In 2011 we wrote in this space, “You would think from our recent history of some of the most notoriously bad governance on the planet, that we would have learnt that our political classes need to be replaced. In fact, this election time we see no new ideas”.
Sadly democracy in Ireland needs an overhaul every bit as much now as it did in 2011. Village is disappointed at the quality of politics, across the range. It’s easily diagnosed:
Fine Gael is open to regressive policies and cronyism. However, at least on its own terms it deserves credit because it has consistently stuck to its agenda of (unimaginative) economic orthodoxy and because Enda Kenny has proved relatively competent, in the face of scepticism, including from this magazine. In 2011, we stated, “ Perhaps it is a unique merit of Fine Gael that if it is elected with a mandate, this time it may actually govern as it has campaigned. The electorate will be able to assess whether what it voted for was what it wanted”. This edition of Village explores at length the extent to which the coalition government delivered on its Programme for Government. It’s a fair test and it shows that, beyond promoting economic stability, the Government has been a disappointment.
Labour certainly does not have the Fine Gael appeal of consistency. It never does what its manifestos promise. Worse, a number of its senior TDs have allowed themselves to appear smug and ideologically jaded or even, in Alan Kelly’s case, dangerous. Because of the elasticity of its conscience Labour has long attracted the wrong type of representatives.
Fianna Fáil is tainted by its reckless past and the incoherence of its platform. It believes serving the people, parish and business in equal measure is viable. It has learnt little beyond the need to regulate the banks.
Sinn Féin’s commitment to a Left agenda is unclear bearing in mind its defining preference for irredentist nationalism over ideology, its centrist pragmatism in the North and its willingness to coalesce with Fianna Fáil. Its performance at local-authority level is not impressive or particularly leftist. It is cultist, and ambivalent about democracy and transparency, and its leaders lie casually about its, and particularly its leader Gerry Adams’, past.
Renua seems like a somehow unendearing chip off Fine Gael’s Christian Democratic block, with a penchant for propriety.
The Independent Alliance (dubbed Shane Féin) is utterly incoherent of policy and membership. If ex-stockbroker Mr Ross and turfcutter Michael Fitzmaurice ever breathed an atom of the same political air, Village cannot imagine where it was.
Village has a weakness for the Social Democrats, whose mild platform is essentially the same as Labour’s, though strangely more pro-business, but whose small membership is more prepossessing. Its antipathy to water taxes is expedient but regrettable.
The radical Left offers the huge appeal of integrity and seriousness but its opposition to property taxes is inexcusable, and its focus on opposition to the loathed water taxes rather than a broader anti-inequality platform, including opposition to the iniquities of Nama, corruption and the resurrection of the developer classes has diverted its revolutionary ideology.
The Green Party’s policies are often radical, and its agenda mature, but it is not hard-minded and it achieved so little in the last government that it is difficult to be enthusiastic.
To the extent that we have not afforded space in this edition of Village to the policies and protagonists of most of these parties, it is because they simply don’t offer enough to justify it.
Village believes equality of outcome, sustainability and accountability are the most important policies; and it is difficult to be optimistic about their immediate Irish prospects.
Laboured machinations over the fiscal space are ephemeral, though most of the other media address little else.
Reflecting the need for a vision of society as well as economy this edition focuses on the coalition’s delivery across a number of departments that promote equality, sustainability and accountability, though we do have articles by Constantin Gurdgiev, Michelle Murphy and Sinead Pentony on the iniquitous handling of the fragile economy.
We consider Education, Health, Social Welfare, Environment including climate change, Small Firms policy, and Accountability. These departments make life worth living. We systematically assess whether they achieved the goals set by the Government for each of them when it took office.
In the end the conclusion is that they have underperformed. And so therefore has the unimaginative, regressive and stolid Government behind them.
Against this backdrop, we would again not presume to advise readers where to direct their votes.
However, we can say the non-ideological, non-visionary parties of the pragmatic centre hold little appeal, even when mitigated by somewhat more thoughtful ones.
A coalition of the parties of the Left, radical Left and the Greens would, as always, best promote Village’s agenda, if no doubt imperfectly.