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13 March 2017 Edition

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The challenge to achieve change

• The movement against water charges shows what is possible – if we can unite on the core objective

If all those who believe that a government without Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil is possible worked together towards that end, we could end Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael rule

THE Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll published on 2 March shows that the two parties who have dominated the Southern state since partition are neck-and-neck in public approval ratings.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were on 29% and 28% respectively with their nearest challenger being Sinn Féin, up 4 points from December to 21%.

Of course, any opinion poll is a mere snapshot, but the trends are clear. 

The Irish political landscape is changing. The two-and-half party system which has so badly served people for so many decades is fragmenting.

The Establishment parties have tried to make a virtue out of necessity and have dressed up their marriage of convenience as ‘new politics’.

It has been said that Fine Gael are in Government but it is Fianna Fáil that is in power and there is a large degree of truth in that. Effectively, we have a Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil coalition.

In that sense, we are all at the mercy of the most cynical party in Irish politics.

Fianna Fáil will pull the plug and trigger an election when timing and circumstance are opportune for Fianna Fáil. Not for the benefit of the country. Not for the benefi of the people.

Having survived the crisis created by Enda Kenny’s dissembling over the Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe scandal, the most recent major point of contention is water charges.

In this regard, Fianna Fáil is acting its cynical best, performing breath-taking political somersaults on the issue. It was actually Fianna Fáil who in 2010 negotiated with the Troika to introduce water charges in the first place.

The initial fault-line in the Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil arrangement, the Maurice McCabe affair, is another in a line of scandals in the history of the Garda and underlines the nature of the state moulded by the Tweedle Dee/Tweedle Dum dysfunctional political system.

We’ve had the notorious ‘Heavy Gang’, the Kerry Babies scandal, the Abbeylara affair and the revelations of the Morris Tribunal, to name but a few.

A conservative authoritarianism, presided over by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, has made corruption of state institutions inevitable.

Counter-revolution and partition created not one but two conservative states that have been run in the interests of the elites.

What developed in the South was a narrow-minded, mean-spirited state that was cruel to the poor, to women and to political radicals of any kind.

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A claustrophobic, confessional atmosphere produced repression, censorship, repeated waves of emigration, economic stagnation and the overbearing influence of a conservative Catholic Church Hierarchy on politics and social development.

Many of the political, economic and social scandals witnessed in recent years are a product of this post-colonial condition.

Central to all of this has been the corrupt two-and-a-half party political system.

Some combination of Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil (often supported by the Labour Party or sometimes others) has been in government here since the foundation of the state.

But just as one-party Orange rule in the North is gone, the failed two-and-a-half party system in this state is waning also.

The electoral rise of radical republicanism in the form of Sinn Féin has been central to this.

The policies of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are indistinguishable. There is no real difference between these parties on ideology or policy.

Both are champions of austerity, cuts to the living standards of working people, the privatisation of public services, the protection of commercial vested interests, and kow-towing to the diktats of EU bureaucrats.

It has served those parties, and the privileged interests they represent, to construct an illusion of political choice. But there has never been any real choice.

At the moment, it suits Fianna Fáil to have a weak Fine Gael government in place but that can and will change. And that could be sooner rather than later.

It would represent major progress if both parties did the Irish people a favour, ended the sham and merged as one.

But, of course, they will not do that of their own accord. They have been forced into their current embrace by electoral circumstance.

If all those on the political Left and progressive Ireland – all those who want real change, all those who believe that a government without Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil is possible – worked together towards that end, we could end Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael rule.

If all those who have taken to the streets in recent years over a variety of issues, and all those who want to achieve a better, more equal Ireland, actually vote for it, work for it and co-operate with each other it is also achievable.

The challenge is there. So is the possibility.

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