Elections show voters happier than thought

Elections show voters happier than thought

While local and European elections cannot necessarily be taken as a good predictor of the subsequent general election, the results of both elections last weekend do provide an interesting insight into how the Irish who decided to vote actually view the world at the moment.

Last weekend, we basically saw a mild but compelling rejection of anything resembling the more extreme type of politics that is coming to characterise many countries at the moment.

While there is little on the Irish political landscape that could be described as extreme, and in fact Ireland has a pretty constructive political system, it is interesting that the majority of the electorate does not want any significant element of what could be remotely described as extreme.

Depending on one’s perspective, this may be a good thing or a bad thing.

There are possibly two ways of interpreting the results, although I am sure many others do exist.

On the one hand, it may be the Irish electorate telling the political classes that it is becoming fatigued by parties who offer few realistic or workable solutions to the many problems facing Irish society.

On the other hand, the results could be interpreted as the electorate saying that it is basically happy enough with what is going on in the Irish economy and Irish society.

With a slight stretch of the imagination, it may not be too difficult to see where this sentiment derives from.

On many metrics, the Irish economy is currently doing quite well and is confounding those who argued a few short years ago that the economy would take generations to return to any semblance of normality.

The export side of the economy is booming, with both the multinational and indigenous components doing well.

The inward tourism numbers continue to impress, putting it mildly; tax revenues are still displaying a decent level of buoyancy; and perhaps most impressively of all, the labour market is booming.

In the year to March, total employment in the economy increased by 3.7%, which translates into 81,200 more people at work than a year earlier.

Once again, Ireland is back in business as ‘a lean, green, job-creating machine’. One would have thought that these factors should be quite influential in voter behaviour.

In addition to these positive economic metrics, the Irish social welfare system is relatively generous and does provide a reasonable safety net for the majority of those who require support from the State.

Perhaps the part of the electorate that decided to vote is telling us that it is reasonably happy with life and is not too anxious to move away from the broad policy approach to the running of the country.

None of this is to suggest that Ireland does not have its problems and challenges, but I would challenge anybody to point me in the direction of a country where everything is perfect.

There are - and always will be - problems in every society.

Utopia can never be achieved, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to reach it or use that fact as an excuse for inaction.

The key policy areas that Irish policymakers will have to keep a firm focus on in the near and long-term include adequate housing for all; improving the quality of services such as health, education, and law and order; improved public infrastructure, particularly transport infrastructure; and high-quality broadband.

More balanced regional economic growth and development is also needed; along with demographic developments, or more specifically the ageing of the population.

Of course, top of the agenda has to be climate change and protection of the natural environment.

In relation to housing, it is imperative that we distinguish between the different elements of the housing issue. A 'one size fits all' approach will not work.

Building more houses will not necessarily address the problem of homelessness.

It is important that more research be done to find out exactly why people are homeless, and then seek to treat the causes rather than the symptoms.

Easier said than done.

Much work needs to be done in all of the aforementioned areas, but the list is not exhaustive.

The one strong lesson that should be taken from last weekend’s elections is the need to take the climate change and environmental agenda much more seriously.

Hopefully, this imperative will drive public policy forward in a manner that we have not seen to date.

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