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Is Ireland going for more parish-pump politics?

This election has been characterised by a disenfranchised electorate, writes Aaron McKenna.

Aaron McKenna

Is parish pump-politics inherent in Irish society?

Take the Healy-Rae brothers. With 46% of boxes open so far, between them, they have 40% of the vote in Kerry, a five seater.

This election has been characterised by a disenfranchised electorate. The whole campaign has seen voters repeating a mantra: You’re all the same. Nothing is changing. Politics is corrupt.

Anger shown to the coalition 

Many of those who went with Fine Gael and Labour did so with their noses pinched. There has been great anger against the government for many poor decisions over the previous five years, and this seems to be ringing true as the count continues.

There can be no doubt, Fianna Fáil have done very well in this election. Last time around the party lost 24% of the electorate in 2011.

These three parties are the traditional inhabitants of government. For years we have heard the call for something new, something different.

Sinn Féin seem to have made advances, and are on a long march to government that will continue into subsequent elections. When Bertie Ahern came to power in 1997, they had one seat. They increased that to five in 2002, stayed level in 2007 and had a breakthrough to 14 seats in 2011. We’ll have to see what today brings.

Their performance this time, when the final counts are done and dusted, can be seen as nothing less than a trend towards substantive party of potential power when you look at the past 20 years in aggregate. They are the “something new” for the left in one way, though obviously their history weighs heavily on the minds of many.

27/2/2016. General Election 2016 - Counting of Vot Source: RollingNews.ie

What of other alternatives?

RTÉ’s exit poll shows suggests that one third of the electorate has voted for Independents or smaller parties.

The polls suggests Independents are at 11%; AAA-PBP at 4.7%; Social Democrats at 3.7%; Green Party at 3.6%, the Independent Alliance at 3%, while it indicates support for Renua is at 2.4% and Others at 2.6%.

In this election we have seen the far-left coalesce under various Anti Austerity Alliance / People Before Profit banners, and they appear to have done well. They generally refuse to go into government, however, and at a realistic level seem more the most organised protest-for- protest-sake vote.

The coalescence of these groups also tends to be shaky, and splits among the hard left groups are common. So do they count as change? Probably not, where government is concerned; though as a true believer will tell you, they are organising as part of an international class struggle to overthrow the entire system and therefore going into government doesn’t really matter. Good luck to them on that.

In the serious space, among parties prepared to go into government, the Irish people were offered two fairly distinct brand new options: The Social Democrats on the left and Renua on the right.

They both carried baggage through their founders from other political parties, but here were two parties standing up and offering ideologically clear manifestos: The SocDems were the only party to clearly say that you can’t have big tax cuts and increases in social services, which they would prioritise; and Renua, with its flat tax proposal, clearly set out a stall as a party for those who believe that lower taxes solves economic troubles.

Both of these parties were polling within the margin of error before the election. They may well pick up seats and return deputies who will, as in the last Dail, add substantively to the public debate. Neither party is in any danger of supplanting the existing trifecta of centrist parties that have ruled Ireland in living memory.

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Votes for independents reflective of the anger out there

A lot of people have abrogated their responsibility to make a decision about the future of the country by focusing on the future of their constituency. The votes that have gone to independent candidates is reflective of the true anger that exists, but is also a buck pass by voters.

There are two things at play here. First is the anger. The anger is palpable and real, but we are still responsible adults. We know that with too many independents, you can’t form a stable government. Some voters seem to have decided they don’t care about that. Sure what difference will it make if there’s no government? Ah, sure, someone else can pay for the increased borrowing costs of the state when instability leads to spikes in our bond yields.

The second thing is self interest. Naked, parish pump self interest. A lot of voters have taken a good look at what bacon independents have brought home to their constituencies over the years.

Bertie’s 1997 government was, let us not forget, a minority administration supported by independents. All through the boom period we had independents supporting the government and getting handsomely rewarded for it, too.

I’d be willing to bet that a lot of folks got into their polling booths and thought, I’d like a bit of that.

Making up the numbers 

We all knew there would likely be a government scrambling for votes in the Dáil to make up the numbers, and we might well get lucky and get ourselves a shopping list of items. Tony Gregory is perhaps one of the most famous of those to get such a deal, and it was a largely virtuous shopping list he sent to Charlie Haughey in return for his support.

But it was still a deal paid for by all taxpayers for the benefit of one constituency, for one vote.

It’s easy to be cynical about politics and politicians, but at the end of the day, as Joseph de Maistre was reputed to have said, “in a democracy, the people get the government they deserve.”

If we have a government trying desperately to hang on in there by doling out the hard won cash of the recovery to specific constituencies, we have only our love of the parish pump to blame for it.

LIVEBLOG: Bad news for government TDs as votes counted across the country>

Read: Bamboozled by opinion polls? Get up to speed in 6 simple steps…>

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