Next election, whenever it comes, may bring something unsavoury

Next election, whenever it comes, may bring something unsavoury
Campaigners in favour of Britain leaving the EU stand outside the Houses of Parliament in London. Photo: Luciana Guerra/PA Wire.

The House of Commons is again on the edge of a general election, but not Brexit.

A British election will immediately up the ante for an election here, particularly within Fine Gael. Because the budget has been delivered, those pawing the ground will want to be off.

They also see recent polls, and Fianna Fáil’s difficulty last week, as an as-good-as-it-gets moment.

A significant issue of parliamentary procedure will be the finance bill.

Its current timetable won’t see it finished until December 10. That is too late for a pre-Christmas election and it is after the three by elections Fine Gael wants to avoid.

Fianna Fáil, under the confidence-and-supply deal, is signed up to supporting the finance bill but it is under no commensurate obligation to fast-track it and facilitate an early election.

That is especially true when the Taoiseach has already said May is the best time for a poll. An alternative would be to leave the finance bill on the floor of Dáil and call an election anyway.

That is high-stakes stuff. It is especially so when you are trying to bottle indignation about your opponents’ abuse of the Dáil voting system. That’s indignation that I think is real and has damaged Fianna Fáil.

But the problem for Fine Gael is you can’t be both a pillar of parliamentary propriety and pull the House down because you have reviewed your electoral options in light of events.

Holding an election here, on the back of a British one, faces a serious obstacle and ultimately the Taoiseach’s judgement call has to be whether he can sustain his perceived advantage in calling an election through to polling day.

To do that would require, in the tightest of political circumstances, the best election campaign Fine Gael has delivered in a generation.

Next election, whenever it comes, may bring something unsavoury

The horse race, of course, is exciting. Its outcome will determine a lot. What also needs to be considered is what sort of a campaign it will be. Predictions based on past performance are doomed to disappoint.

Over the past few months, some very sober, thoughtful people who are politically well-grounded in their community have warned me that something fundamentally nasty is afoot.

They are deeply concerned the next election will be the first where outright racism and xenophobia will play a part. It has always been there, just beneath the surface, but something has changed.

My concern is that we are about to feel the difference and that will be bad for our country and deeply hurtful to those who have come to make their lives here with us.

When stuff is forced up out of the shores, it doesn’t follow any ordered route. Everything down there comes out.

There has been a great discombobulation in Ireland. Some, like me, find it exciting. I enjoy working for myself. The sort of job security I once clinged on to seems limiting now.

But I live in Dublin. I am older than those who, almost en masse, can’t get on the property ladder. I can find different types of work, that makes for very interesting variation. Essentially there are those of wildly differing income levels who are being carried forward in a new economy and enjoying the ride.

Others are insecure. They are paying exorbitant rent. They are destined to be pension poor.

For yet others, who aren’t actually doing so badly at all, it is the relativities of lost status as others overtake them that makes them sore. Whatever the canker gnawing at you, there is a sense if you stand still, shut up, and listen carefully of a dislocation that is extensive, life is not turning out as expected.

Some of this feeling is expended by people just putting their head down and trying harder. Others are part of an apparently permanently larger, if deeply fragmented, left.

But for some others, there is a need and seemingly permission to vent hate at people of different nationalities and colour.

We can no long look at Trump’s America and say that is not us. It is now. I hope I am not naive in saying I think it is still limited, but I fear it is not nearly as confined as I hoped.

Something has broken out. It is no longer said only under the breath. It is now abroad.

It is a paradox that those who are most afflicted with discontent, either personally or politically, should sometimes choose to tighten the circle further and make things more claustrophobic.

There were glimpses of some of this on the picket lines during the beef dispute. The issues were different, but feral anger is always transferable.

There was a breaking of the norms of civil protest and of neighbourliness. All the while social media, amoral platforms for everything, provide both a means of organisation and a megaphone for hate.

My concern is that one of the marks of the next election will be an open demand from some for representation for views and attitudes thither to beyond the pale.

I have no concerns about the major parties though perhaps some of them should have concerns about local candidates speaking out of the side of their mouths.

But where there is an opportunity for electoral gain, we should be very alive to the fear of it being availed of.

Sinn Féin’s Martin Kenny took a stance, and paid a price.

Next election, whenever it comes, may bring something unsavoury

As someone who has lived in Dublin’s north inner city for nearly 30 years, where Sinn Féin has had a strong presence for all of that time, I can say that Kenny’s stance is consistent with his party’s over a long time.

What strikes me about the makeup of those who would want Ireland for the Irish is not that they are the poorest or the least educated. No, they are the most bitter. Their displacement can’t be explained simply by either politics or economics.

They carry something else within them.

That need to other and marginalise is in us all. It is a contagion that requires constant, always-on self-examination. It will come to the fore, I fear, in the next election. Solidarity will be required.

Regardless of party, or politics, anyone who has put their spoon into that soup must be ostracised on the ballot paper. Small votes seem insignificant on big days.

But they are extant afterwards as a mandate and justification. They shift contours and change the conversation.

In the intensity of speculation about what election will be when, we might think about what our election will ultimately be for. The choice of parties and politicians to govern will be one choice.

The content of the public conversation will be another.

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