Back in Ireland as I am for Christmas, I’ve cast my eye to Irish politics, where we see many of the same issues that beset British politics. The government here, a centre left-right coalition, has been on the one hand imposing harsh austerity, but equally bringing in new taxes and charges to balance the books. While these have effected everyone, where possible to higher earners have been targeted for a higher proportion of the costs. For example, a new property tax (aimed specifically at wealthy home owners or owners of large property portfolios) has been introduced.
Certainly, having witnessed the alternative in the UK Tory cuts to public services hand in hand with tax cuts for the wealthy and a Dickensian attitude to the poor and disadvantaged, with food banks oversubscribed. I think in that context we’ve not done a half bad job in Ireland, considering the alternative. Ireland is now out of recession and the EU bailout process. However, you try telling that to the many Irish angry at what they see as unreasonable taxes and government cuts, with them now expected to pay for things that were previously free.
For example water charges. Most of Europe has water charges of some form or another and there is enormous water wastage in Ireland. Some Irish literally leave all their taps running in winter to prevent pipes from freezing (rather than simply lagging them and insulating the loft!). Some of our sewerage treatment facilities are out of date (and thus pollute a lot) and need updating. Thus some sort of a change is needed.
Certainly one can criticize how the present government went about doing it – e,g. hiring consultants for 50 million euro, getting Bord Gais to do the metering (who then vastly underestimated the scale and costs involved), along with a long catalogue of other screw ups. But I think few sane people wouldn’t accept that some sort of a charging system was inevitable. However there’s a large plank of Irish who fundamentally object to any sort of water charge, period. And incidentally we are talking a figure in the order of 120 240 euro per year per household here, about half of what British pay for our, admittedly sub-standard joke of a privatised service.
This distrust of mainstream politics is now reflected in opinion polls that put Sinn Fein (who oppose water charges and pretty much anything else that might be unpopular) narrowly ahead as the most popular party in Ireland, at 22% . It should be remembered that Ireland has a multi-party political system (i.e. coalition governments are more the norm than the exception) with proportional representation. Also, over the course of both the boom and the bust pretty much all the major parties and even some of the smaller parties (such as the Greens!) have had a spell in government, so all are essentially seen to be tainted goods to some Irish.
One could draw a parallel between the rise of Sinn Fein and that of UKIP….or the rise of a certain radial party of the right, in Germany in the 1930’s A lot of angry people, who don’t really understand politics, picking a radical party as a protest vote against the political system, unaware they are in effect voting for something much worse in the process.
For example many are voting for UKIP because they are sick of all the machiavellian manoeuvring and sleazy corruption within the mainstream political parties. Unfortunately, , as I highlighted in a prior post, chip away below the surface and you find that UKIP is a party mired in petty feuds, sex scandals, embezzlement of public funds and wealthy donors trying to get their chums from boarding school put forward as candidates.
And if anything Sinn Fein makes Farage look like Robespierre. Consider the party leader Gerry Adams is, amongst other things, being investigated for involvement in the murder and dissappearing of opponents during the NI troubles. There is the suspicion that Sinn Fein party officials were involved in the infamous NI bank robbery (one of the largest ever robberies in the country) and helped to launder/destroy evidence afterwards (one Sinn Fein supporter was arrested in his home in Cork stuffing NI bank notes into the fire). Then there’s the whole Maria Cahill rape scandal, which is causing SF grief both sides of the border. And there’s a whole long list of instances of petty corruption and dodgy deals in support of filling the party coffers…or the pockets of party members.
One is reminded of Farage’s insistence that UKIP members declare that they have no skeletons in their closet….although we assume that doesn’t include his links to Enoch Powell, nor his sex scandals. Sinn Fein seem to have a policy whereby you can’t become a candidate for them, unless you’ve literally got a skeleton in the closet….or preferably buried somewhere in a bog!
And up in Stormont, the situation is only marginally better. Sinn Fein corruption in Stormont, is countered by the equal and opposite force of the Ulster Unionists. Although its worth remembering, that both parties know they’ve got to behave, otherwise the Irish and UK government will shut them down again. As happened in the past when Sinn Fein corruption and abuse of power reached such a crescendo that the NI police raided Stormont, leading to a temporary suspension of power sharing.
