Tuesday 19 February 2019

Stability not a sufficient option

Lucinda Creighton
Lucinda Creighton

Irish politics is in its most equivocal state since the 1950s when, after a prolonged period of bad governance - and occasionally no governance at all - a raft of radical parties challenged the dreary civil war political steeples of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

It did not end well, for the vast conservatism of the Irish electorate inevitably drowned these radical impulses. But, despite their fate, it would be inaccurate to say that these parties failed, for the disquiet acted as a primer, in terms of the reinvention of Fianna Fail at least.

The growing disaffection with how we now do things appears to be facilitating the growth of a similar instability within the body politic. Lucinda Creighton, Shane Ross, Michael Fitzmaurice and Stephen Donnelly have declared their hand. Suddenly, that which was a zephyr of unrest has turned into a wind of change. Some would include the rise of Sinn Fein as part of this process, but that would be a fundamental error, for they represent the reincarnation of the Haughey gene which brought us to a place of moral desolation.

It is understandable that the establishment should respond in a chilly fashion to these developments and novelty certainly should not be a defence against rigorous questioning. But the scare tactics by Finance Minister Michael Noonan and others over how political instability leads to economic instability are ideologically hollow-legged. They are also laced with a paternalistic disrespect for the electorate that remains endemic within the Coalition, despite the harm it has done to them.

Confusion is not an ignoble or illogical condition if the circumstances dictate this is where we should be. By contrast, stability, if it evolves into stagnation, can erode a state from within. Last week's Banking Inquiry, in particular, provided us with a graphic illustration of the dangers that accompany a distaste for change. In 2010, the then-Labour Party leader, Eamon Gilmore famously accused Brian Cowen of economic treason when it came to the 'blank cheque' given to Anglo. That was excessive, but the inefficient indolence of our governing class, revealed so starkly by Mr Patrick Honohan, does constitute a form of betrayal.

We have consistently argued that the Coalition deserves a kinder fate than political annihilation. That, however, is the fate they will most assuredly suffer if all that is offered to us is a return to the way things were. The Government, somewhat obviously, intends to make stability one of the central principles of the next election. The attraction is understandable, but if the Coalition is not careful their appeal may evolve into a vast strategic error which will only accelerate the hostile spirit of a citizenry thirsting for change. The voters know Lucinda Creighton, Shane Ross, Michael Fitzmaurice and Stephen Donnelly are not Syria and will not appreciate too well any attempt to herd them into a state of false consciousness on this matter.

The greatest error our Coalition has succumbed to is the misapprehension that the result of the last election represented a validation of the old way of cautious centralism, where the only thing that changes in Irish politics is the label on the same tin. In fact, 2011 was a final notice to the elite prior to liquidation proceedings being issued. After three years of being deaf to this warning, the first lesson the Government should learn from the Banking Inquiry is that 'steady as she goes' is an outdated policy. The Taoiseach and Tanaiste must instead drive a change agenda in 2015, for if they don't the voters will change them.

Sunday Independent

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