Foreigners sometimes ask me to explain Ireland’s political parties, which seem mysterious to them.
It’s actually pretty easy. While many people in Ireland start to talk about the civil war, that’s really beside the point by now.
My usual short summary is “Ireland’s parties don’t have ideologies, they represent interests.” That’s pretty much it. In some cases the interests are often the members of the parliamentary party themselves. But that’s still a fairly rare case, though the parties’ ability to live with the cases is still sad to see.
Here’s my overall take. It may seem somewhat cynical. By now I’m actually inclined to think I’m being generous. I’ve written some of this before, but it deserves its own space.
- Fianna Fail is the party with the best nominal vision. And therefore the one that lets itself down most. Full of petty local potholers and greasy con-men, Fianna Fail is the party of populism, of “whatever it takes to get elected” and of “the money was just resting in my account” venality. You can trust them to say things that sound good, and to do nothing much unless there’s a buck in it.
- Fine Gael is the party of social and fiscal conservatism. It ought to be a decent slightly right wing party but it’s ruined by an inability to see past the interests of its core constituencies. “The right thing to do” is defined in FG as “whatever makes our kind of people richer”, combined neatly with a “don’t upset the church” conservatism. FG doesn’t do corruption, but doing something that benefits the right kind of people is perfectly ok.
- Labour is what should be Ireland’s social democrats. It can rightly claim to have driven much of the positive socio-legal changes in Ireland over the decades, but it’s waaaay too tied to the unions, way too protective of unreasonable social welfare and unable to see that markets and socialism are not antithetical. Labour is like a deeply ethical and religious person who has somehow ended up being a recruiter for Scientology.
- Sinn Fein….the refuse of the Irish political system. Hand-in-glove with murderers and thugs. Tempting to the young and the naive, but are merely scum in suits.
- PBP and the rest of the left. All the problems they complain of are real. And all their solutions are bad. Wrong, even. Unable to think past slogans.
- The independents….well, they’re a varied bunch. Some of them are having a real and positive impact, others are just as slimy as the main parties.
Anyway…that’s about it. Irish political parties. Don’t expect much from them and you can’t be disappointed in them. But if you hope for good things for Ireland, this lot aren’t going to be bringing you good news either.