Nope, I’m not griping about Northern Ireland’s review commissioning, report reading, risk averse political classes. It’s the Civil War stupid. Or at least it was, according to Peter White, formerly a Fine Gael press secretary from 1984 to 1993. I’m not sure of his dates, it seems to me that his own party’s Tallaght Strategy was more like the actual point at which Fine Gael and Fianna Fail merged on policies, but he fingers the Downing Street Declaration as the point at which those Civil War differences finally disappeared in the Republic. The result is, he argues, that politics there is no longer attached to arguments about policy, simply who can best play the game:Interestingly he fingers opposition for giving up the fight:
At a time of crisis, we concentrate on hard policy choices. As a result, when a country faces a major turning point, remarkable people rise rapidly to meet the political needs of the day. Where there is no greatly perceived need for change, we concentrate on the game rather than the issues, the expedient rather than the principled, the shifting sands of cynicism rather than the granite of hard moral choice.
There was no serious pretence of policy difference between the major parties in the recent general election. Indeed, the main opposition block took the extraordinary step of throwing in the towel on the economy, indicating that the government was doing a splendid job and it would like to see this continue but with just a change in personnel. Yet, it has been plain for some time that the economy has overheated, that Ireland has been losing market share and that “a correction” has been looming.
The opposition felt that the truth was a little too gloomy for a nice summer campaign and so decided not to challenge the government with any force.
They did the same in 2002 when the issue was an irresponsible explosion in public spending; then, the opposition felt that promised goodies would be more appealing than truthful leadership and so they were poorly positioned to complain when the government raised taxes after the ballot boxes closed.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty