Hallelujah, That I Live To See This Day

After last night accepting the resignations of much of his cabinet, alleged Taoiseach Brian Cowen has finally called the long-overdue election. However, despite the fact that there is approximately zero chance of getting any actual work done before it, he has appointed new people to the vacant positions. All the resigning ministers have decided not to run in the election, rather than have their political careers end in an ignominious defeat, and Cowen says he wants to appoint ministers who are running and so have “the potential to stay in government.”¹

He lives in another world, doesn’t he? They have about as much chance of being in government after the election as I do of teaching a duck to play tennis.

In truth, these appointments are bribes to ensure future loyalty. It borders on the academic, seeing as he’s not going to be leader of anything for much longer, but he might as well spend what political capital he has while he can. He doesn’t have a hell of a lot of other moves left.

So what happens between now and the election? If Cowen does secretly accept that Fianna Fail have no hope of being in the next government (and I’m sure, in the quietness of solitude, he does), then his real problem is to make sure that they aren’t destroyed permanently as a political force. Most do not consider that a possibility, more a fantasy of us commentator-types, but it could happen. Where once it had a distinct nationalist agenda, Fianna Fáil now depends for its vote on patronage, on the sharing out of the goods the State has at its disposal² to friendly faces in business.

Obviously they won’t be making powerful friends if they can’t bring gifts to the party. But this known corruption is essential for the FF base too. It helps give the impression to voters that by electing a FF representative they will get a better deal personally. The voter wants a representative who will do them favours, use their government insider status to secure them an advantage with state mechanisms that are meant to be impartial. This is why you barely ever hear politicians accused of corruption in Ireland. A level of corruption – on their behalf – is precisely what voters have come to look for in their politicians.

Of course, the ways in which a lowly TD can really influence state bureaucracy are small (particularly if the petitioner is an ordinary person whose interests do no align with those of more generous business contributors ), but TDs work hard on the illusion that they are bending rules and pulling strings for their constituents.

This illusion though can only be maintained if FF are in power on a more or less ongoing basis. Otherwise, constituents will discover that they have pretty much the same benefits even if their TD isn’t furiously writing letters for them. But the thing is, they have been. Fianna Fáil has been running this country for all but nineteen of the last seventy-nine years. The longest they have ever been out of power is less than five. It is less a party now than a permanent ruling elite.

This must be number one of Fianna Fáil’s first successive terms in opposition. Cut off from the supply of the State’s (that is, our) money to give to its supporters, it will inevitably shrink. It won’t be the end of corruption in Irish politics of course, but it will be a huge step towards bringing it down to a controllable level. And by ‘controllable’, I mean a level that will not entirely bankrupt the country. Again.

  1. In Ireland all ministers must be elected representatives.
  2. Which includes information.
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