The Irish general election currently underway is the strangest Irish election in my lifetime—the culmination of a rupture between people and politicians that has been developing for decades.
It is not one election, but two. According to the “mainstream media,” it is the formal, official, business-as-usual contest of parties and candidates; from the public’s perspective, it is a mock battle between objectively indistinguishable actors, a game of musical chairs. Never have I encountered so many people who tell me: “There’s no difference between them. I cannot see anyone to vote for.” These are just some of the factors that led me to declare as an independent candidate in my south Dublin constituency of Dun Laoghaire, long known as the most “liberal” in the country.
For nearly a century, Irish politics has been alternately dominated by two parties, Fianna Fáil (FF) and Fine Gael (FG). The parties are almost solely distinguishable by their roots in the Civil War of 1922, FG having emerged from the winning pro-Treaty side and FF from the defeated anti-Treaty side. In the past, FG represented the wealthier professional and civil servant classes, while FF represented farmers and other workers. But these distinctions have blurred over the decades. These days, the two parties appear to be competing for the “woke” vote, both constantly pandering to liberal causes that a few years ago they would have been vying to oppose. The rest of the field is made up of Labour—now a minor faction after a brief flowering in the 1990s—the Republican-remnants party Sinn Féin, and a handful of mavericks who come and go under varying nomenclature and banners.
Four years ago, a somewhat similar election took place. But back then, We the People had not fully registered the extent to which Irish politics had become a game of musical chairs. Still, when the votes were counted, the electorate had presented its political class with what seemed an intractable arithmetic conundrum, out of which no workable government could possibly arise. Only by breaking their founding oaths, rooted in the Civil War, could the two Big Beasts of Irish politics break the deadlock by negotiating any kind of governmental partnership. Another election seemed the only way out.
Such thinking failed to reckon with the cynicism and sheer amorality that has infected the Irish political class. After months of haggling, the elected collective came up with a shockingly contemptuous arrangement: a “Confidence and Supply” deal between FF and FG, with the latter (which the electorate had just unceremoniously instructed to take a running jump at the nearest cliff) returned to power as a minority government, bolstered by a clutch of independents and tacitly supported from outside by FF. With this election we arrived at a new milestone: the final abandonment of any pretense of ideological distinction—Zero Opposition.
On February 9, after the shortest general election campaign in the history of the Irish state, the votes will be counted to discover whether Tweedledum or Tweedledumber will be the name over the door for the next few years. We will also discover what further shibboleths may be discarded in the rush to maintain the status quo. I will not be totally astonished if I am not elected.
As these charades play themselves out, We the People look on with a mixture of wonder and disbelief as the fictions underlying such contests are parsed by a somnambulant commentariat extolling the “success” of the Irish economy and Ireland’s claim to the title of Most Woke Country in Europe. Will FG be returned to power in recognition of its (implicitly admirable) “handling of the economy”? Will FF finally be forgiven for bankrupting the country in 2008? Could anybody care less? The truth is that Ireland is in cultural, social, and economic meltdown, and nobody seems willing to do things that might reverse this dissolution.
In the general election nine years ago, then FG leader Enda Kenny ran underneath the slogan, “I’ll end the scandal of patients on trolleys.” Last year, the waiting list for beds in Irish hospitals had passed the 100,000 mark by the start of November, two weeks earlier than in 2018, the worst year then on record. At the start of 2020, as though in some ironic vindication of Kenny’s promise, reports suggested that a man who had died of accidental injuries in an Irish hospital might have fallen off a trolley in the A&E department.
Ireland also currently faces an unprecedented homelessness crisis, with more than 10,000 people unable to find housing. On January 14, within hours of the calling of the election, a homeless man sustained “life-changing injuries” when local authorities, reportedly cleaning up the streets for the election, bulldozed the tent he was sleeping in beside Dublin’s Grand Canal.
We must qualify government and media claims of full employment with reminders that the Irish economy has now been trained to export inconveniently expensive native workers and import cheaper ones from outside. Google, for example, employs roughly 7,000 people in its European HQ in Dublin, less than 10 percent of whom are Irish. Meanwhile, Irish shops and cafés are boarded up, usually following interventions by the Revenue Commissioners, while transnational competitors—like Starbucks—get to function with, in effect, a zero tax rate. In 2015, Starbucks paid the princely sum of €45 in corporation taxes on over 50 cafés nationwide.
