Irish Examiner view: Ireland needs a new kind of opposition

Success might encourage a happy union, failure might make a marriage the shotgun option of last resort
Irish Examiner view: Ireland needs a new kind of opposition
Taoiseach Micheál Martin and his Cabinet ministers.

Even if the significance of Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s decision to find a place for a portrait of Michael Collins in his Leinster House office does not resonate too deeply with most people born, say, after Liam Cosgrave replaced Jack Lynch in that very office in 1973 this recognition of a new reality has renewed speculation about a marriage between the two grande dames of Irish politics.

No matter how rational, no matter how obvious a fit, and no matter how inevitable that consummation might seem it requires confidence beyond prudence to set a date for any nuptials. That prospect might today cheer more people than it offends but it will be utterly irrelevant to others.

The idea also depends on how successful this Government proves.

Success might encourage a happy union, failure might make a marriage the shotgun option of last resort. No matter how a union might come to pass, it would create a strong, consolidated conservative entity whose constituent parts have, without fail, recently turned to the market to satisfy social needs.

Our housing scandal, our two-tier health service, and the impact Covid-19 had, and may have again, in for-profit nursing homes are just three examples of how this policy has failed and will continue to fail.

These failings, and a too-long list of others, show time after time, that market forces are not overly concerned with social justice.

The 8,876 — a Focus Ireland figure — people homeless at the end of May might describe that assessment as overly polite, far too indulgent and they might well be right as the accelerating concentration of wealth shows.

Which, as the grande dames become ever more intimate, raises the obvious question — is there a plausible counterbalance?

That question quickly turns to an enduring mystery of Irish politics, maybe not just Irish politics as Kier Starmer, elected in April to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as the British Labour leader, is discovering.

Why is the Left always so divided? Why can the Left not cooperate to offer a foil to turn-and-about-turn conservatism? Is this refusal the reason they find themselves so marginalised today?

Are their differences so great that they cannot be set aside so the electorate might be offered something other than Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in a new, slim-fit suit?

Today’s Labour Party has just seven Dáil seats. It struggles to maintain a presence or have an impact. How different that is to the future promised by Labour leader Brendan Corish, who in 1967, promised “the ’70s will be socialist”. That long-ago ambition was not delivered nor will it ever be unless disparate, divided voices can find common purpose.

Today, it is just as hard to see how the hopes and concerns of Solidarity-PBP, Independents 4 Change, the Social Democrats, and various independents might be even brought into play much less taken seriously.

Sinn Féin presents itself as a party of the Left but their particular agenda and history are a barrier to unity. However, their role in the vanguard of Dáíl opposition gives them an opportunity to make a positive contribution.

Again, only time can tell even if it requires confidence beyond prudence to think that they might.

There is probably a majority, who would shy away from the idea of a rejuvenated, influential Left.

That ignores the need for an effective, credible and organised opposition. Without that, or even the idea of that, disenchantment with politics and democracy will continue to grow and the disconnect undermining Western democracies will accelerate.

This, in many countries once thought stable, especially America, can happen almost in the blink of an eye.

We may never have a Taoiseach who feels the need to find space for a portrait of James Connolly between Collins and de Valera but increasingly fragmented politics suggests we need a new kind of opposition, one organised enough to outgrow the role of a sparring partner and become a contender.

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