Politics when it works can create situations where, to borrow the famous quote from Seamus Heaney, hope and history can rhyme. Sadly today's Millward Brown/Sunday Independent poll reveals that, as the current Coalition passes the meridian of its historic triumph in February 2011, hope and history are not in sync. Instead our poll unveils a country turning its face away from politics in a manner that resembles John McGahern's bachelor farmers who, exhausted by the absence of possibility in life would take to the bed, turn their face to the wall and wait for death. In our case the Government is the most obvious casualty of this existential crisis. Fine Gael and Labour have lost their mandate so comprehensively the combination of Sinn Fein and independents now has more support amongst the electorate. As with the Cowen era a listless electorate has silently withdrawn its support. But unlike Beckett's tramps they do not even have the consolation of expecting anything better is about to come along.
Democracy is sickly when the vast majority of citizens have withdrawn their confidence from the Government, the Taoiseach and the Opposition. But, in a scenario where the citizens justifiably feel that, far from being given the choice associated with functioning democracies, they are being governed by an oligarchy where only the faces change, are we really surprised that less than 40 per cent of the voters now support the troika of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour. Intriguingly the distaste for the available democratic options has infected an outwardly strong Fine Gael. It hardly represents a vote of confidence in future options that when asked who do they see as representing the best successor to Enda Kenny, two-thirds of the electorate say of the available options that they support none of them.
It has often been claimed that the unchanging nature of Irish politics resembles the weary permanence of the dreary grey steeples of Fermanagh. But, such a withdrawal of public support from conventional politics should provoke some questioning as to whether, when it comes to the Irish cathedral, the cornerstone of any democracy, namely the legitimacy provided by the consent of the citizens, is crumbling. This vacuum means we should not be surprised that Sinn Fein, which has only recently deigned to recognise the institutions of the State, has emerged as a threatening third force. Already it is consistently riding hard on the heels of the big two of FF and FG, and with a better jockey they might even gallop closer. Significantly, Sinn Fein's current rude health and fine prospects come at a time when enthusiasm for a new political party has declined sharply.
Advocates of a 'movement for change' should realise the voters will not be seduced by a satellite version of FG that confuses Home Rule with real political independence. Those who believe it is not yet time to put their money where their mouth is might also note that the rejection of conventional politics is poised to let the political Scientologists of Sinn Fein slip into Government Buildings by the side door. On today's figures, outside of an unwanted FF/FG alliance the only other viable coalition partnership must involve Sinn Fein. So far all the talk on this has been centred on a FF/Sinn Fein entente cordiale. But, don't be surprised if Mr Kenny turns out to be the one who will guide the SF slow learners into office. Despite his ongoing spiky exchanges with Mr Adams, our Taoiseach certainly has the ego for the task.