Sunday 16 June 2019

Deirdre Conroy: Voters are tired of being held to ransom by Civil War hostilities

Micheál Martin (left) and Enda Kenny (right)
Micheál Martin (left) and Enda Kenny (right)
Deirdre Conroy

Deirdre Conroy

Micheál Martin and Enda Kenny are not listening. Two teachers at loggerheads have drowned out the sound of the electorate. In the eyes of many, they have turned their backs on the reality of Ireland today.

From the safe vantage of Dáil Éireann and their public service perspective, they fail to see that Civil War politics no longer has relevance to homeless families, parents of emigrants, lone parents and the disabled and unemployed.

The latest polls show that the electorate does not trust the traditional political format. Support for Independents continues to rise.

The leaders' debate on Monday gave a more realistic representation of Ireland today, with seven divergent voices, although it lacked a truly independent voice to reflect rural issues.

The two centrist parties led by Micheál and Enda appear only to represent their own interests in getting re-elected.

If they were to put the country first, the rhetoric would be the opposite of what we got: the trite insults, peppered with blame and rancour and time-wasting, hostile arrows shot across the studio.

We have seen it go on for too long and all that it does is demonstrate how narrowly focused these leaders are.

Given that we are in our hundredth anniversary of the 1916 rebellion and our Independence centenary is within five years, it really is time to celebrate a new Ireland with a national governing body.

The people no longer trust the old party system and they cannot be swayed by party leaders hurling abuse at each other or trotting out vacuous soundbites.

What would be more constructive is an assembly of talented, performance-orientated people, conscious of the meaning of governance, with an understanding of project implementation.

That way, the wads of money lobbed at the HSE might actually result in a functioning, fit-for-purpose healthcare system, rather than a poorly performing monolith.

A Department of the Environment with responsibility for housing might have overseen a comprehensive construction programme in the last five years. This might have impacted on the number of homeless and eased pressure on the housing lists.

Talk of keeping the recovery going is falling on deaf ears. Our younger electorate grew up through a boom; while not all of them enjoyed a Tiger lifestyle, they would not have known despondency.

But they do now.

They can neither afford to rent nor buy a home. Landlordism has returned in the form of Nama and American vulture funds, unheard-of concepts eight years ago.

Those young voters don't see a recovery. If they have a job, for too many it comes without a contract.

The Nama-owned Boland Mills is being converted to apartments for sale at €850,000.

This will, in turn, artificially inflate house prices in the area, putting citizens in low-paid jobs further out of the picture.

I can confirm from the rental market in Dublin that the majority of those seeking accommodation are foreign nationals coming to take up a vast number of the 100,000 jobs created in the last five years.

There is little today that resembles the Ireland that spawned Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour.

But our society is not so diverse or advanced that it does not share communal needs - education, health, employment and a family home.

Whatever is the best means of securing the effective functioning for our institutions is what Ireland wants and needs, not partisan approaches with the attendant fallout between factions.

Instead of smaller parties, like Richard Boyd Barrett's People Before Profit, having to go on the attack to advocate for the poorer communities in their constituency, these needs should be encompassed in a masterplan. Talents like those of Stephen Donnelly also ought to be put to greater use.

Instead of Labour leader Joan Burton accusing Mr Donnelly, the Social Democrat co-leader, of sounding like a "management consultant", as she did in the leaders' debate, I would be championing someone who specialised in "rebuilding economies and protecting and strengthening vulnerable populations" when he studied at Harvard Kennedy School.

Whatever way the numbers spin out, the present leaders need to think about tripartisanship and finding common ground through compromise to forge a civil society of which we can be proud.

Not just "the best little country in which to do business" - what point is that if you have nowhere to live?

There is sufficient talent, motivation, determination and genuine social conscience among the candidates, they are just not all in one party, or even two parties.

Leo Varadkar has said that he doesn't think Fine Gael will necessarily come out as the largest party. We don't know the final results, but we know enough to recognise that the big players have failed to read the writing on the wall.

Post-election, putting the country first has to be imperative. There are precedents, such as the Tallaght Strategy of Alan Dukes, where the country was put before party.

As for obstacles, a young Fianna Fáiler told me it would be impossible to join with Fine Gael without a special ard fheis being convened, and that it would be the rank-and-file members who would object.

"Who are they?" I asked.

"Eighty-year-old bachelor farmers whose fathers fought in the war," he replied.

They are entitled to their say, but not to hold the rest of us to ransom. Let's not squander this opportunity.

Deirdre Conroy is not associated with any political party

Irish Independent

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