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Opinion: Dear Lucinda and Reboot Ireland, aren't ALL votes issues of conscience?

Decisions that impact taxes or spending have at least as dramatic an effect upon day-to-day lives of Irish people as issues like abortion.

Donal O'Keeffe

WATCHING THE CYNICISM and lack of vision on display last weekend as Lucinda Creighton and her sidekick Eddie Hobbs unveiled a new hashtag, er, political party, I was reminded of a sketch from RTÉ’s scathingly brilliant satire, Irish Pictorial Weekly, a celebration of that most Irish of qualities, “Fianna Fáilness”.

No doubt the Soldiers of Destiny would object to such a term, especially seeing as Lucinda hails from the more traditionally self-righteous wing of Civil War politics, but Irish Pictorial contended that “Fianna Fáilness” isn’t exclusive to Fianna Fáil at all or even to politics. It’s that cute-hoorish, noddin’ and winkin’, sure ya know yerself, havin’ the craic that infects every aspect of us: that’s Fianna Fáilness. The way we all abhor waste and still spend other people’s money like it’s water. (Or Irish Water.) The way we all laud Garda whistleblowers and then phone the cousin in the Bridewell to see if she can square a parking ticket for us. The way we all roar for the head of any politician accused of corruption and then promise the Number One to whoever will get the planning permission for us.

To some sound and fury, Creighton’s new imaginary party #RebootIreland was launched last Friday but without a name, members or policies, it seemed ultimately to signify very little. There was some gobbledegook about “championing human inventiveness” and “a Minimum Lifestyle Standard” but the Unique Selling Point seemed to be the idea of granting putative deputies a free vote on “conscience” issues but, crucially, not on money bills.

You wouldn’t need to have read John B Keane’s sublime “Letters of a Successful TD” or its even funnier sequel “Letters of an Irish Minister of State” to know that “conscience” in Irish politics is the sober calculation that “Mother of the Divine, if I vote for that, they’ll nail me to the door of this magnificent Tourmadeedy Sports Hall which I helped to build”.

Surely all votes are issues of conscience?

In the case of #RebootIreland, it’s pretty obvious that “conscience” is shorthand for abortion and the upcoming marriage equality referendum. But here’s the thing: surely all votes are issues of conscience? Surely a money Bill – which by definition affects taxes or spending – has at least as dramatic an effect upon day-to-day lives as a vote on, say, whether we agree that consenting adults can declare their love the equal of everyone else’s?

The weekend also saw multimillionaire serial conceder-of-defeat Declan Ganley pointing out that there is a large “pro-life” constituency and that he cannot understand for the life of him why Lucinda doesn’t come out loud and proud as anti-abortion. This does seems a fair point, especially seeing as Ms Creighton’s hashtag only exists because she opposed even the barest minimum of tinkering with the most severe abortion legislation in the democratic world.

I think Mr Ganley betrays an admirable honour in his sadly naïve appeal for political transparency. The truth is, though, very obvious: why would you bother calling yourself “pro-life” when “pro-life”  supporters will know that anyway and too strident a stance on the issue might frighten away more moderate voters? It’s hard not to see a pattern, too, in Lucinda’s abstaining on the water charges vote. She effectively gave it the ideological nod, but in a way that kept her hands clean. The same applies to her talk of “probably” voting for marriage equality but saying she won’t campaign for it. This is dog-whistle stuff.

Who does the fault really lie with?

For all the mom-and apple-pie aspirations about entrepreneurs and employment, there’s nothing new or visionary about this. This is whatever-you’re-having-yourself Fianna Fáilness at its cutest hoorishness and it speaks to a nod-and-wink approach to politics which is as old as the State. The question is, of course, whether the fault lies more with Irish politicians or with Ireland’s electorate.

The late Fine Gael TD Dick Barry once told me a tale from his days in the Dáil. He had received in the post an envelope addressed to him but when Dick opened it, it contained a letter from a constituent asking for a political favour. The letter began “Dear Martin, As you know, I always give you the Number One”.

Guessing the mix-up, Dick sought out his constituency colleague, Fianna Fáil’s Martin Corry TD. As they met, Corry handed him a letter from the same woman, beginning “Dear Dick, As you know, I always give you the Number One”.

They each replied to her on the other TD’s headed paper.

Are our politicians failing us or are we failing them? If #RebootIreland – or, as @fintanotoolbox christened it on Twitter, the Progressive Theocrats – really believes “conscience” issues merit a free vote, then shouldn’t every vote be an issue of conscience? And if this is the case – unless of course by “conscience” you actually mean prurience – then what’s the point of being in a party at all (other than for the million euro in funding that Lucinda hopes to raise)? Would independents not be better off staying independent and, next time out, offering us a 32nd Dáil with 40 or 50 Mattie McGraths?

Has Lucinda anything new to offer Irish politics or is she just peddling the same old doublespeak and hypocrisy that we reward so well? Then again, why would any politician offer us serious reform when, no matter who’s selling it, we always buy Fianna Fáilness?

Irish Pictorial Weekly returns in March, #RebootIreland sometime similar, reportedly.

Donal O’Keeffe is a writer, artist and columnist for TheJournal.ie. He tweets as @Donal_OKeeffe.

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