My column in The Kerryman. 31 July, 2013
There’s a joke about we Irish not doing big street protests because of the weather. It’s a joke I thought hid a germ of truth. As I basked in the sun this last month I realised I’d be even less likely to protest in sunshine than in rain. Unless of course, that protest is at the beach.
The reason we don’t do big protests is because we don’t want big changes. We want tomorrow to be a lot like today, but a little better. It’s not easy to make that point in a big angry crowd, waving placards and staring into the faces of geared up gardai. Protests tend to be organised by people who are less invested than the rest of us, in tomorrow being pretty much the same as today.
Does that mean we are satisfied with the state of our country? No. Poll after poll may show the usual suspects still dominating the political landscape, but they also show increasing numbers of people unable to choose anyone they could vote for. In some countries that increasing uncertainty might indicate scope for a radical new party.
In Ireland it shows that the parties who’ve traditionally been trusted by the majority to be competent, are now increasingly thought of as either a bit too soft or a bit too tough or a but too unsure or a bit too certain.
We don’t do radical because we’ve already answered the most important question facing a relatively prosperous European nation. We’ve already decided that yes, we do want to be looked after by the State. The only debate is how much help should my neighbour get and how much must I pay for it. Any party that suggests we stop looking after our neighbours would be greeted with scorn. And parties that suggest we should all be as poor or as rich as our neighbours, tend to be so small they have to form ‘technical groups’ in the Dáil.
With the biggest question answered, what point is there then in getting involved in our political system? If all the main parties differ only in emphasis rather than principle, why get involved? If tomorrow will be same as today, then why even vote?
Do you remember the Fianna Fáil Tent at the Galway Races during the ‘boom’ years? This annual event was where the rich men of Ireland rubbed shoulders with the stout patriots of Fianna Fáil. The rich men of Ireland did this not because they were stout patriots like Bertie and his gang, but because rich people know something a lot of the rest of us have forgotten.
Rich people know that politicians don’t always need bribing to be influenced. Just spending time with them can be enough to make a difference and the rich continue to get richer. Does that make you angry? Then join a party. It doesn’t matter which one, toss a coin if you can’t decide.
If you want to help shape the policies of a party, have a say in the candidates it chooses and the leader it has, join a party. Casting a vote every five years isn’t enough to have one’s voice heard. If you want tomorrow to be the same as today but a bit better, join a party. Be it Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour or Sinn Fein, just join one of them today.