The Sinn Fein rise in the polls has caught me by surprise a bit. Back-to-back polling sees them vying with Fianna Fail for top-spot as Ireland’s largest party. It remains to be seen if opinion percentages translate to percentage share of the Vote next Saturday. It will be no harm for the politics of this country if it does though. A proper re-alignment between left and right has been long overdue in Ireland.
If we look port and starboard side of us both politically and geographically, it should come as no surprise that the corona-virus like spread of populism, is making it’s way to our shores too. And to take the analogy a step further, it has no known antidote at the moment. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael seem caught between a rock and a hard place on the movement. They’ve only themselves to blame and if an amalgamation of these two entities is the result – it may be a price worth paying.
If the exit of Great Britain from the EU yesterday informs us of anything, It is that working class people are tearing down the globalist Status Quo at every turn. While the left is the slower of the two movements to yield the fruits of electoral success at the present time, people on that side of the divide are not moving towards the centre in order to achieve it.
It is worth noting that the economic populism that Donald Trump is selling in the US are fruits that we already ‘enjoy’ in Ireland and have done so for most of the last 20 years. The pesky Global Financial meltdown not withstanding. Yet neither of the two main political parties are going to reap any major dividends at the ballot box glorifying their part in creating the Irish economy.
Staying the same is not in vogue. The average Industrial wage does not entertain hopes of buying a home or renting a decent apartment on your own. So it’s hardly going to entertain a fever like rush to any of the two main political parties. And specifically for FF and FG clinging to 100 year old points of historical difference is more likely to see them swept away in the medium term. Without action.
And just what does this over used and abused phrase ‘working class or ordinary people’ mean in a modern day Irish sense, in an economy at near full employment. It’s a good question. Especially as the underlying subliminal messaging of Fine Gael is
‘ Sure everyone has a job what are you all complaining about’
Mark Killilea a Fianna Fail TD and MEP, now passed, famously was asked this working class question 30 or 40 years ago. He was challenged to explain who the ‘Ordinary People of Ireland’ were and put on the spot to identify them. He summed them up neatly as follows.
“The people who sit down to ate their dinner in the middle of the day”
It was a response for its time. A soundbite that satisfied the questioner and stood the test of it’s era. He spoke of a country still largely blanketed in the robes of agriculture and a pastoral outlook.
I grew up in a Fine Gael house. Which meant my mother’s people were all Fine Gael and my Father kept his mouth shut and voted Fianna Fail. The kitchen cabinet discussions of the 90’s in our house largely revolved around a longing to see Fine Gael in power while trying to rationalize why they would stick a tax on children’s shoes on the rare occasions that they got it.
I remember Markeen Killilea’s quote above was related to us by an uncle one summer, in a post dinner (1′ o’clock) tirade on where FG were going wrong. I think the quote could’ve been 5 or 10 years old even at that stage of it’s telling.
” Is it any wonder we’re not in power ….Can you imagine fucking John Bruton saying something like that… “
Profundity in a single sentence was not John Bruton’s strongest suit apparently. The Killilea reply indicated a politician quick on his feet but more significantly of a man and party that knew exactly who their people were right down to the moment they sat down to eat. It is in this regard that both the Fine Gael and Fianna Fail of of 2020 have lost their way.
Who are their people in 2020 ?
Depending who or where you ask, the Ireland of today has many faces. Many more than 30 years ago. But I want to focus on just two briefly. Dublin and the rest of the country outside the pale.
In 2013 having had a 5 year fill of global recession West of Ireland style, I took some contract work in Dublin. I wasn’t over the moon about it but consoled myself at the Applegreen in Enfield that at least Dublin wasn’t Doncaster or Dubai. After my first full working day, for a company in the IFSC, I had one thought. Where’s the fucking recession?
The recession was all anyone talked about in the West for the previous 5 years. As any other small business owner from that time will know; the people least affected by it talked about it the most – as a bartering tool or negotiating tactic. It didn’t matter if you were buying a car, drinking a pint or doing the week’s grocery shopping, recession group therapy was interwoven into the fabric of daily conversation. It was quite deafening and disconcerting to hear no-one talk about it in the capital city.
Over the course of the next two years I came to realise that Dublin was in fact a different country. I mean that with all due respect. I am of course talking not of the Greater Dublin Area of which many parts were and still are greatly affected. I’m talking about the square mile of real estate from which most of the global capital and power flows into Ireland. In 2013 Ireland Inc was open for business and I was properly surprised to find that business was good and getting better. But better for how many?
A positive of globalization and the influx of large tech and manufacturing into Dublin is a welcome influx of multi-culturalism. I was lucky in that I had a reference point – I had previously lived in Dublin during the late 90’s and early noughties. The city in front of my eyes in 2013 was completely different. Dublin felt like a proper city of the world. With representations of many nations of the world. As likely, if not more likely, to be working in Facebook, Google or Twitter as the Deli counter of your local Centra.
Leo Varadkar is a product of this Dublin. It is one that is new, different and not understood by large tracts of the countryside ( and possibly city suburbs) I dare say.
Of course down the country we really only had two new nationalities. Polish and Lithuanian. And the majority of them had come in that first wave of inward migration to Ireland 20 years previously. And the vast bulk of these folks had come in to fill a plethora of manual labour shortages from blocklayers to beauticians. Of course they suffered with us during the recession. Perhaps even more so. The recession was pre-dominantly a killer on small domestic sole traders.
I find myself wondering when is this city and countryside multi-culturism going to have a break out moment in an election. Upwards of 20% of the population are new Irish with a generation of foundation work laid. We never hear about them in political debate.
One of the abiding memories I have of 2013/14 is the plethora of Polish tradespeople at those 5:45 am coffee pit-stops at various points just off the Galway – Dublin motorway. Those boys used to van-pool up from Galway City to Dublin for work. Daily. 5 hour round-trips a day. The fuckers hadn’t even the decency to complain about it.
There tends to be a lot of chatter about Leo that is, how shall we say it, subliminally racist. He certainly doesn’t have a great grasp on the ‘ordinary people’ of Ireland and this is sometimes said, knowingly or unknowingly, with a nod to his Indian heritage. I disagree with the analysis. I think he is merely an Irishman of the ‘Golden Mile’ generation. A first generation child of the Irish globalization project. His heritage could trace back to Niall of the Nine Hostages for all the difference it would make.
The point is that the golden milers have never found themselves in an Applegreen at 5:45 on a Tuesday morning choosing between a breakfast bap and 3 sausage rolls. And yet that’s exactly where his electorate hang out. If the people queuing at forecourts up and down the country are not FF and FG voters, well then Michael and Leo need to be forensically asking themselves why not. Because they certainly should be.
Mark Killilea’s people stooped to bless themselves for the Angelus before sitting down to a feed of bacon and cabbage.
The ordinary people of today ate their breakfast in the middle of the night.
Therein lies the problem and the key to their votes.