Gene Kerrigan summed up the State We’re In in one word: screwed. He’s right, of course. We are screwed. It’s patently obvious that we’re screwed. The rapidity of Ireland’s descent into screwedity, and the depths to which we have plunged, is unparalleled in what the IMF calls the “advanced economies”. We are, let’s say, very seriously screwed.
One would think that, given the seriousness of this screwedness, this state we’re in; given the effects of this crisis on our public services, our welfare system, our low-paid workers, our emigrating thousands, our jobless thousands; given the despair, the hopelessness, the misery being suffered by so many people all over this country because of stupid decisions made and stupid policies pursued; one would think, given all of this and more, that the months since February’s election would have seen some serious political arguments being played out as the country, and the country’s politicians, grappled with the screwed up state we’re in.
But not much that has happened over the past nine months suggests the seriousness of the state we’re in is being taken seriously. Labour and Fine Gael have spent their bedding in period playing political dress-up, rather than articulating any kind of political position.
Labour’s election strategy was simple – they believed voters wanted a government focused on matters of national concern, a government with a majority overwhelming enough to allow them to focus thus, and so they early on ruled out any possibility of a Left alliance (with Roisín Shortall infamously saying that “It would not be in the interests of the country to have that kind of ragbag government” when asked if her party would form a coalition with Sinn Féin and the ULA). Whether Labour themselves believed stable government was in the national interest is probably irrelevant (they got what they wanted, and we are where we are) – but certainly their behaviour since coming to power would suggest questions of stability and the national interest were never uppermost in their minds. All that talk of stability, and their alignment with Fine Gael in the interests of creating it, was an electoral strategy calculated to maximise their vote, and nothing else.
The deeply self-righteous Fine Gael probably did believe that strong-stable-government-in-the-national-interest was needed – as long as it was led by them, obviously. On election night the party elite no doubt predicted an easy ride – sure, ‘tough decisions would have to be made’, but those decisions could always be blamed on Fianna Fáíl. In the meantime, Fine Gael would go down in history as the leading partner in a coalition government that put politics to one side to focus on pulling Ireland out of crisis. The party’s claws would be hidden in plain sight – Labour cast as the party of cuts, and Fine Gael the good guys who kept income and corporation taxes low in the interest of jobsgrowthbusinessgoingforward.