On the contentlessness of Irish politics…

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.


  • I honestly think that the so-called historical differences had been nothing more than a sham for at least a decade or two before The Agreement.

    I can vividly recall Charlie Haughey’s closing speeches to The Annual Fianna Fail Conference when he would announce in hyper-emotional terms that his major burning ambition was still to re-unite the island of ireland. Cue the obligatory standing ovation and self-congratulations…

    It was never anything more (or less) than pre-election bullshit for the party faithful, allowing them to elongate their perception that they were still a Republican Party.

    In reality FF ceased to be a Republican Party, the minute that SF emerged from the debris of The North’s spiral into mayhem in the early 70’s.

    Fianna Fail simply could’nt cope with anything remotely contentious which might have tested the core substance of their Republicanism.

    Im essence, FF and FG are now the same party (albeit with a legacy of mutual distrust).

  • Garibaldy

    Agree with Mac that civil war hasn’t matter for decades, other than the history of hatred and competition. I think though that the list of parties that make up the essentially same party could be expanded to include the PDs, Labour, and it seems too after the last election PSF and the Greens.

    Managerialism rules, ok?

  • George

    Someone from the Fine Gael family says Fianna Fáil have finally become like them.

    Sounds like the UUP talking about the DUP.

  • The Dubliner

    It’s just spinning the ‘management is irrelevant’ mentality into ‘management isn’t irrelevant but managers are.’ In short, the people can safely elect Fine Gael to replace Fianna Fail in government because they have the same policies and it doesn’t matter about the personalities. Pure political propaganda.

    It’s a completely bogus argument, of course, since it ignores that some managers are better than others – and that some are so great in terms of vision, accumen, and strategy that the success of the enterprise can depend on their ability (e.g. Bill Gates and Microsoft). Dr Fitgerald was a fine academic, but he is universally acknowledged to have been an awful mananger.

  • lib2016

    Democratic politics everywhere is becoming more amd more about who can win the centre vote. In both Britain and the States this has led to both countries being led by what are effectively two wings of the same party.

    Due to the PR system there is slightly more hope in Ireland for smaller parties to gain influence through the need to build coalitions.

    Is the ability to manage a coalition necessarily the same as the ability to manage an economy, and is managing an economy all we want from our politicans_

  • The Dubliner

    “Is the ability to manage a coalition necessarily the same as the ability to manage an economy, and is managing an economy all we want from our politicans” – lib2016

    Do we really need a theory about why we seem to assume that our national government performs only a ‘rubberstamp’ administrative function in the manner of a Commissioner in some colonial outpost, but is devoid of any higher functions that would formulate and initiate economic, regulatory, justice, transport, educational, medical, trade, etc, policies or have responsibility for the implementation of such? Why do we assume that national government is not responsible for successful management as seen in the statistics by which such success is measured, but is, paradoxically, fully responsible for bad management? If government is to be held responsible for national economic failure, then it follows that it should be held equally accountable for economic success. Is it because we must regard ourselves as such a colonial outpost and not form ideas above our appointed station that might lead to us challenging the authority of the Crown? It’s hard not to see this strange mentality as being other than a colonial legacy. I don’t know, maybe the government needs to educate people about what exactly its functions are – and about the level of skill needed to perform them successfully. At the moment, they seem to think a monkey could be the head of one of the world’s most successful governments and that the outcome would be exactly the same.

  • páid

    Kevin Myers, not by any means a hero of mine, has gone down this well-trodden path of are there any differences between FF and FG.

    Anyone who is interested should look up his columns from a decade ago or thereabouts.

    He concludes that the differences are cultural – in a nutshell FF are really the tribe of the Gael, and FG are really the Soldiers of Destiny.

    Mark Barry votes Fine Gael and Fiachra O’Donoghue votes Fianna Fáil.

    Norman, Planter, Gael.

  • Juan Carr

    Agree with what he says in the article but a lot of it is just column writing by numbers. He could have shortened the article by about 12 paragraphs.

    The civil war is over, long live the civil war – thus can you sum up Irish politics.

    People claim all sorts of reasons for why FF gets voted in again, and again, and again, and again. They try to make Irish poplitics seem ‘complex’ and ‘interesting’ populated by ‘fascinating’ characters. It isn’t. They aren’t.

    We are simply a very, very conservative, right-wing christian country who vote the same way our daddies and grannies always did, and like to imagine that we’re so sophisticated because an over-excited property market put a few quid in our pockets and made us think we were all sophisticated, knowledgeable economic and financial geniuses.

    In reality, nobody really has a f*cking clue what’s going on or how our economy hit such a lucky streak. Then, when people then try to explain how exactly it all came about but caution that it will not go on for ever (like David McWilliams et al), they are dismissed as cranks and ‘doom & gloom merchants’ who are just chewing on sour grapes, frustrated at the economy defying their earlier predictions.

    Our esteemed leader said a few weeks ago that people who ‘talk down’ the property market and the economy in general should go and kill themselves. Why is this? What exactly is wrong with ‘talking down’ something if you think you can invest in it at a more beneficial level by doing so? Isn’t that just plain old haggling?

    If I’m in the market for a second hand car and I ring up some guy who wants to sell me his car for €5000, and I go and see it, should I take him at his word that the car’s in mint condition and just hand over the cash, full price? Or would I be better advised to stroke my chin a bit, look under the bonnet, hum and haw for a while, kick the tyres and tell him I reckon it’s worth only €3500? In this way I am ‘talking down’ the car even though it’s obvious that I’m interested in investing my money in the product on offer. But I want to get the best possible price FOR ME. Not the vendor, for me.

    So why should people who may or may not have vested interests in the future of the Irish economy feel that they should kill themselves for ‘talking down’ anything? If they can buy a house, or a hotel, or a company, for a cheaper price 12 months from now than they could today because of a drop in the value, whether it’s real or perceived, then why the hell shouldn’t they?

  • He concludes that the differences are cultural – in a nutshell FF are really the tribe of the Gael, and FG are really the Soldiers of Destiny.

    Sounds about right to me, páid. I remember about 10 years or so ago having an interesting but heated discussion with a YFGer about the substantive policy differences between FG and FF. I said there were none and he said that, no, FF supported a “conservative, Republican, agenda” where FG supported a “pluralist, nationalist, agenda”. I asked him what it meant in programmatic terms, and he just kind of shrugged.

    In some ways, it’s a sign of a successful country – people only dispute ideology when the dominant ideology fails to deliver. In most successful democracies, no-one really disputes that the least worst alternative is democratic capitalism. I don’t actually see what the problem is.

  • Sammy,

    I agree with you about not seeing what the problem is. The claim by FF to hold the Republican legacy is nothing more than pure self-indulgence on their part.