Tuesday 21 May 2019

Clear political choices emerge

Paul Murphy at the Dail yesterday
Paul Murphy at the Dail yesterday


As we reach the boundary of the Coalition's final year in office, today's Millward Brown poll reveals that a real choice is finally emerging from the chaos of 2014. As Fianna Fail stagnates and Labour lingers in the antechamber of political death, increasingly it looks as though the contest to lead the next government is between Fine Gael and Sinn Fein. Contrary to popular lore, choice is not always a good thing. Fine Gael and its leader have many flaws. But do we want to loosen the dogs of political war to such an extent we slip a Sinn Fein / Fianna Fail Coalition into power via the back door.

Such a possibility is not impossible for, whilst the Coalition may be mounting a modest comeback, today's Millward Brown poll reveals that the dominating theme of Irish politics is alienation.

Outside of the political status of Sinn Fein as the most popular political party in the Republic the most significant indicator of the extent of the people's rejection of the elite is that when 'Don't Knows' are factored in, the traditional big three of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour have the support of barely a third of the electorate. The absence of faith in our political establishment is evident consistently across the board when it comes to the unpopularity of our party leaders and the ongoing state of discontent over key issues such as Irish Water and mortgage thresholds.

As the Coalition prays that their unpopularity will not sink progressive issues such as gay marriage, the electorate might note that the sort of alienation that gives up on old and yet to be created parties has consequences too.

One of these is the rise of an increasingly coarse school of public discourse, which has centred itself increasingly upon the Socialist TD Paul Murphy. Intriguingly, the rising profile of Mr Murphy has been accompanied by a steep decline in support for the Independents.

Somewhat typically Mr Murphy was not of a mind to under-dramatise the nature of his arrest last week. Certainly questions surround certain features of his detention and the even more troubling events surrounding Clare Daly, in the wake of her high-profile defence of the rights of whistleblower gardai. After a series of tribunals and inquiries the Garda are, whether they like it or not, a force who are on probation. This means they should err on the side of caution in ensuring politics and policing are never seen to mix. Enough of that has happened already in the ill-forsaken Haughey era for us to know this is a road we do not want to travel.

Mr Murphy and his cohort would meanwhile do well to consider the position of the philosopher John Stuart Mill, who in On Liberty argued that man is entitled to do anything which does not affect somebody else adversely. It would be easier to sympathise with Mr Murphy, were it not the case that an unacceptable escalation in the scale of violence that accompanies political protest is beginning to emerge.

Sinn Fein's crocodile tears in support of Mr Murphy should remind us that we have only just emerged from a violent school of politics where the life and personal security of no representative of the state, from census workers to democratically-elected politicians were guaranteed. A vast sense of alienation may be darkening the national mood. But Ireland is not Greece, Mr Murphy. And alienation does not, in a still functioning democracy, offer us a get out of jail free card for political licentiousness.

Sunday Independent

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