Monday 10 December 2018

Compromise is a noble pursuit

Party leaders Enda Kenny and Micheal Martin Photo:
Party leaders Enda Kenny and Micheal Martin Photo:


If politics is the art of the possible, then compromise is the artistry of democracy. In talks between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail towards the facilitation of the formation of a new government, the participants have made repeated reference to the need for compromise - comments more directed towards their supporters and citizens in general than to each other.

As a rule of thumb, political compromise is possible and suitable in most, if not all, circumstances and, it follows, impossible in some others. In the circumstances which pertain in this country, compromise is to be more than argued for, but to be commended as a prerequisite to the formation and practice of good government.

It has been stated that the problem with any political decision, and especially with compromise, is that those who compromise cannot entirely foresee its consequences and yet will have to live with the decision. So be it.

The outcome of current negotiations will soon put Fine Gael and Fianna Fail to that test and in due course also those Independent TDs and smaller parties which have taken part, and will again, to some extent and to varying degrees, in the process of government.

These participants will have to show that compromise as negotiated is not just another word in the vocabulary of politics, but prove that the new political landscape can be classified on the basis of its attitude towards compromise.

Sinn Fein and those other parties and individuals on the Left which have not participated have shown what might be referred to as an absolutist French approach: "I will not compromise my conscience, my honour, my virtue, or myself."

Such an approach is outdated. Worse, it panders to the loss of confidence in politicians, a phenomenon repeatedly confirmed in elections, not just here, but throughout Europe and in many western democracies. This loss of trust endangers the very functioning of many democratic institutions and affects decision-making.

That sentiment of dissatisfaction has to do with the unconscious rethinking of civil society, which some have attributed to informal networks of socialisation in the internet age, and as such, is a developed, fertile recruiting ground for Sinn Fein and others determined to remain outside the mainstream. In our view, such networks are nothing new, but rather are medieval at source.

What is evident now is that unless one ideology holds sway over all branches of government, compromise will be necessary to govern for the benefit of all citizens.

In fact, it can be argued that the rejection of such compromise actually can bias politics in favour of the status quo, which Sinn Fein and others so vociferously reject, even when that rejection risks crisis, defined as "a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger".

The rejection of compromise is also to perpetuate the domination of electoral campaigning over actual governing - the permanent campaign - which afflicts so many western democracies and now threatens to do so here too.

Good government calls for the opposite, the compromising mindset that inclines politicians to adjust principles and respect opponents. It is a mindset that helps politicians appreciate and take advantage of opportunities for desirable compromise and that is a conclusion that this newspaper has repeatedly argued best reflects the explicitly unstated intention of the electorate.

Sunday Independent

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