Monday 19 August 2019

Jason O'Mahony: 'We might have issues, but we're a world leader in democracy'

Jason O'Mahony

There's an old adage from the BBC series 'Yes Minister' that any country that has 'People's' or 'Democratic' in its official title is invariably neither and more likely a brutal communist dictatorship.

You see the same thing happening in US politics with the term 'freedom'. There was once a time during FDR's administration where "the four freedoms" stood for freedom of speech and worship, and freedom from want and fear.

Now Republicans use it to mean the freedom to discriminate against people they don't like, from Muslims to immigrants to gays and others.

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Like a Stalinist mantra, they repeat the declaration that America is the most free nation on Earth.

Except it isn't.

Want to know the most free nation in the world?

You're living in it.

You can argue today that there is no group of people with more rights and freedoms than those of us who are blessed enough to hold an Irish passport. That Ireland is the most free nation in the world.

Look at the facts.

First, exclude all the countries that aren't democracies.

Then exclude the democracies that aren't at our level.

The US, for example, is a rigid two-party state with a political system riddled with legalised corruption and gerrymandering of congressional districts. In the US, politicians actually get to pick their own voters.

Britain is barely a democracy, where 65pc of people can vote against the sitting prime minister and he still wins an overall majority in parliament.

Then there's the monarchies. In Ireland we can all, citizens over the age of 35, have a crack at being head of state without having to have had frisky ancestors who crept into the right aristocratic bed. In Australia, New Zealand and Canada, being actually born in your country means you haven't a hope. Here, if you get four county councils and 50.1pc of the vote of your fellow citizens, Queen Elizabeth is calling you your excellency.

Then there's civil liberties. Turkey and Hungary are countries where you'd want to doff the cap at the right people. In Ireland you can tell the Taoiseach to do something anatomically impossible to himself and the secret police (which we don't really have) won't drag you off in the dead of night.

Nor will you get shot by some loon carrying a machine gun because the US Supreme Court has chosen to ignore what is actually written in a document written 230 years ago and instead gives terrorists a right to purchase assault weapons.

Our media is free, our TV studios and newspaper columns being full of liberals and people telling us that it's a disgrace that the media is full of liberals. We don't have the death penalty. Neither does Russia, funnily enough.

But then our coffee doesn't glow in the dark either.

Then there's size: Germany and France are free republics, but their size negates against individual citizens.

If you're French, you don't get to meet the president of France much, if at all. Here you can get to meet the Taoiseach or President if you really, really want to.

There's a fair chance that the prime minister will actually call to your door to see if you're happy with the local bus service.

Bet Putin doesn't call around to people's houses and wrestle a bear topless.

I once introduced a German friend of mine to the Taoiseach in a supermarket: she'd never even met her local member of the Bundestag.

So, as far as freedom and rights go, it's pretty much down to us and Finland, which is about right.

We still have the Catholic stuff in the Constitution, the Catholic Church in the schools and the Angelus on the telly.

Whatever about the schools, you'd want to be pretty anally retentive to believe you're somehow being oppressed about the old bong and far-eyed stare twice a day. Offended, irritated even, but not oppressed.

The Finns can be invaded by the Russians at Tuesday lunchtime, which is a far bigger threat to freedom. Unlike us, Finland has conscription for all males between 18 and 60, although to their credit they'll tell you that it's part of being free, which given they've had Soviet tanks plough across their country in the past is hard to argue with.

Then there's our voting system, which is open, fair, proportional and designed to give politicians the political equivalent of irritable bowel syndrome.

The choice, or lack of, is down to us, the voters, who seem to keep voting for Dem Fellas or The Other Fellas Who Look The Spit Of The First Fellas. That's a free choice, too.

This isn't a utopia. For all our freedom we still can't seem to elect a government with the ability to run a 21st century health service or house all our people.

And let's be honest - there is one exception to all the wonderful freedoms outlined above: if you're a member of the Travelling community many don't apply. There isn't a hope in hell of a Traveller being elected Taoiseach any day soon. In fact, I'd happily wager that we'd see an immigrant Taoiseach elected first, such is the inability of both communities to come to an agreed settlement based on mutual respect. It remains the blackspot at the heart of Irish liberty.

But freedom isn't an end in itself. FDR recognised that, making freedom from want one of his four objectives of a democratic society.

This country is a nation with a lot of problems and a lot of baggage, both historical and emotional.

But you'd be hard pressed to find a people more free to resolve its challenges.

Irish Independent

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