Ireland – The Politics of Consensus and Spoof

Is consensus politics choking the Irish system? Freelance journalist Feidhlim ó Broin makes the case

Much has been written recently about the steady rise of Fine Gael in the polls, about the nascent economic recovery and the construction of a new, progressive, modern Republic. Indeed, Ireland’s political parties illustrate this new order. Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Fein and the Labour Party agree on practically everything from European Policy, the need for a more liberal abortion regime, to crime and education policies.

This ‘consensus liberalism’ renders the upcoming election a meaningless, bland process. Essentially, people are voting for the same pig in different colour dresses. The voter is subjected to a collection of parties who agree on practically everything on everything and offer dull consensus politics.

Our politicians talk about nothing worth talking about. Important issues-not a peep out of them, nothing but silence. For example, we hear nothing from our political parties about the state of the education system in Ireland. All our political parties trot out the same old trite line about ‘our world class education system’.
The only problem is, we don’t have a world class education system. Ireland is crying out for politicians who champion excellence in education, broader roll-out of Latin and Greek studies in schools, removal of Irish as a mandatory subject, longer school days, increased focus on Maths and Science, and stand-up to those who say reform is ‘too difficult’. Put simply, our sub-standard education system need needs action and reform not more ‘world class education system’ bores.

Crime is another area where politicians specialise in spoofing. No concrete policies, no vision, nothing to offer but sound bites – ‘party x is fully committed to the war on crime’- is a reliable one. Why if you are committed to the war on crime, have you allocated no extra resources to the Gardai? Politicians need greater scrutiny. We should no longer let them away with bland statements. It is the citizen’s job to demand a higher standard of politics, more policy analysis and actual solutions to societal problems.

Why are no parties looking at the link between poor education standards, crime and unemployment? You don’t need to be Abraham Lincoln to understand the direct correlation between poor education and disposition to crime. Similarly, the link between undereducated people and unemployment is clear. Instead of engaging with the teaching profession to introduce reform and raise standards, our politicians bury their heads in the sand for fear of upsetting the all-powerful teaching unions.

No, our politicians have no interest in improving our failing education system. Why would they have, when they can declare war on the religious ethos of our schools? Never mind education standards, just make sure you take down the crucifix. Easy targets are a valuable commodity in the Dáil.

Foreign Policy is another area of broad political consensus. Where are the parties appalled by the erosion of sovereignty? Why the silence from so called Republican’s in Fianna Fáil and Sinn Fein about the undermining of the national parliament? The issue of Ireland’s relationship with Europe needs addressing but, sadly this requires original thought, which is not a strong point of Irish politicians. Instead, we get politicians who dismiss nationalism and patriotism as ‘outdated and insular’. What, however, was modern and inclusive about screwing the Irish tax payer to save the European project?

Far from being on the brink of recovery, Ireland is facing into a deeply uncertain future. We need politicians willing to question and think. A new generation of politicians who talk about the importance of Irish sovereignty, raising education standards and tackling crime has never been so badly needed. Without this, Ireland will become a small province in a Federal Europe, with a national parliament rubber stamping decisions already made in Brussels.

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  • JohnTheOptimist

    Your main point about all the parties subscribing to the ‘liberal consensus’ is correct. While I’d expect that from FG and Labour, it is disappointing that Michael Martin has moved FF so far in the same direction. Martin’s main objective appears to be to get patted on the back by the Irish Times as a good liberal. So far it has brought absolutely no results in terms of improved opinion poll ratings.

    However, it is difficult to agree with your comments on education. You produce no evidence that the education system is failing. As for ‘world-class’ it is impossible to say if it is ‘world-class’ or not, since you provide no definition of ‘world-class’. What does ‘world-class’ mean? There are two ways in which a country’s success or failure in education is measured: (a) The numbers achieving various levels of education (upper secondary, tertiary etc) (b) education standards as measured in objective international tests like PISA. Ireland does well on both these. Although the 55+ age-group in Ireland is less educated than the EU average, the reverse is true for younger age-groups. The proportion of those aged 25-40 that have obtained 3rd level degrees is the highest or 2nd highest (varies from year to year) in the EU. In the 2012 PISA tests, Ireland’s overall score was 6th best in Europe (out of about 40 countries) and well ahead of the UK and all the individual UK countries. I’d put this relative success down to the fact that most schools in Ireland (ROI) are Church-run (whether RC or COI) and not state-run. Naturally the ‘liberal consensus’ is all for abolishing such schools and having the entire education system state-run.

    As for crime, this needs to be seen as a moral issue and not an economic one. People were vastly poorer in the 1950s but there was little crime. In 1960 there were around 4 murders annually in Ireland (ROI). Today there are that many most weekends. In 1960 there were 400 prisoners in Ireland (ROI). Today there are 4,000. Even this figure (which would have seemed astronomical in 1960) is half the rate per capita of the UK. Rather than making false promises about reducing crime, it would be better if the political parties that are part of this ‘liberal consensus’ simply stated that a high-crime rate is an inevitable spin-off from the sort of ‘liberal revolution’ Ireland has recently experienced, bringing as it does a collapse in the traditional family and the abandonment of traditional values, Other countries experienced similar earlier. Barring an unlikely counter-revolution against the ‘liberal consensus’, all promises by these parties to reduce crime rates should be taken with a pinch of salt,

  • Greenflag 2

    On the other hand perhaps its not the new liberal consensus but the growth of financial sector led capitalism in western countries and more recently in Ireland which has led to the rising crime rate even if its a whole lot less than our neighbours . Have you checked the numbers for countries like Denmark , Sweden or Norway where the word ‘liberal ‘ in Irish terms would be considered conservative .

    Or look to the USA with now 2 to 3 million people behind bars and being at the cutting edge (looting & financial plunder ) of international financial sector led capitalism -now there could be correlation if you are looking for one . There was nothing poor about Bernie Madoff when he bilked clients of some 60 billion dollars a world record for a single heist . And there were hundreds if not thousands of smaller Madoffs too numerous to mention and they still proliferate -aided and abetted by the financial environment which surrounds them .

    And then there’s the traditional Catholic values which helped produce ain Ireland where priests were human Gods and the nuns were all wonderful and everybody was going to heaven at the end of the day except for a few protestants who just were’nt good enough unless they were very very very very good and then St Peter made an exception and let them cross the threshold into the company of the harp strumming angelic auditorium of eternal bliss . As for the poor bastard babys who were shunted off to England or America or Australia or anywhere they could be forgotten and lets gloss over the Magdelenes and other institutions .

    The new liberal consensus is not perfect and yes some of it is not to my personal liking either and yes most priests and nuns did very good work .
    But all in all Ireland is the better for it and in time once the side effects of ancient superstition pass on then we can hope for a better future for the generations to come .

    Sovereignty btw is not what it used to be and yes Ireland needs more original thought in coming up with solutions posed for it being just another little country on the periphery of Europe . We are not alone in that.

  • notimetoshine

    If traditional values and family are a pancea, then why is the quality and quantity of education better now than it was say in 1960 or 1950? Or are those values not conducive to a well educated population?

  • Zig70

    A tad negative, don’t ring me problems etc etc

  • Roger

    John, the state’s name has been Ireland for the past 78 years. I think you can drop Brackets/ROI.