, however, as Dana, Mary Davis, and Gay Mitchell have done similarly badly.  Gay Mitchell's performance as the candidate for Fine Gael, the main government party which is currently still commanding 36% in the polls, has been particularly poor.

Michel D. Higgins has consolidated his status as a front runner, but the real surprise has been Sean Gallagher, former Fianna Fail apparatchik, businessman, and TV reality show panellist.  Despite his recent Fianna Fail past and dodgy business career - he has admitted taking an illegal company loan - he has succeeded in projecting himself as a more youthful, energetic, forward looking entrepreneur: the sort of person, allegedly, that Ireland needs to dig itself out of the depression.

I have written more about the candidates here. Despite widespread cynicism and a feeling that this election for a relatively powerless office is but a distraction from the more serious issues facing Ireland and the Eurozone, I remain of the view that this election, and the wide range of candidates on offer, has been a useful exercise in democracy: It has exposed and helped clarify many of the outstanding tensions still facing us on this island. Sorting out the economic and political crisis within the Eurozone is for another day.

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Is it not that Ireland is moving closer to the Western European norm? The Catholic v Protestant, Unionist v Nationalist and the vote as your ancestors shot in the civil war political cleavages of Ireland past, seem to be becoming less salient.

Ireland needs a new political departure. Any idea what it might be?

by Gary J on Fri Oct 21st, 2011 at 05:06:59 PM EST
I think the situation is incredibly fluid at the moment - as the opinion polls for the Presidential election also show. Any one of the 7 candidates bar Dana had a realistic shot at winning at some stage.

Certainly there has been a shift towards a classic European Christian democrat/social democrat divide - with Labour growing in strength, but also a shift from Fianna Fail to Sinn Fein - i.e. from nationalist to ultra-nationalist.

A lot will depend on how and when and by whom recurring EU crises are resolved. Global capital - aka "the markets" are driving political development and much will depend on how the EU responds to this. Thus the nation state - particularly a small nation state like Ireland - will become increasingly dependent on international and supranational institutions and policies.

These will lead to a nationalist and perhaps a socialist backlash, but also Green and libertarian responses.  

Ireland is at the cross-roads of atlanticist and euro-centric movements and ideologies, it has dabzbled with both state led development and neo-liberal de-regulation.  There is a strong sense of social cohesion which has not been entirely eradicated by class and economic divisions. Religious divisions will become less dominant but I wouldn't rule out a fascist nationalist response to globalisation.

Overall I would be an optimist though. There is an increasing consensus on green issues even in the absence of a strong Green party. A hope for European cooperation which belies the current reality. A capacity for empathy, community and conviviality which negates demonisation and scapegoating.

But I wouldn't be putting any bets on what the party structure will look like in 20 years time...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Oct 21st, 2011 at 05:46:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Certainly there has been a shift towards a classic European Christian democrat/social democrat divide - with Labour growing in strength, but also a shift from Fianna Fail to Sinn Fein - i.e. from nationalist to ultra-nationalist.

But are these actually nationalist voters shifting from Fianna Fail to Sinn Fein? Or is it actually the net result of three other movements:

a) Fianna Fail voters migrating to Fine Gael because Fianna Failed so hard (yes, it's a horrible pun. Sue me)

b) Fine Gael voters migrating to Labour due to the ebbing influence of civil war era politics

c) Labour voters migrating to Sinn Fein, due to the "Political Doppler-Fizeau Effect" whereby the accelerating rightward drift of nominally social democratic parties make the voters look increasingly redshifted.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Oct 23rd, 2011 at 06:51:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am not aware of any data that could evidence any of the above hypotheses.  Certainly there are a lot of disaffected former Fianna Failers looking for a home, but if the above polls are any guide, they have not travelled far.  Sean Gallagher is a Fianna Fail candidate in all but name.

