A new wave has swept away politics of the past
Published 29/02/2016 | 02:30
Governments can temporarily survive being out of touch - but their doom is sealed when they see themselves as untouchable. The Coalition has paid a massive price for its failure to connect with voters. With the old political landscape practically atomised, the search begins for a few shards sufficiently large to construct a mosaic of government.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are honour-bound to explore all possibilities and elevate the best interests of the country above party priorities.
The public will not put up with generals committed to fighting the last war. Nor will it tolerate a hasty return to the polls just because the people have had the temerity to ask a complacent and lethargic body politic some tough questions.
There are all kinds of possibilities, but there is only one imperative - and that is to form a stable and responsible government.
Whether that is 'a grand coalition', a minority government or some kind of hybrid Tallaght strategy is not the issue. The issue is that the people have had their say and whether the constituent parts of the political establishment like what they have said is immaterial.
Their sole prerogative is to make sure that the country is in safe hands. It has not been business as usual for politics since the crash. Fine Gael and Labour were swept into government on a wave of anti-Fianna Fáil sentiment. They were entrusted with a massive majority in 2011. Their mandate was to save the country - and not just the economy. This came with a duty to address the sense of injustice, anger and real trauma felt across society.
But their energies were almost exclusively concentrated on balancing the books. Fianna Fáil took a roasting in the early days of the campaign on the doorsteps. Suitably chastened, they rapidly changed their message to one of delivering "fairness". Fairness is not a slogan, it is fundamental to a decent society, as are equality and trust. Together they make up a holy trinity that many felt has been missing from Irish politics since the Troika of the IMF, EU and ECB took the reins in November 2010. Governments don't do empathy, but if there is one resounding lesson echoing from the election earthquake, it is that it is about time that they did.
People desperately want closure as well as some recognition of the pain that was inflicted on society. They want deliverance from the cycles of boom and bust and an end to the confidence trickery of selling big promises with a shelf life only as long as a campaign. There are well grounded fears that a Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil union would be too conservative, both economically and socially.
Fine Gael and Labour have taken a shellacking at the hands of the voters, while Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have added to their seats. That, and the massive surge for Independents and smaller parties, all indicate a huge appetite for change and reform.
There has been a remarkable shift in loyalty to the established parties, with only one in four voters opting for either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil. The era of the two-and-a-half party system seems to have come to an end.
Fianna Fáil ought not to be exultant; it is a long way from its golden days as "the natural party of government".
The gains for Sinn Féin have been considerable, but it has fallen far short of the 24pc approval ratings it was registering one year ago.
Things must be done differently; whether the new paradigm involves rotating Taoisigh or spectacular policy somersaults is of little consequence. There is only one signal that needs to go out from the political Tower of Babel that the voters have built, and that is that Ireland is a great country in need of politicians capable of reflecting that fact. Cometh the hour, cometh the man or woman.