It’s by now a cliché to suggest that the major political parties in this country are more devoted to the CEOs of multinational companies (homegrown or otherwise) than they are to the people whose votes they ostensibly depend on for political office. But in a sense it’s also true that this perspective is faulty from the outset. After all, aside from a common penchant for reactionary economics, there’s nothing inherently major about the spectrum that runs from Renua through Fine Gael, Fail, and leftwards through the Greens and Social Democrats – each of which has its own hazy dialect of social compromise and economic conservatism. Judged impartially, the basis of Irish democracy is the occasional right of voters to choose their jailers, who speak the same language and patrol the same corridors of governance, with the perennial irony that any other candidate who says as much is accused of peddling radicalism and change – dirty words in the political lexicon.
So maybe as we bumble our way into the 100th year of the Irish State, we should give up the ghost: scrap the so-called election and shelve the so-called debates. Rather than commemorate the strangled solidarities and trenchant religious nationalisms that vie for (sadly unequal) space in our history books, how about celebrating the economy we live in. Let’s concede to Shell the right to wreck our land and colonise our resources; and while we’re at it, let’s just agree that the State is entitled to intimidate our neighbours by force, to demean our citizenship with cover-ups and blackmail, to sell our rights to the lowest bidder, and to make us pay the price.
As for wider issues: could we forget about climate change, please? Yes, half the island has already begun to sink, and yes, a few more thousand people may be on the waiting-list for the homeless register, but surely the State shouldn’t be held responsible for the bad weather forecast. We can all agree that the science is sound, but the certainty of increased flooding, harsher storms, habitat destruction, and crop insecurity needn’t be the business of our politicians, nor the concern of our industries. So if you find yourself waist-high in flood-water with a child on your shoulders, then pay up for the damages and – could you try to be a little more grateful? After all, the future generation is already learning our lessons for us, as promised.
And while we’re on the topic of civic obligation, there needn’t be any change required in one area at least: we can continue to invest infinitely more Irish cash in Irish cattle than in accommodating the basic rights of refugees, asylum seekers, rough sleepers, and members of the travelling community (all of whom, despite the prevailing consensus in government in 2015, are human). Similarly, maybe we should continue to respect the universal right of American armoury and troops to abuse our neutrality in Shannon, while bludgeoning hospitals, homes, and places of worship across the world into new star-spangled shapes.
Also worth noting, on the question of ‘Human Rights in Ireland’, is the opportunity we have of permanently side-lining one sub-category of citizens known as WOMEN. Rather than allowing this bracket in society to make informed decisions about their own well-being and future, maybe we should assume that they only have rational things to say and reasonable opinions to communicate when onstage – in plays written by men.
The alternative, of course, on all of these issues is to start demanding difference – to talk about it, blog about it, sing and shout, to take to the streets, and not be shy. Which means voicing support for nurses when they protest State carelessness in meeting the needs of the sick, the vulnerable, and the institutions that should be able provide for them. Which means holding our universities to account when they forge research links with the international arms industry, or start hiking student costs and fees. Which means challenging TDs and councillors, broadcasters and media tycoons, who make reckless statements and sinister gestures in the public domain, very often from a position of economic prejudice and social cynicism. Which means believing that peace and neutrality must be as decisive in reality as they are in law. Which means standing for fair practice and good planning in our social infrastructures – and against the culture of short-term profits for the privileged few, which currently pervades every area of political policy in Ireland. Which means knowing you have the Right2Water and showing you have the Right2Change. Which means 2016 could be the year when the tide begins to turn.