Rather than voters switching parties - a rare phenomenon in Ireland - I would hypothise two trends:

  1. New voters (Ireland has a young population) not voting for any legacy "establishment" parties - FF, FG, or Lab, but voting independent or SF. (In the past some would have voted Green)

  2. An alternative to the ECB/IMF model endorsed by the establishment parties hasn't really found a party home.  SF is unacceptable to many for all sorts of reasons, independents are an inchoate bunch (although mostly to the left).  Thus there is massive volatility (also shown in the residential polls) because TARA hasn't found a party home. Perhaps this is the red-shift effect you are referring to.  The electorate has shifted left but has no party to vote for. Hence Independents are at historic highs.


Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Oct 23rd, 2011 at 08:01:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have update the table in the story to include two polls published today which show Sean Gallagher consolidating his position in the lead. Micheal D. Higgins should do better on lower preference transfers, but if these latest numbers are reflected in the poll, Gallagher must be the favourite.  The gap between the two looks too wide for Higgins to bridge with lower transfer votes.  

However there are still a few days to go and the media are starting to focus more on Gallagher's dodgy business dealings, so I wouldn't rule Higgins out just yet.  What these polls confirm, however, is that all the other candidates are also rans at this stage with McGuinness consolidating his position in third place, and Norris in fourth.  

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Oct 22nd, 2011 at 04:56:42 PM EST
There are three other polls taking place on Thursday: a bye election in Dublin West to replace the form Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan, who died of cancer, and two referenda to change the constitution.

The first constitutional amendment is to allow the Government to reduce Judge's pay in line with other pay levels in the public service - something which is prohibited at the moment in order to preserve judicial independence.  This has resulted in Irish judge's pay being amongst the highest in the world, and completely out of line with other public service salaries which have been substantially reduced since the economic crisis hit..

The second constitutional amendment seeks to give powers of investigation and to make findings of fact to subcommitees of the houses of parliament which have previously been disallowed on the grounds that such investigations are the preserve of the courts.  Because some judicial investigations have cost hundreds of millions in legal fees without producing much of public value, such investigations have come to be seen as a very expensive sinecure for the legal profession.  This amendment is somewhat more controversial as some, include the Irish Council of Civil Liberties, fear that they could result in "McCarthy type" witch hunts by politicians without providing adequate safeguards for individuals being investigated.

The opinion poll findings are that on the judicial pay referendum, 87% said they intended to vote yes; just 8% said they will vote no and 5% are undecided. On strengthening Oireachtas investigations, 76% are in favour of the amendment, 18% opposed, while 6% are undecided.

I have posted (an as yet unpublished) comment on an Irish Times forum in response to the usual legal industry arguments against the second proposed constitutional amendment:

There would be no need to provide the Oireachtas with more investigative powers if we had a functioning justice system. Unfortunately we do not. We have a legal industry dedicated to its own self-aggrandisement and enrichment and of which justice is but an occasional, almost accidental by product.  

So we are stuck with the politicians. A t least we can sack them if they do a bad job. Bad judges and lawyers can never be sacked. They belong to a self perpetuating and self regulating elite which has appropriated the Constitution and the Law from the people for their own benefit.  

Backbenchers and opposition politicians don't have very much to do now in any case and could do with the workload to keep them usefully employed - and they cost a lot less than €300 million. In a democracy the primary power should always be with elected politicians - not with bankers or lawyers or well connected developers.  

You can criticise politicians all you want and throw them out at the next election. Criticise an incompetent judge and you end up in jail indefinitely for "contempt of court". We may hate our politicians, but if we do we are only hating ourselves because it is we who put them there.  

Those who are against these amendments are against democracy. A democracy with all the faults of vote seeking politicians, to be sure, but a democracy nevertheless.  

Our legal industry has a vested interest in crime to maximise their income. No wonder crime is ever on the increase. But there is no financial crime greater than the collective extortion visited upon us by the legal industry and the bankers and developers they have so successfully protected. It's time to clip their wings.

(This is obviously intended as a provocative post, but reflects my anger at the way the legal profession and judicial processes are almost entirely structured to maximise legal costs - and correspondingly deny access to the courts for those who can't afford to pay and don't qualify for very limited legal aid provision).

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Oct 22nd, 2011 at 05:16:13 PM EST
...he has succeeded in projecting himself as a more youthful, energetic, forward looking entrepreneur: the sort of person, allegedly, that Ireland needs to dig itself out of the depression.

