David Quinn: TDs, make it your mission to challenge the consensus
THIS column is addressed first and foremost to the 76 Fine Gaels TDs who will be taking up their seats in the new Dail next week, especially the new TDs.
As they already know, their main task in the Dail will be to vote for whatever the government decides. The over-use of the whip in Irish politics means their personal influence on policy will be minimal.
However, a handful of them will have an opportunity to shape policy over time, but only if they have well-worked-out ideas and know how to defend them in their constituencies, in the media, in the parliamentary party, in the Dail chamber and in the committee rooms.
Unfortunately, most politicians don't think much about policy. They leave that to their party's policy-makers and too much of it is really made up on the hoof. This being so, TDs can only blame themselves when they look back on a possibly long career and wonder what they have actually achieved.
Most politicians follow the consensus, or what the media pretend is the consensus. Few challenge it, even in small ways. The consensus, after all, is where most of the votes are, and if you're in either Fine Gael, or even the newly chastened and much-diminished Fianna Fail, you're not going to be too inclined to take it on for fear of losing votes.
And this is really the first point to be made, and to the new TDs in particular. The consensus is what helped to land us in the current economic mess. Therefore, always, always seek out voices that dissent from the consensus on any issue under discussion.
So, if you're on committees, either in the Dail or in your party, at all costs invite in critics to offer a different point of view.
Sometimes that will mean inviting in people from outside the country because Ireland is so consensus-driven. Academia is a particular disaster area. Try finding someone in any of the country's sociology departments, for example, who is not on the left and you will be doing extremely well.
Be prepared to challenge the equality lobby. This lobby is challenged on economic policy but almost never on any of the social issues.
Just one of many effects of this is that the vast majority of our politicians imagine the pay gap between men and women exists only because of discrimination, or because it's still too hard for mothers to pursue full-time careers. You will be told that the answer is universal, state-subsidised day care, like in Sweden.
What you won't be told is that the main reason for the pay gap is that an awful lot of women, especially mothers, are in part-time work and are perfectly happy to be in part-time work.
You also won't be told that despite universal day care in Sweden the pay gap there is pretty much the same as here.
Don't be intimidated by accusations of 'discrimination'. It's not discrimination to treat different situations in different ways. A refusal to recognise this very basic point led to the absurd ruling by the EU the other day that men and women drivers can't be charged different rates for insurance even though, on average, women are safer drivers.
On family policy you will be told that all families must be treated exactly the same and that it is 'discrimination' to give special status to traditional marriage.
And, of course, all families in need must be helped. But you won't be told that all the evidence shows that, on average, the best outcomes for children are achieved when they are raised by their two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage.
Therefore, there is very good reason to promote traditional marriage. Needless to say, you'll be condemned as a bigot if you do so. Lucinda Creighton found this out last week when she publicly supported traditional marriage. But she still topped the poll in Dublin South East. Her stance didn't harm her.
And the Greens' stance on the family, which couldn't possibly be more PC, didn't help them. Take careful note of that.
You will also be told that separation of church and State means politicians can't let their religious values influence their policy-making. This is rubbish, and undemocratic rubbish at that. If your religious values can be rationally defended, they have as much right to influence public policy as any other set of values.
But, to repeat, if you do only one thing, don't accept the consensus on any of the current issues without question.
Often the consensus will be right, but some of the time it will be wrong and, occasionally, it will be absolutely spectacularly wrong, as it was in the case of the property boom.
Therefore, make it a point of principle to ensure the consensus on any given issue is stress-tested. And, who knows, by doing so, you might even save this country from some future disaster -- and that would be some political legacy.