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Editorial, December 2019; Not Fine.

Village often gets frustrated by the weakness of the Left and of the Greens.  However, it aims in general terms to be supportive of them, particularly in their radical forms. This is because they come closest – though still not that close – to furthering the agenda of equality of outcome, sustainability and accountability that drives this magazine.

Village, not having fought in the civil war, has always struggled to register the animating idea of our bigger parties.  The absence of ideology spawns cynicism as there is a risk that the big idea becomes doing favours for friends.

Fianna Fáil in government has been a confusing mélange of left and right, so that Bertie Ahern, albeit outrageously, claimed he was a socialist.  Fianna Fáil did just enough with the state pension, free bus travel, and social and local partnerships to be able to claim that it didn’t only serve the well-off and the developers who really excited it and forged its policies. But it provided parochial and venal governance.

During the mismanaged boom it seemed Fine Gael might offer salvation.  It appeared less corruptible albeit there remains a mystery about fundraising under Michael Lowry who was profoundly corrupt and its performance in local planning has always been developer-serving and often corrupt. Even John Bruton never answered for dodgy behaviour over rezonings as party leader.

Beyond this Fine Gael always well represented the wealthy farmers who uphold the IFA. It was pro-EU, perhaps because of that.

It was for law and order because of its fascist antecedents.

It thought of itself as better and more competent than thou, though it probably never was (Sweepstakes/Children’s Hospital/PrinterGate/Dara Murphy).

And it was for…the Treaty.

It had not been clear what Fine Gael really stood for.  It had veered from fascist-friendly under the founding Presidency of Eoin O’Duffy  to socially conservative under Liam Cosgrave to left of centre under Garret FitzGerald to right under Bruton and Kenny.  Only really under Varadkar have its true colours been allowed to flourish, in a modern Ireland which affords it no excuses.

Varadkar is a Thatcherite with regressive views on abortion and gay marriage who one day realised his attractive personality could ground an ambitious career and became Fine Gael Man for the 2010s with a shinier agenda embracing lifestyle modernism.

With this leadership, unsurprisingly the party allows all sorts.

Cosgrave, Scully, Flannery, Bailey: Fine Gael love the years has provided a home to the corrupt and the fraudulent, to the racist and the exploitative.

His MEPs unblinkingly vote against life-saving search and rescue measures for migrants in the Mediterranean on obscure grounds.  His candidate in the imminent Wexford by-election considers there is no homelessness problem in her home town and that there should be no carbon tax (or Road Safety Authority) and is “under no illusion that Isis is a big part of the migrant population”, that some asylum-seekers need “deprogramming” and that immigration risks a “return to the type of conflict seen during the troubles in the North”.

 

But it is by his policies that Varadkar’s Fine Gael should be judged. In Ireland in 2019 the top 1 per cent of the population gets more than 5 per cent of the national income. The bottom 40 per cent gets 22 per cent. The State’s “unusually high” incidence of low pay and weak labour protections generates inequality, with the working and lower-middle classes struggling most to make ends meet, according to Tasc.

Fine Gael abandoned any vision of universal healthcare.  In September there were more than 10,000 people waiting on hospital trolleys, twice the number a decade before.

Ireland has had 10,000 homeless people for each of the last eight months. 85,000 people are on social housing lists. Yet hotels and student housing are rising all over the country’s capital. Average rents are 45% of average earnings. The government lies about how many houses it was building. It won’t deal with the problem because Fine Gael is ideologically opposed to social housing as there is nothing in it for its buy-to-let-fetishising members.

Its solutions are all developer-facilitating.  Its Minister for Housing is in thrall to the building industry and will not consider compulsory purchase measures.

Fine Gael has no chance of implementing a National Planning Framework as it is ideologically unable to assert national planning norms such as avoidance of sprawl into Leinster and one-off housing, which interfere with the property rights of developers and landowners. Varadkar’s Ireland is the second worst climate offender in the EU.

It is extraordinary that in every case where it cannot or won’t effectively intervene it is the wealthiest who benefit from Fine Gael’s inertia.

Fine Gael stands above all for property rights; it stands for sniffy intolerance of those economically and socially inferior to the party’s – now often youthful and cosmopolitan – hegemons: for those who get up early; it stands for laissez faire and deference to developers and multinationals; and for indulgence of those who are intolerant of migrants.

The big parties seem to have seen off demagoguery, the economy is thriving, the demographics are favourable, and the church is on its knees: the government is its own agent, and now we can finally see what Fine Gael stands for.

But it has no vision, no empathy and no radicalism. It is the Nasty Party. Time for real change.