Whether it’s Declan Ganley, Eamon Dunphy, Lucinda Creighton or Shane Ross it seems as if we are always being tantalised with the prospects of a new political party but nothing ever comes to fruition.
We’ve just had years of brutal austerity, followed by some of the most tumultuous months in modern politics, and still all that appears to be happening is that various people are “feeling the temperature” and considering setting up a party or a movement.
Declan Ganley appears – possibly - to have finally hung up his spurs after years talking about doing something. But it took him some time to reach that conclusion but I wouldn’t rule out another attempt to toy with our affections.
Cast your mind back to the period before the 2011 general election, when there was political mayhem, and we were looking expectantly and with hope at the likes of David McWilliams, Fintan O’Toole and Eamon Dunphy of the ill-fated “Democracy Now”.
At one point it looked as if they were going to run a number of well-known candidates to seek a reform of politics and to abandon the EU-IMF bailout agreement.
In November 2010 Fintan O’Toole was the master of ceremonies at a rally of around 50,000 people in Dublin which had been organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions against the Government’s planned austerity measures. On the day he socked it to the Government. But weeks later he wrote in The Irish Times of the decision to abandon the project. “Two things were completely clear to everyone who was interested in this project. One was that we had a moral duty to try to do it. The other was that we had an even more emphatic duty not to screw it up.”
Eamon Dunphy gave his own version of why it all went pear shaped. “It was just too difficult to get everything organised in a short space of time,” Dunphy explained shortly before the general election. How would they have gotten on? Probably rather well, given the mood of the time, but we will never know.
In the summer of 2013 Declan Ganley, a man who has done an extraordinary amount of political teasing, tested the waters once again when he took centre stage by outlining plans for a new political movement which was “conviction rather than consensus driven”
The former Libertas leader held some public meetings where he criticised the use of party whips in Irish politics, called for a revision of the EU’s current agenda, sought reform of Ireland’s bankruptcy laws, and at that time slammed plans to legislate for abortion. It all came to naught.
At the beginning of this year Lucinda’s Creighton’s outfit, the Reform Alliance, drew some 1,350 people to a day-long conference at the RDS in Dublin. They held sessions on political reform, health and the economy and the former junior minister described it at the time as the “beginning of a national conversation”.
The woman, who says she is not a party leader, and that the Reform Alliance is not a party, called the meeting “an extraordinary demonstration of the Irish public desire for something new and something different”.
We’ve been tuned in since for further developments but the wait just seems endless.
It’s the Irish default position to sneer at people who attempt to try something different or to stand out from the crowd. But the point I’m trying to explore is why we can have some rather promising starts, and then the political impotence that follows.
That is not to ignore the frenzy of activity there has been on our political landscape in recent times and the appearance of people like Paul Murphy, Ruth Coppinger, and more familiar faces such as Joe Higgins and Clare Daly who are more than willing to take us to their promised land of the Left where the rich suffer and the “ordinary” people are treated with proper respect.
It is clear that the Irish public have reached a tipping point in terms of what they are willing to accept from their politicians. It was interesting to hear Health Minister Leo Varadkar acknowledge on radio during the week that the Government had become “a bit arrogant” after the departure of the Troika but had been brought back down to earth with the results of the European and local elections in May.
But is rage and spite and negativity all we can look forward to in the upcoming general election campaign? Is there any prospect of a party which majors on energy and enthusiasm, and speaks positively about how Irish society might be shaped over the next generation?
I’m not looking for a happy clappy, hippy dippy outfit, just one that appeals to me and the type of things I want discussed such as childcare, the environment, taxation, women’s control over their reproductive organs, how clientilism affects our politics, how politics is funded, how a process such as last year’s Constitutional Convention could be harnessed once again to tease out tricky issues. Is that too much to ask for?
It’s not easy to break into our political scene, not least because of how the State funding structure favours the established parties. Previously Irish people mouthed off a lot about change and the 2011 general election was described as the “pencil revolution” but in terms of major political change, with significantly different political philosophies being put on the table, it was a bit of a damp squib.
We opted for Fine Gael, not because we viewed them as hugely different to Fianna Fáil, but because we viewed them as less crooked, and felt FF deserved to be whipped; while FG finally deserved a shot at running what was then our bust country. Labour got the job of making sure they didn’t go crazy with this new-found power.
This time, as we look at the thousands who took to the streets in the anti-water charges marches on Wednesday, it does feel different. It is necessary to insert the caveat that people may yet become more conservative in their voting intentions as the general election gets closer, or if the Government manages to smarten up its act in between times. But right here and now big change is in the air.
It’s the easiest thing in the world to be someone who writes about it rather than does it, when it comes to establishing new political parties. Surely though someone, somewhere, will take up the baton – it will need to be soon – and move those of us hoping for something a little different on from the teasing stage to something a little bit more satisfying.