Irish politics reduced to a sad charade - Making our democracy real again

AS the catastrophic consequences — nearly 50m dead, a continent razed — of the collapse of democracies and the rise of murderous extremism fades from living memory it is unlikely that too many of us toss and turn in our beds fretting about how the political classes’ indecision, ineptitude, growing detachment, and hubris are threatening the stability most of our world has enjoyed since 1945.

Yet, the evidence is all around us and very well rehearsed. The grave doubts on two White House candidates; Putin’s latest election victory and growing assertiveness; ongoing instability in Spain; Brexit; intractable conflict across the Middle East and the refugee crisis that generates; the stability of the euro; the legitimacy of the EU; multinational corporations more powerful than governments and the resurgence of right-wing nationalism in countries once committed to international solidarity and co-operation.

These issues seem so remote that it is absolutely understandable that, this bracing September morning, far more Irish people are concerned about getting tickets for the football final replay than trying to resolve any of these challenges. How could it be otherwise? The very scale of the issues, the unfathomable depth of conflict, and probably most of all, the inability of citizens to influence affairs in even the slightest way is chilling. This sterility, this enforced marginalisation, is the very root of the scepticism destroying hard-fought-for democracy — remember 1916?

It must be challenged and resolved.

Yesterday we published a piece by Eddie Hobbs who warned of the pension crisis facing this society. He was not the first to do this — this column has done so for many years — nor will he be the last, but official Ireland seems to treat the issue with unshakeable disinterest if not let-them-eat-cake disdain. That may be because those in a position to drive agendas — senior politicians and civil servants — have more to lose than most if our dysfunctional, unfair and unaffordable pensions’ mishmash is re-engineered to serve all of society rather than a cossetted cabal. A way to breach this barrier must be found as our political system has shown itself incapable of such intervention.

A recent nod in this direction was the establishment of citizens’ conventions which, unfortunately, turned out to be patronising, facile blather fests. The integrity of this process was further undermined when Government realised, as it did on the Eighth Amendment, that this tea-and-chat charade could be used as a way of deferring hard decisions.

One way to try to outflank this contrived stasis might be to establish a system of petitions — as many countries and the EU have done. This would offer citizens a direct way to address concerns and force Government to address issues in timely fashion. Ideally, a petition supported by a certain number or proportion of citizens would attract mandatory attention within a specific timeframe. Of course, there are flaws in this idea but something must be done to try to rejuvenate participatory democracy in this country as today’s politics are increasingly unfit for purpose and dangerous.


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