And like UKIP, Sinn Fein are a party wedded to many populist, but unenforceable and contradictory policies. On the one hand have committed to many policies that would be very expensive, e.g. getting rid of water charges, greater spending on healthcare, etc. Granted some of these policies aren’t a bad idea, but they also want to get rid of existing taxes and roll back all the austerity measures, which leaves a big question as to how the state would balance the books?
And before anyone says tax the rich, the existing labour government is already doing that (as noted). There’s a few loopholes that could be closed yes (something Sinn Fein highlights), we could ramp up tax rates for high earners a bit more in Ireland, but certainly nothing that would supply funds of the scale we’re are talking about.
In essence Sinn Fein claim to be able to defy the laws of economic gravity, increasing public spending while cutting taxes….and doing so in the recovery phase of a recession! Unfortunately, the reality is that in event of them trying to implement this miss-mass of policies, Sinn Fein would probably have to borrow massively, which would violate current Eurozone rules (then again Sinn Fein also want to bring back the Punt!). And in any event, who in their right mind would led money to them? Ireland would be paying the sort of credit card interest rates and suffering the sort of high inflation we last saw back in the 70’s.
And like UKIP, Sinn Fein have a core policy, that of a united Ireland, that contradicts and distorts the party’s whole political ethos. At present, both sides of the border this is a dead issue, opinion polls show that. I personally reckon that if the UK moved to leave the EU that might change things, but of course if Sinn Fein also drag Ireland out of the EU, that will close off that opportunity. In essence their euroskeptism neatly cancels out their desire for a united Ireland.
In short it is for good reason that the Irish independent newspaper has recently dismissed Sinn Fein as Facism with a Human face. It is ironic that the term Sinn Fein translates as ourselves alone. If Sinn Fein had its way that exactly what would happen – we’d be ourselves alone in a bankrupt potato republic.
Rise of the independent
Another trend noted in recent polls was the rise of independent politicians. They now command a whopping 32% of the public voting intentions, more than any of the political parties. On the one hand I think this is good, I’ve never really liked the whole system of party politics, where a local TD is forced to toe the party line on issues that effect his constituency.
However many of Ireland’s independent are often single issue candidates. For example, there’s Luke Ming (as in Ming the Merciless!) Flanagan, a cannabis legalisation campaigner, currently sitting as an MEP…and currently on police bail for…well I think you can probably guess! ;D By contrast, there’s the Healy Rae’s clan of rural conservatives from darkest Kerry….who would probably like to string drug dealers to wild goats and let them be dragged across the brambles if they could get away with it! :)) Similarly, we’ve got independents calling, for example, for more road building (a number of Irish towns have awful traffic problems and need a bypass) and others (conservationists and NIMBY’s in the path of such schemes) who are against such developments.
Certainly a government can incorporate a few independents into its ranks to make up a majority. But its very difficult to do this with large numbers of independents, who will often hold diametrically opposite views on key issues. Particularly as any single issue candidate knows that if his core policy isn’t addressed after him supporting the government he will be crucified in any future election.
In short, an Irish parliament with a majority of TD’s as independents could quickly become a lame duck administration, unable to get even the most basic legislation passed (such as a budget), much like the expensive mess otherwise referred to as the US political system.
Back to Reality
There is therefore a need for many in Ireland (and the UK for that matter) to quit acting like babies and grow up. There’s little point in voting if you’re going to let your ego do the voting instead of you’re brain. While there’s nothing wrong with voting outside of the the mainstream parties (which after all I have a habit of doing), but its important to weight up the merits of said party’s manifesto. There’s little point in voting for a party whose policies simply don’t add up…and were likely drafted by Hogwarts school of magic and wizardry.
One must also consider the bigger picture will supporting this party produce the effect intended or will it produce the opposite effect, i.e. produce a government that is more sleazy and corrupt, that wrecks the economy and increases the deficit. Indeed a likely outcome of a lurch to Sinn Fein in Ireland is to allow Fianna Fail (the party/shower of ba$tard’s who got us into this mess) back into power. The likely consequences of a strong UKIP vote will be to deny the Tories a majority and hand victory to Labour (who then form a coalition with the SNP).
And its crucial to keep from power certain parties with dangerous political views, as there is a very real risk of them bringing down the entire democratic system, much as happened in Germany and Italy in the 1930’s. As the saying goes, those who live in glass houses, shouldn’t throw rocks.