O’Toole, Dunphy, McWilliams and Ross’ “non-ideological” political party couldn’t get together in time for the election but what would these probity warriors stand for anyway?
Fintan O’Toole, David McWilliams, Eamon Dunphy and Shane Ross are or rather were, men on a mission. A mission to straighten out the mess that is Irish politics. Unfortunately for the Democracy Now group they planned to form, only Ross will now be standing – as an independent – in the forthcoming general election, but what would have been the point of the party anyway?
Had Democracy Now been able to get its act together in time for the election it would have entered an already crowded field. Alongside the usual suspects of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and Labour, the 2011 election sees a strong challenge from a reinvigorated Sinn Féin and new outfits on left and right alike, such as the United Left Alliance, the One Percent Network, and the National Forum, clamoring to be heard.
What would O’Toole and Co. hope to bring to the non-party party?
Today’s Sunday Tribune [not available online at the time of writing] reports a source saying Democracy Now’s platform was “designed to be non-ideological.” Forgive the cynicism, but after 90 years of non-ideological politics, does no-one else think that it’s about time Ireland gave ideology a shot?
Instead of ideology, we have been left with the rather more nebulous – some would say elastic – notion of values.
But even by that meager standard, what would the stillborn Democracy Now have offered the electorate? A joke circulating in the Dáil right now is that Ross is standing on a platform of “profit before people.” A crude caricature it may be, but Ross is a conservative and so this is surely something O’Toole, Ireland’s most lauded liberal, must himself have thought about the man who would have been his running mate.
We know Democracy Now is against lying. But who isn’t? It would be a strange politician who stood on a platform promising less probity.
Writing in yesterday’s Irish Times O’Toole said he felt “morally obliged” to stand for the Dáil, but that the timing of the snap election had pulled the rug from beneath his feet. That is as may be, but if O’Toole felt morally obliged to stand, presumably hoping to win, why does he no longer feel morally obliged to stand? Surely the question of whether or not he is likely to win is one that is overridden by moral considerations?
More importantly, though, is the politics of moral obligation what Ireland needs right now?
When commentators complain of a lack of morality in Irish politics they are often begging the question. Transparency International has said that Ireland is the fourteenth least corrupt country in the world, a fact that puts the lie to the image of cute hoors and chances. Even those who think Irish politicians’ ethical standards should be significantly higher should question whether this is the same thing as morality.
All manner of dubious political decisions has been made in the name of morality, from the Iraq war to our own history of imprisoning children in cleric-run “homes”.
More than that, what are increasingly presented as moral questions, by implication natural and fixed, are in fact political matters and in a democracy, we have a right to express our desires throughout the ballot box, even at the price of getting it wrong.
We have already witnessed the explanation for the collapse of the Irish economy reduced to a dumbed-down morality play in which bankers, developers and, most recently, trade unionists play the role of pantomime villains. The simplistic and conspiratorial version of events may provide emotional satisfaction but it does nothing to address the fact that Ireland’s economy was unbalanced – and remains so – with the overgrowth of unproductive sectors coming at the expense of genuinely productive investment.
In other words, hate Seán FitzPatrick or Bertie Ahern all you like, it won’t make one iota of difference when all that remains on offer is minor tinkering with the tax system and a few sacrificial lambs. Ireland’s political and economic elite will simply jump onto the next meaningless and unproductive bandwagon that happens to trundle past.
Smart economy, anyone?