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From: Irish Political Review: Editorials
Date: May, 2016
By: Editorial

Ireland On Auto-Pilot

Ireland On Auto-Pilot
Two months after the Election the state is still without an elected Government. But life goes on as usual. Could there be a more convincing proof of the durability and maturity of Irish democracy?
The Election came close to breaking up the party-system by which the state has been governed for about three-quarters of a century.
The final result meant that Fine Gael, with 50 seats of 158, could not hope to form a Government. Neither could Fianna Fail with 44 seats. All the other TDs together have 64 seats. This meant that, should FF abstain, the other TDs could bring down the Government by 50 votes to 64. However, with the support of 7 TDs from amongst the Independents and smaller alliances, Fine Gael could survive a Vote of No Confidence, so long as FF abstained. Indeed, it is so that FF can have the luxury of abstaining that Kenny had to negotiate for the support of Independents.
Fascination with the intricacies of the situation has virtually eclipsed the Northern Ireland Assembly Election of 5th May.

The routine operation of a party system, in which one party gives way to another in response to slight changes in the mood of the electorate, requires that there should be nothing at issue between the major parties that is fundamental to the functioning of the state. It requires substantial consensus, within which the parties denounce each other in extravagant terms but hardly anybody takes it too much in earnest.
That was the case in the Irish state after 1938, when the Fianna Fail Government established de facto independence by taking command of the Ports which had been under British sovereignty under the Treaty, and 1939, when Fine Gael supported Irish Neutrality in Britain’s latest Great War.
From 1922 to 1938-9 substantial consensus on fundamentals had been lacking. During the 1920s the Party put in power by Britain had tried to exclude the very large body of Republican opinion from representation in the Dail by making the swearing of the Imperial Oath a precondition of contesting elections and entering the Dail and, when it lost its Dail majority in 1932, it tried to displace the system of Parliamentary democracy with a Fascist or Corporatist system. It was only when Fine Gael in 1939 accepted the accomplished fact of the independence of the 26 Co. state, and supported the practical assertion of that independence in September 1939, that routine democracy began in Ireland.

But, if consensus is the ground of functional democracy by parties, how could it be that the party system came close to disintegration at a moment when there was hardly any discernible difference between the two major parties, beyond the fact that there were two of them?
Consensus is not identity. There must be some identifiable difference between the parties—other than fine print in Election Manifestoes which hardly anybody reads—for the system of party-conflict to be functional: and a system without party-conflict at its core is not considered to be democratic nowadays.

Civil War origin, which was taken to be indicative of a difference of disposition or sentiment, was the identifier of difference within the consensus for three-quarters of a century. That ground of difference was then frivolously rejected as pre-historic and divisive by Fianna Fail. Under the influence of Micheal Martin and the party intellectual, Martin Mansergh, it disowned its anti-Treaty origins and adopted the Fine Gael position that the imposed ‘Treaty’, briefly submitted to by the electorate under threat of all-out Imperial reconquest, was the foundation document of legitimate statehood and democracy.
The process began with Bertie Ahern, who made Fianna Fail the party of managerial astuteness. And so the electorate in 2016 was presented with a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. And, faced with a choice of nondescript parties, it voted heavily for individuals against parties.

The notion that Civil War politics must be rejected because the ‘Civil War’ happened almost a century ago is not a lesson one learns from British experience. It is a Civil War that happened over three and a half centuries ago that is the source of the British party system. The Tories are Cavaliers, the Whigs came from the Roundheads. And, insofar as Labour is coherent, it is on the basis of Roundhead sentiment.

We have said repeatedly that the 26 County political system became destructive of itself because it went into denial about Northern Ireland under Jack Lynch. It is therefore appropriate that the only party that emerged with credit from the election is the all-Ireland party from the North, which dealt effectively with the pernicious Northern Ireland structure to the extent that it is now in government there along with Paisleyites.
In the Southern Election it forfeited votes by refusing to take the stand of encouraging people not to pay water charges, and it made the practical proposal of taking the matter out of politics to be dealt with by a State Commission to make recommendations.
Insofar as the Election was about something in particular, it was about the water charges. Half the people have paid them and half the people have refused. It was proposed that, while waiting for a Government to be formed, the Dail should debate the issue. Micheal Martin rejected the proposal. He would have had to say something definite in it. Should those who refused to pay have their debts written off, or should those who have paid be refunded? It is a nice problem for the law-and-order parties—who are very and law-and-orderish about the North—who have reduced themselves to the position that neither can govern and that, in one way or another, they are faced with the necessity of operating a Government together.

Ireland On Auto-Pilot. Editorial
Britain At The Crossroads!. Editorial
Brexit: United States enters War (of words) . Sean Owens
Lloyd George & Proportional Representation. Report
Corbyn, Livingstone And The Semites. Editorial
Readers' Letters: Redmondism at Laochra. Dave Alvey
Shorts from the Long Fellow (1916 Values; 1916 Celebrations; 1916 Blood Sacrifice?; 1916 Class Politics; 1916 and Yanis Varoufakis)
Remembering Thomas Kent. Nick Folley
That Other Anniversary. Jack Lane on Shakespeare
'Murderess' Markievicz Or Malicious Misogyny?. Manus O’Riordan
McKenna’s Fort a play about Roger Casement reviewed. Tim O’Sullivan
The 1918 Election: An Ignored Centenary. Jack Lane
That Wall. Wilson John Haire (Poem)
"And a Rout upon the Galls". John Morgan (Lt. Col. Retd.)
Politics of Glasnevin Wall & history of Glasnevin Trust. Dave Alvey
Glasnevin Petition.
Civil War Politics Over? The Taoiseach's Approach
Memorials. Tom Cooper (Report of Letter)
Protest Over Glasnevin Wall. Dave Alvey (Unpublished Letter)
Why the Glasnevin 1916 wall is indefensible. Leaflet
Biteback: Remembering the forgotten female heroes of the 1916 Rising.Toirbhealach Lyons (Report of Letter)
Does It Stack Up? Michael Stack (Historic Speech; Terrorist attacks; Ireland; Arabic and the Koran
Reconciliation. Wilson John Haire (Poem)
Labour Comment, edited by Pat Maloney:
Neglected Morals Of The Irish Rising: G.B. Shaw The Law and the Citizen: Seán Ó Riain
HMRC—The Sleeping Game Keeper: Michael Robinson