The media either ignores these incongruities or treats them as though they were strains of mysterious viruses infecting the otherwise healthy body of Ireland’s “success story.” Thanks to a 20 percent increase in the population over as many years, the systems of public administration are creaking at the seams; but as far as the Big Beasts and media are concerned, mass immigration—the undoubted underlying cause—is a non-issue in the election. FF is running under the headline “An Ireland for All.” Party leader Micheál Martin has vouchsafed that this is a reference to “rural Ireland,” but everyone knows it’s a wink to the U.N. Wags have modified some of FF’s posters to read: “An Ireland for All Except the Irish.” Undeterred by the manifest unsustainability of many public utilities, the outgoing government promises to increase the population by more than one million by mid-century.
For most of the 99 years since achieving independence, Ireland has struggled to increase its population. From the 1920s through the 1950s, we hemorrhaged young people, a pattern that had persisted since the Great Famines of the 1840s. Following a brief respite in the 1970s, emigration resumed again and persisted until the miraculous “Celtic Tiger” boom of the 1990s, which in due course turned out to be a total crock based on borrowed money and an artificial construction boom. Since the 2008 downturn, the pattern has re-established itself with a new twist: Every departing Irish person has been replaced by 1.5 outsiders.
As for the “Irish economic miracle,” this is almost entirely a misdirecting symptom of the run-off from tax-avoidance: transnational fly-by-nights, including all major Big Tech corporations, availing of the lowest corporation tax rate in Europe—12.5 percent, although as with Starbucks, even this is in most cases fictional. The writing has long been on the wall for Ireland’s tax-avoidance economy. In September 2019, Governor of the Central Bank Patrick Honohan said that such revenues were likely to “fall off a cliff” at any moment. “This is not really a sustainable system,” he warned. “It has generated huge tax revenues in the last few years. It might be like the end of one of these stars that has a supernova explosion towards the end of its life.”
For a long time, there have been two Irish economies. On the one hand, there is the high-turnover, transnational industrial sector that produces computer components and pharmaceuticals, linked to an international financial sector. On the other, there is the indigenous economy—underperforming, unsupported, and barely functioning. Farming has long been the sole reliable strand of the indigenous Irish economy, and a recent scattering of farmer protests suggests that all is not well back at the ranch, with many farmers unhappy about pricing issues, imported inferior produce from abroad, and the prospect of carbon taxes.
The tax-avoiding Big Tech behemoths led the push for gay marriage and abortion, and will soon be whispering about euthanasia, sex ed for toddlers, Drag Queen Story Time, and the joys of social credit to whoever slides into the Taoiseach’s swivel chair. It seems clear that Ireland 2020 amounts to a petri dish experiment in post-democratic democracy, in which the political establishment coalesces with the corporate sector in a macabre reenactment of the colonial experience.
Occasional warnings are brushed aside in favor of more encomiums to the Most Woke Country on the Planet. Official Ireland—the political class and “mainstream media”—discusses a fictitious Ireland fully recovered from the meltdown of 2008 and entering a new era of postmodern functionality, having shucked off the albatross of Catholic guilt.
The facts tell a different story, and We the People know it in our bones. We still bear the weight of a national debt heading fast for €250 billion, approaching an individual liability of €50,000 per citizen. And we are beholden in other ways. A recent “report” issued by the international legal firm Dentons, in partnership with the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer & Intersex Youth and Student Organization (IGLYO), boasted about having negotiated the Irish government's transgender policy, while at the same time arranging the silent acquiescence of the Irish media.
A central problem in Election 2020 is that Ireland has a political leadership in name only. Its government is now so beholden to the E.U. ascendancy and transnational sector that our “leaders” have become mere mouthpieces for Brussels and Silicon Valley, ignoring the day-to-day interests of their own people and digging themselves into a mire of error, venality, and foolishness that may yet have dramatic consequences for the entire Irish island. Our leaders are not our leaders, but the messenger boys of an undeclared, extrinsic oligarchy.
These “leaders” currently rush the nation’s doorsteps with their business-as-usual grins. But Election 2020 may provide the moment when We the People finally ask: Who, exactly, do you represent, and what exactly are you grinning about?
John Waters is an Irish writer and commentator, the author of ten books, and a playwright.