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We’ll get the government we deserve

An Cailín Rua

An Cailín Rua
Anne-Marie Flynn

Have you ever known an election campaign to whizz by like this? While it felt like we were waiting for at least a decade for a date to be set, this short campaign will be over before we know it. Doubtless by the time you read this, there will have been a few more talking points from the trail, but so far, it’s certainly failed to set the world alight.
For those with even a passing interest in the world around them, election campaigns will hold some level of interest. But this one has so far been unprecedented in its insipidity. Politics these days doesn’t feel like it has the bite of previous generations, and it’s certainly lacking in big characters. Probably more so, given the homogeneity of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, and the current lack of focus on Independents, among whom usually lurks a strong personality or two. And these days, scandals during election campaigns are lamentably rare.
Perhaps elections in the age of social media are just different; information is more dispersed and there is more of it. News is instant, reactions even more so. The flames of outrage flare quickly and brightly and burn out rapidly. So, in this era of blandness and soullessness, what’s the appeal of politics?
For those in the ring – candidates, canvassers, strategists, analysts and media – the political competition is intoxicating. Power is the prize; the allure of it the fuel. Getting your game plan right; outfoxing your opponent, scoring points and winning debates. And of course, amidst all the gamer terminology, the prospect of being able to effect real societal change might hold some appeal, though honestly, we can’t be sure.
Politics, sadly, is a game to many of those within the ring. Party is paramount, talk is cheap and the little people – that’s us – don’t really matter all that much.
It’s easy to point the blame at politicians; however, the real problem is closer to home. The electorate has the ultimate responsibility for how the country is run, and for the behaviour of those who run it. It is you and I who by our actions and inaction determine our own fate.
It’s rather astounding that so many people who claim to be unhappy with the current government will happily go out and vote for their local incumbents without contemplating an alternative. Because they’re a nice fella. Or they sorted a passport for them once.
Cognitive dissonance at its finest, it is partly driven by laziness and complacency. And ‘I’m all right, Jack’ – because when it boils down to it, the majority of us, while incredibly generous and charitable towards causes, actually don’t really care very much at all about planning, pro-activity, prevention and the formulation of policies that will protect the interests of vulnerable people.
It’s remarkable that we are perfectly happy to shell out multiple times a year for fundraisers for mental-health charities, disability services, cancer services, arts events, schools and voluntary groups, while consistently failing to recognise that many of the things to which we are contributing should actually be considered as rights, not charity, and should be sufficiently funded and available to everyone as part of a healthy and functioning civil society.
Of course, that would involve higher taxation, and very few of us like the sound of that, even if it means that we could reduce our dependence on say, health insurance, or improve access to public transport.
Fundamentally, there is no mechanism in the way Ireland is run to facilitate or promote the concept of long-term planning. Our politics is reactionary, parochial and inefficient, with re-election every four or five years the primary aim of our main political parties.
We complain about politicians yet display a breathtaking deference to them, even as they bribe us for votes with our own money. This is not a criticism of individual politicians; because it takes courage to put oneself forward for election. It is far more of an indictment of the electorate that fails to assert itself, and to hold the people whose wages we pay to account for the way they spend our money.
The power is in our own hands. But we’ll get the government we deserve. Vote early, vote often!