Wednesday 26 June 2019

David Robbins: I may have been a little Green - but I developed a soft spot for FF

David Robbins

By now, the initial shock of the Mahon Tribunal's report will have diminished. More than a week later, deeper responses will be resonating in people's minds.

Some will have a sense of justification about being right about Fianna Fáil all along, while others will be feeling a little guilty about voting for them so often.

For my part, the Mahon Report brought me back to the warm summer of 2009, when, through no choice of my own, I was spending a lot of my time talking about Fianna Fáil.

Back then, I was standing for the Green Party in the local elections. I had a bag full of environmental policies ready to trot out on the doorsteps, but no one wanted to hear about them. They just wanted to talk about Fianna Fáil.

The previous December had seen the first of the so-called austerity Budgets and the immensity of the country's financial crisis was beginning to become apparent.

In my area -- practically a middle-class ghetto in Dublin 4 and 6 -- Fianna Fáil had recorded its biggest ever share of the vote in the 2007 general election.

Now that the party's economic policies were exposed, the property bubble was bursting and Bertie's tribunal evidence descended into farce, people were angry.

I got the impression, as I pressed fancy intercom systems in the area, that people were also a little disgusted with themselves for voting FF in such large numbers.

They had been conned by Bertie into thinking the good times could last, well, if not forever, then at least for another few years.

Understandably, people wanted to talk about it all. I just happened to be the guy on the spot.

The Green Party's receptionist also spent a lot of time taking calls about the evils of Fianna Fáil. He used to try to give them the number of the FF headquarters on Mount Street but they would reply: "Sure, what's the point of talking to them?"

It has struck me since that a strange thing happens when a political party you support (the Greens) goes into coalition with a party you don't (Fianna Fáil).

Suddenly, your guys are on the same team as the guys you have been brought up to believe were corrupt and without principle.

Bit by bit, you start to feel less negative about them. You begin even to feel a little sympathy for their point of view.

Before long, you are jumping up and down at the unfair treatment meted out by Pat Kenny to Fianna Fáil spokespeople on The Frontline.

This is the political equivalent of "mission capture", a process by which all your idealism and political convictions are annexed by another group.

At the end of that coalition, for instance, I could never feel that first careless rapture of idealism about the Greens, but nor could I feel the old dislike and contempt for Fianna Fáil.

This chimes in with the findings of a new book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Religion and Politics by Jonathan Haidt (Allen Lane).

Haidt shows that people are instinctive creatures. When it comes to politics, we are not influenced by policies or other appeals to rationality. We exhibit a kind of tribal loyalty and reinterpret events to fit in with our instinctive prejudices.

In other words, if we have a gut liking for Fianna Fáil (or Manchester United, or the Leinster rugby team), we basically force our minds to come up with justifications for that liking.

Our conscious mind, says Haidt, is like a small jockey on top of an elephant (our instinctive mind). The jockey's job is to come up with post-hoc justifications for where the elephant ends up.

Thus, someone like me is doomed to interpret reality through an environmental lens, and more than 41pc of voters (the number who voted Fianna Fáil in 2007) are instinctively inclined to interpret events through a FF prism.

That's unless a seismic event -- and the Mahon Report might just be seismic enough -- can shift people on to another elephant.

drobbins@independent.ie

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