by Frank Schnittger
Sun Apr 19th, 2020 at 01:24:29 AM EST
Irish Independent: We need another election when normal life resumes (second letter down)
Fine Gael campaigned to remain in office and won 35 seats, a loss of 15 seats. All the other parties and candidates campaigned for a change of government, and succeeded in wining 125 seats. A decisive victory, well done.
Now, somehow, many of those 125 TDs find themselves unable or unwilling to form a government and the responsibility is said to fall, once again, on Fine Gael to form one. Where is the logic in that?
Cobbling together a government of two or more parties that promised not to coalesce with each other is no way to honour the will of the people. It can only end badly.
If those 125 TDs want to be true to their mandate, let them deliver a government. If not, we have no option but to have another general election to give a mandate to TDs and parties who are actually prepared to form a government and who have campaigned on that basis.
Any party programmes put forward will then also have to explain how they will deal with the realities of post-coronavirus Ireland and the world. That debate will, in and of itself, be a good and necessary thing.
The election can be held just as soon as "normal" life resumes. In the meantime, the current "caretaker" government should just get on with the job of managing the crisis as best as it can. That should be its sole focus until the election is called.
As I wrote in Hurlers on the ditch Irish politics is currently awash with politicians adept at emoting the frustrations of the electorate but who run a mile when the prospect of real responsibility beckons. They are good at shouting abuse from the sidelines at those who are trying to govern the country, but disinclined to take on that responsibility themselves.
So I have been ramping up the pressure, via letters published in the Irish Times and Irish Independent, for them to shit or burst. The February general election produced an overwhelming mandate for change, and yet here we are still stuck with the same tiny minority government and no prospect of a new government being formed any time soon. It has gone past the joke.
I have no doubt that the electorate share my impatience and would give short shrift to the many smaller parties and independents who have shirked their responsibility to date if another election were called now. Of course that election cannot take place while the lock-down is in place, and so, realistically we are probably talking about another election in the autumn.
But my hope is that another election will not be necessary and that the vast majority of the Dáil will succeed in electing a new government sooner rather than later. At the moment only Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are seriously trying to form a government and they don't reflect the sort of radical change the electorate voted for.
Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have just produced a "framework document" setting out their priorities for government in the hope of enticing some smaller parties to join them thus creating a stable coalition with an overall majority. It includes a lot of big spending commitments without being specific about funding or timscale, and so far none of the smaller parties have expressed much interest despite many of their own policy proposals being included.
There is an overall sense that the document doesn't reflect the changed realities that are likely to apply in a post Covid-19, post Brexit, post trade protectionism, post global corporate tax reform, post climate change world, especially if the European Union and Eurozone also fail to address those challenges. All the risks appear to be on the downside and it appears that almost nobody wants to be in office when the shit hits the fan and those challenges have to be faced.
There is a crisis of leadership and a lack of vision in the Irish political system at the moment and perhaps only another general election can clear out the dead wood and reward those who are prepared to embrace the very uncertain future with the courage and candour that is likely to be required. Fintan O'Toole has written a perceptive piece on the insecurity and unease that has gripped the Irish people even before Covid-19 struck (regrettably behind a paywall). Here is a flavour of his analysis of an in depth survey of Irish opinions that has just been published.
Anxiety was already in the Irish air even before coronavirus was. The groundwork for the Sign of the Times study of Irish attitudes was done in February, before the threat from Covid-19 loomed large in the public consciousness.
Yet here are some of the phrases that emerged: "an underlying a sense of anxiety, with many feeling that we're living on the edge"; "feels like it wouldn't take much for it to come crashing down; "no evidence of a back-up plan". One respondent pointed to the way early childcare facilities had almost closed in December because they couldn't get insurance. "Crisis averted this time, but what will be next?" One of the things Irish people were afraid of was a "major healthcare crisis".
This prescience might seem mystical, as if the nation was reading its tarot cards and turning up all the bad omens. In the context of what was then a booming economy with technically full employment, this level of dread is all the more remarkable. The giant cranes, totems of boomtime, were dominating the skyline. Investment in Ireland, private and public, was projected to reach 2 billion a week during 2020. The most obvious problems were growing pains: there were too few houses and public services were too constrained for a rapidly rising population. Yet there we were, even in our ignorance of what was coming: the worried well.
In thinking about how the pandemic will affect Irish politics, it is important to remember that the body politic had this pre-existing condition. We like to think of ourselves as a happy-go-lucky people. One of the markers of Irish identity that emerged in the Sign of the Times survey, indeed, is the "we're laid-back, relaxed, it'll be grand" mentality. But this broad self-image is flatly contradicted by the actual findings. We are not laid-back about the state of our society. We are not relaxed. Even before the disaster hit us, we did not think things would be grand.
So far there is little sign that the Irish political system is reflecting this unease and anxiety and this yearning for change - beyond a collective running away from the responsibility for dealing with it... It may well take a new generation of leaders to take on the burden of that responsibility. There are too many passengers in the current Dáil looking for an easy ride.