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Lisa McInerney: Fianna Fáil doesn't deserve our ear...

…not when the party still owe us a tooth and an eye. So why are many people perversely choosing to drift back=?

Lisa McInerney

THE RECENT SPATE of online shareables relating to quirks of Irish identity is something I can relate to; I’ve been Irish all my life, and I’m 85 per cent sure I wouldn’t have it any other way.

We’re an endearingly peculiar lot, and some of those traits, from our anxious regard for the immersion switch to our enormous generosity, are worthy of wearing on anyone’s sleeve.

But it’s rare that these celebrations of Irish identity on Buzzfeed or YouTube or Twitter hashtags mention our most perplexing, and certainly most negative, idiosyncrasy: our acceptance of a cynical, cyclical, sickening political landscape, and our resignation to the idea that we don’t deserve anything better.

It’s tempting to dismiss the results of opinion polls that state that support for Fianna Fáil, the political party whose conscious incompetence shepherded our country into an economic collapse felt around the world, is growing again after a brief time spent in repentance on the fringes of our political environment. Unfortunately for our sense of self-worth, it’s rare that polls from the likes of Ipsos MRBI and Red C veer too wildly from the truth. Even more unfortunately, we largely profess to being unsurprised. It’s either a hopeless optimist or a recent immigrant who didn’t suspect Fianna Fáil would muscle their way back to the top after a quick breather. We don’t change, in Ireland.

In and out of love with Fianna Fáil

That’s not necessarily as perverse as it might sound to an outsider; if all those lists on social media taught us anything, it’s that the collective Irish psyche is a real thing, and that none of us operate entirely independent of it. There are any number of reasons we fall in and out of love with Fianna Fáil: our relative youth as a state means we’re missing historical perspective; our tiny size, which lends itself to parochial politics and favours candidates with proven records in fixing potholes; our long history of occupation enabling abuse-as-standard; the lingering after-effects of a Civil War which defined the first days of a fledgling nation. Ireland has always been a two-party state, with a few smaller collectives orbiting in and around them like flies around a pile of Connemara’s finest.

No matter what great plans any new party or idealistic politician might have for Ireland, the map has to be laid over very specific geography: Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the two behemoths circling each other with the magnetic repulsion of your average Venn diagram.
Ostensibly poles apart, and yet overlapping in all but name. One socially conservative bunch versus another. One right-wing dynasty versus another. One incompetent shower of blowhards versus another.

If the world of Irish politics could be made palatable with a sweet parallel, we could think of it as a playground, with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael taking up permanent residence on the one and only seesaw. One goes up, the other goes down. The one that’s on top gets sniped at from the one below, until the mechanism pivots again. Fianna Fáil are the lighter of the two, having spent 60 of the last 80 years in that elevated position, dizzied and out of touch, while the counterpart that could have brought us some balance spend their time snarling with their necks craned upwards rather than gently moving towards equilibrium.

Such is the nature of Irish politics, and it serves nobody but the pair of juggernauts more obsessed with each other than they are interested in the rest of us. We continue to facilitate this because it’s been going on so long we’ve forgotten there could be an alternative. Or
because we’re so cynical we don’t believe any alternative could be better than the devil we know so well, he’s balmed out inside on the couch with his shoes off.

Self-serving stupidity

So is it any surprise that Fianna Fáil appear to have served their time and are ready to ascend yet again? Not really, is the defeatist answer. This party, which has spent most of its history in control of the country, which has in its self-serving stupidity facilitated our return to unemployment and emigration, which has adopted a stance of arrogant denial as a way of dealing with its utter ethical and professional failure to manage the state, now sees its grubby hands on the poisoned chalice again, and will sup from that fetid gunk as eagerly as Fine Gael did when it was offered to them in 2011.

Micheál Martin seems to assume that the Irish people will disregard the fact that he’s been a member of Fianna Fáil since his University days, and a fulltime politician since 1985. His passionate challenges to Fine Gael in the Dáil, delivered in the ill-fitting guise of a patriot, try to sell us the image of a Fianna Fáil as indignant at the mismanagement of the country as a rightful heir just back from the Crusades. It is nonsense, and we shouldn’t give an ear to it. Fianna Fáil don’t deserve our ears when they still owe us a tooth and an eye.

Self-propagating illness

But then what is the alternative, you may cry. If we are doomed to remain wallflowers at Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael’s neverending dance-off, what can we do, except square our shoulders and place our bets?

It’s a self-propagating illness. We grudgingly accept that there’s no alternative to the bloated bullies, and in doing so we deny our already parched political landscape the chance of nourishment. We perpetuate the two-party myth at the same time as complaining about it. We leave ourselves open to further abuse by our own indifference.

That’s why you see evidence of bad behaviour even in our independent representatives, around whom penalty points evaporate in the shadow of the same parish pump their autonomous status purports to create distance from. If we don’t vote for Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, who do we vote for? Labour, the new lightning rod? The completely discredited Greens? The hairy, scary Sinn Féin? We’re too conservative to trust the alternatives, and so we keep alive a system where there are no credible alternatives, where the giants of our political structure are free to commit the same misdeeds with only the briefest of punishment. We tell those whose misbehaviour borders on treason that their indiscretions will never be held against them. We do it again and again. We’re doing it even now.

Read more of Lisa McInerney’s columns here>

About the author:

Lisa McInerney

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