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. Supposedly interested in the rights of “the common man”, it’s actually 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. Also, hand-in-glove with the church for way too long.
- 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”. FG doesn’t do corruption, but doing something that benefits the right kind of people is perfectly ok. While socially on the progressive side, it’s often been too careful about upsetting the church until it was SURE it could get away with it.
- 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.
- Social Democrats. A decent, slightly confused left-of-center party. Hopefully they’ll learn some economics and stay decent.
- Sinn Fein….the refuse of the Irish political system. Hand-in-glove with murderers and thugs. Tempting to the young and the naive, but 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 and deserve to be respected and listened to. Others are just as slimy as the main parties.
- Renua…don’t make me talk about the socially conservative rump of FG. Please, don’t.
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.