The received wisdom has it that great swathes of the populace are cheesed off with the way things are being done. Apparently, there is an opening out there to beat a new path through austerity and its attendant woes.
Different groups have attempted to tap into the anger and unhappiness over how we’ve been put on the road to nowhere.
Last Wednesday saw the latest attempt. For the week or so prior to that, colour posters around Dublin and beyond advertised a public meeting, to be hosted by a smiling Declan Ganley.
The Galway-based businessman has been mooching around the fringes of politics for the last few years, dropping hints that he’d be willing to let his name go forward in any movement that called on him to lead.
“Alternatives for Ireland” was the legend on the poster, and included on the bill was the respected banking academic, Professor Ray Kinsella.
This new departure looked like there might be eating and drinking in it.
On the night in question, the initial omens were promising. Twenty minutes before the scheduled kick-off, a queue had snaked from the basement conference room of the Davenport Hotel all the way up into the lobby, spilling out into the street. The people had answered the call.
Inside, the place was heaving. A secondary hall had to be opened, but it did little for the rising temperature, generated by a mass of bodies under a low ceiling. There must have been at least 300 lost souls present, in search of an alternative.
Within minutes, though, initial impressions began to fade. The demographic veered decidedly towards a more mature generation.
A few heads were familiar, offering that look that you know you know from somewhere but where exactly you’re not sure.
Then the MC for the evening took the microphone, and she too looked familiar.
Why, it was Niamh Uí Bhríain, a well-known figure in the anti-abortion movement. Curiouser and curiouser.
She introduced Ray Kinsella and he wasn’t long into his speech when he declared that “abortion and austerity” were interlinked.
Then he launched into a polemic about the legislation passing through the Oireachtas and respect for life and before you could say “where’s me economy”, he was into a full frontal anti-abortion spiel.
A few in the audience felt they’d been drawn in under false pretences: “Why are we listening to an economist talking about abortion,” one exasperated voice said. He was shouted down.
A few minutes later, another gent got up and stormed towards the exit, shouting: “I thought this was a political meeting.” Ray ploughed on, undeterred, in his gentle, lilting monologue.
At one point he said, “This is the safest place in the world to have a baby. I know something about that. I have 10.” The audience applauded. They gave him a round of applause for fathering 10 children.
What if he had said he’d two? Would that have merited applause?
What rate of reproduction do these people deem as appropriate for acclaim?
Once the abortion thing was dealt with, he said: “Now I’ll turn to austerity.”
He went through many sensible solutions which he has ventilated on the airwaves and in print, but later on he drifted back to his original topic.
“As I said, abortion and austerity are linked,” he said.
“Rubbish, rubbish,” came another voice.
But there was no doubt that the vast majority of those present were on Ray’s side.
He went on well past his scheduled time. The organisers tried to catch his eye, calling a wrap on his speech, pleading with him to finish up, because the heat in there was only murder.
When he did fall silent, he got a standing ovation. Then he said he’d love to stay but his son had a gig and he had to go. It was time for the main man.
Declan Ganley is both charismatic and highly articulate. He is also someway politically savvy, so he dedicated the bulk of his speech towards what was wrong with politics and economics, rather than bigging up abortion.
He is for lower taxes for all, including the wealthy, and lots of jobs.
About the unemployed he said: “It’s not fair how we treat the unemployed and neither is it fair how some families live on welfare while others work.”
In the round, his agenda chimed with that of the UK Conservative party, or the US Republicans, with an extra helping of compassion thrown in to suit the Irish temperament.
He wants “tax cuts for the middle class and those working on lower wages”. The middle class are frequently referenced by US politicians, while there is never any mention of the working class, as if they are just the figment of socialists’ imagination.
He has a good turn of phrase, as when he hit out at Enda Kenny for failing to treat his TDs like adults by allowing a free vote on abortion. “Mr Kenny wants to abolish the Senate but he wants to turn the Dáil into a crèche,” he said.
And on it went. The crowd couldn’t get enough of his charisma. At the question-and-answer session afterwards, most wanted to know if, when he leads them out of perdition, he would hang onto his core, pro-life beliefs. He said he’d have to or his mother would kill him, not to mention his wife.
Ultimately, the alternative Ganley was offering appeared to be borrowed from the USA.
About 20 years ago, George W Bush’s main strategist, Karl Rove, began moulding the constituency that would ultimately deliver his man to the White House. He exploited the potential for a conservative coalition that allied the Religious Right to the, mainly wealthy, fiscally conservative, elements of the Republican party.
It brought together diverse constituencies, which, on the face of it, had little in common. One was primarily interested in guns, God and gays (for, for and against), while the other proclaimed as its first commandment: “Cut taxes.” It turned out to be a winner.
Ganley appears to be exploring similar territory here, but it won’t work. The base is not big enough, and the anti-abortion lobby is scattered right across the political spectrum.
Kerry ain’t Kansas, and Cork is no Cincinnati and Galway sure as hell ain’t Galveston. At the meeting the other night,Uí Bhríain referenced Ganley as “standing up to the elites”.
That line worked for Bush and Rove, but the elites in this country are defined in economic terms. Here, religion no longer occupies a primary role in the political process, as can be observed by the sidelining of the Catholic Church in the debate over abortion.
While it would be interesting and entertaining for a version of Rove’s coalition to get off the ground here, there is precious little chance of it happening, even in the vacuum that currently exists. This particular alternative is simply not at the races.
What last week’s meeting did show is that the Right is as fractured as the Left in offering an alternative to the consensus that occupies the centre.
Back to the drawing board, Deccie.