Gallagher seems more like the type who got Ireland into its mess in the first place: a crony capitalist.  But he's succeeding by distancing himself from the old ways, which is a good sign.  My best friend and I (He's an American Irish Catholic, and back in the day when sectarianism mattered to me, we bloodied our knuckles on one another a few times before we agreed to just move on.) have decided several times that the Republic was never going to get itself together either internally or internationally so long as it gave every indication of continuing to operate under Canon Law.  Hell, even the Italians refuse to do that.  When Ireland was the light of learning for Western Civilization in the early Middle Ages, it wasn't terribly interested in taking orders from Rome.  That's the attitude it should take now.

by rifek on Sun Oct 23rd, 2011 at 01:36:53 AM EST
I have added two further polls, published today, to the table in the story.  They both confirm Sean Gallagher as favourite with Michael D. Higgins as his only possible challenger.  Although Michael D. is projected to do well on the transfer of lower preference votes, the gap now looks too wide for him to bridge.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Oct 23rd, 2011 at 06:04:02 PM EST
That is to bad.

Any particular reason Sean Gallagher is doing so well?

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Oct 24th, 2011 at 08:51:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, the options are:

  1. Micheal D. Higgins: an aged leprechaun who irritates the hell out of me and half the people I know.  Also, Labour's performance in government has been crap.

  2. Dana Rosemary "Batshit" Scanlon: crazed US-style radical right catholic. Maybe not.

  3. David Norris: Too west-brit for some and, let's face it, enough people are looking for an excuse not to vote for the "faggot" that the slung mud stuck easily. An older relative's refusing to vote for him because he didn't want little boys running naked around the President's House gives you an idea of the private tone.

  4. Gay "Grey" Mitchell: being the FG candidate when they're busy continuing the crashing of the economy isn't a good plan. Also, Mitchell is uninspiring.

  5. Mary Davis: a poster campaign designed to make her look like an angel, a lot of emphasis on her career in the charity busines, a lot of sitting on FF appointed boards. Not as crypto-Fianna Fail as Gallagher, but close enough. Doesn't seem to have impressed people in the debates.

  6. Martin McGuinness: the reputed head of the IRA for most of the Troubles. The joke goes "I'm afraid I can't vote for McGuinness" "Why are you afraid, he doesn't know?".

  7. Sean "As seen on TV" Gallagher. Younger. "Independent". Was on TV. Just because he worked for Haughey, raised money for the party and sat on the executive doesn't make him crypto-Fianna Fail, honest guv.

<sigh>

For the record, I'll be voting 3, 1, 4, 5, 7, 2, 6 in order of preference. 4 and 5 may be interchangable.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Oct 24th, 2011 at 09:04:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, and our next government will be Fianna Fail led, since Labour sold their soul to get into government and get some real jobs. Should have pushed FF and FG into coalition, but no, they had to be serious.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Oct 24th, 2011 at 09:06:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The alternative is perhaps a Sinn Fein led Government, although the rise of Sean Gallagher seems to indicate that all Fianna Fail need to do is re-brand/rename itself and it will once again become the "natural" party of Government. Do we ever learn?

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Oct 24th, 2011 at 10:18:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nah, still too many bodies - the likes of McGuiness would have to own up and drop out. An FF/SF coalition is possible though, or FF with SF support.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Oct 24th, 2011 at 10:20:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
<shock>I seem to agree with every word you've written including your voting intentions! </shock>

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Oct 24th, 2011 at 10:16:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You'll join me on the dark side yet.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Oct 24th, 2011 at 10:19:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course I can't formally endorse your ageist and sizeist comments about Michael D.!  Sanctimonious preacher wouldn't be more my line...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Oct 24th, 2011 at 11:35:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Is Michael D.Higgins the first Labour president?
by IM on Fri Oct 28th, 2011 at 04:45:26 PM EST
Technically yes. Mary Robinson was also a member of the Labour party but ran as an indepemdent (with Labour Party support).

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Oct 29th, 2011 at 02:53:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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