THERE has been a consistency to political polling over the last two or three years that suggests the next Dáil will be very different to any elected in at least 50 years.
Rather than have an unshakable majority of centrist, conservative, male-dominated groupings, one hardly distinguishable from the other, the 32nd Dáil — it the polls are accurate and that is always a significant “if” — will be a far more diverse, far more fractured and a far angrier parliament.
Whether this novel diversity might an opportunity or a difficulty is subjective but it is hard to be convinced that such a divided chorus might sing sweetly in tune — or even from the same hymnal much less the same hymn sheet.
This week’s Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll, if broken down to its simplest conclusions, showed that Fine Gael (up 5% at 24%) Labour (up 1% at 7%) and Fianna Fáil (down 4% at 17%) — a total of 48% — would be out-gunned by Sinn Féin (up 2% at 24%) and Independents (down 4% at 28%) a total of 52%. It is very likely though that some Independents would not support Sinn Féin so that 52% mark would not be easily achieved. Equally it is possible, if not probable, that Labour might shy away from supporting a coalition led by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
Those poll results are predictions in the coldest, statistical terms but it just may be that post-election, and if the polls are more or less vindicated, that the greatest challenged faced by our politicians and political parties will be cultural.
Political loyalties, as often inherited as reached by rational consideration, may be questioned in a way they have not been before in this Republic. The minor political differences that characterise our established parties, more variations on a theme than immutable core values, are routinely challenged in older democracies and hardly ever block a unified approach whether that manifests itself in a coalition of the left or of the right.
We have seen generation after generation of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael politicians fighting each other rather than fighting for the ideas they both so obviously share. They have fought with a vehemence that would do mortal enemies justice even though they are, despite all their sincere denials, the two sides of one coin.What a waste.
After the next election the parties of the centre — Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour too, maybe even Renua Ireland — will have to ask themselves if their party differences are so very great, and we all know that they are not, that they should be put before the idea of an alliance established to hold the moderate, centre ground.
It is of course entirely in character that no Irish politician would admit in public that such a prospect is being considered in a serious way but it must be hoped that, in private at least, the parties are far more focussed on what unites them rather than on what divides them. If they are not then the centre ground may be lost and so many of the principles that we take so for granted, measures that make this a successful society, will be challenged by a belief system that all moderate parties should unite to oppose.
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