October 2011        

The people’s anger finds no voice in the race to the Park

Over the coming month we will be treated to mind-numbing debates on radio and television, miles of printed words from the scores of journalists tripping over each other to note down the words of wisdom that might drop from the frozen lips of the presidential hopefuls.
     While the build-up has been about who might or might not be running and the much talked-about democratic right of people to be nominated and to stand, this election and the calibre of the candidates sums up the state of the country and its establishment clientelist politics.
     The seven candidates are Michael D. Higgins (Labour Party), Gay Mitchell (Fine Gael), Martin McGuinness (Sinn Féin), David Norris, and three other independent candidates whose ideas and policies could be written on the back of a postage stamp.
     No doubt the Labour Party will be happiest with the line-up, as it appears that no candidate will make it on the first count. They will be hoping that Higgins will be ahead of McGuinness and Norris and that they will get enough transfers to get him over the line.
     Fine Gael will be hoping that Mitchell will get the bulk of the transfers from Dana, Mary Davis and Seán Gallagher and those elements within Fianna Fail who are unhappy with the decision not to stand and who do not want to see Sinn Féin make inroads into Fianna Fáil’s already declining vote, adding to the deep confusion and demoralisation within its ranks.
     The bulk of the population are deeply angry with what is happening to our country but have not yet moved to a position of public resistance. As with the general election, there will be a strong protest vote. But who will benefit?
     The possible candidature of Robert Ballagh had the potential to harness public anger in an anti-establishment direction and to build the necessary resistance and the confidence of the people to resist. He was rejected by the ultra-left because he is too “nationalistic”—because he uses such terms as “national sovereignty” and “national democracy”—while it is reported that Sinn Féin would support him only if he joined them. But it is most likely that Sinn Féin had the intention of standing all along.
     None of the candidates will challenge the political consensus of the establishment. A vote for Higgins, who supported and campaigned for the Lisbon Treaty (twice), will be construed as an endorsement of the Labour Party’s participation in the present Government and the savage austerity measures that they support, alongside Joan “unemployment is a life-style choice” Burton and the ministers for privatisation, Rabbitte and Howlin, as well as Gilmore.
     Sinn Féin has put forward Martin McGuinness to be a lightning rod, to finally put behind them the IRA campaign and purge it from the body politic in the Republic. This, they hope, will pave the way for their entry into government in this state after the next election.
     No doubt elements of Fianna Fáil will now gravitate towards Sinn Féin—not that their politics have developed but rather as an indication of where Sinn Féin is going.
     A vote for Sinn Féin will be seen as endorsing the strategy of leading members who wish to enter government at any price while talking left and appearing to be in opposition to the dominant establishment views, when in reality they are lukewarm in their opposition.
     As it appears now, no matter what the outcome of the presidential race. the people’s anger will find no voice, no matter which of the candidates gets to sit up in the Phoenix Park, no matter how much they want the big salary for doing this ceremonial job. All the “empathy” and “sharing the people’s pain” is just hot air and window-dressing.
     Yes, we have a very poor choice, thanks to the anti-democratic nature of the nomination process.

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