It is unfortunate and disheartening that events of recent days have underlined again how very removed from ordinary life our political system and our politicians are.
This disconnect, glaringly obvious in both Houses of the Oireachtas in the last week, is more than unfortunate because it discourages the participation that gives our parliament its moral authority and legitimacy.
Important issues and the subtleties they raise are often lost in a quagmire of procedural Vaudeville. Rational proposals are dismissed by the kind of self-serving squalling expected at a pre-pubescent girls’ summer sleepover but not in a parliament. Anyone who doubts that need only look at the “Upper House’s” hysterical response to the launch of Fine Gael’s campaign to abolish the Seanad or consider how many of the amendments proposed to the abortion legislation were adopted.
The amateurism, the incoherent and inarticulate stuttering, the intemperate and sexist abuse hurled at opponents in place of considered debate, the patronising and childish arguments advanced — even by members of the Cabinet — demean our democracy.
They also act as a huge disincentive to those who might be able to, and dearly want to, contribute something worthwhile to reviving a system so obviously in need of fundamental reform and re-energising. In time this disconnect becomes disinterest, one more damaging than the other to our society and its system of governance. It is not overstating the case to suggest that our dysfunctional politics have become a barrier to practical, active patriotism.
Add to that the fact that some of those principled politicians who could not support abortion legislation, as is their absolute right, have been ostracised by our party system and rendered impotent despite the mandate they still hold from their constituents. It is hard not to conclude that our system is almost a parody of what it might and should be.
These observations are made in the full knowledge that politics is a very demanding and challenging career choice, one of long hours, riddled with over-expectation, insecurity, and terrible competitiveness. These observations are made in the full knowledge that very many of those involved cringe at the spoilt-child petulance shown by senator David Norris when Fine Gael proposals to abolish the Seanad were formally made public. His High C response, and that of some of his equally startled colleagues, was as good an argument for the abolition of that forum as any advanced by its opponents. His was not the only cringe-worthy contribution to the debate. The hint from Fine Gael’s director of elections for the campaign, Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton, tried, pathetically, to link the abolition of the Seanad with the possibility of extra funding for disability services. If that is the best argument Mr Bruton can offer, then we can look forward to Mr Norris’s prima donna hissy fits for years to come.
It is, of course, easy to be critical but this society is at a point where it desperately needs the contribution of anyone willing to make one. The slap-dash foolishness and closed-shop insularity of our political and party systems is an obstruction to progress. Candidates for the next general election will be selected on a gender quota basis. However, it seems that far more pressing criteria should be applied.
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