Lions should cease feasting on antelopes: a comment on political reform

I left this comment on an article in today’s Irish Times by David Farrell, professor of politics at the School of Politics and International Relations at UCD. The article is titled ‘More can be done to bring Dáil into present century’.

What would it mean to bring the Dáil into the present century, as the author says? If we say the Dáil needs to be modernised, that means there are social and political realities that need to be addressed. What, then, is the current social and political reality reflected in the fact that the Dáil is subservient to the Government, as the author rightly points out?

Last night reports came through of the latest Troika review. The Irish Times cited an unnamed official who said that in the past 15 years she or he had never seen anything like the ‘remarkable degree of commitment and implementation’ on the part of the Irish Government to the Troika programme: a remarkable commitment, that is, to the implementation of massive austerity. In an interview with RTE’s The Business last Saturday, economist Mark Blyth outlined in stark terms what the consequences of austerity are: the destruction of the social fabric, and permanent damage to a country’s productive capacity.

US economist Dean Baker memorably referred to the IMF as ‘the real black helicopter gang’: an organisation unaccountable to any democratic authority, counselling the destruction of welfare provisions won through popular democratic struggles whilst failing to ‘find its voice when the issue was the junk securities from Goldman Sachs or Citigroup that helped to fuel the housing bubble’. So whilst Enda Kenny huffs and puffs about the Seanad’s failure to put a brake on Ireland’s property bubble, he is ‘remarkably committed’ to implementing the economic policies of entities who are little more than enforcers of finance capital. This commitment, by the way, is enthusiastically supported by Ireland’s media institutions and its mainstream political parties, a fact that seems to escape the enquiring minds of political science.

In such a context, judgements that ‘the government should let the Dáil breathe a little’ in the interests of a ‘a properly functioning democracy’ is rather like saying lions should cease feasting on antelopes in the interests of a horizontal vegetarian order in the animal kingdom, only a bit more daft. The government has no interest in democracy. Witness Enda Kenny’s demonisation of people thrown on the scrapheap by policies his government supports: it’s in their DNA to be unemployed! You cannot seriously talk about a government doing anything in the interests of democracy when the head of that government views society through a lens that marries 19th Century Social Darwinism with 21st Century marketing spam.

Articles on political reform such as this one, of which there have been twenty billion in the Irish Times since the onset of Ireland’s economic crisis, merely serve to hide the fact that Ireland’s democracy has been evacuated of any substantive content, not that it had much to begin with. However, they do suggest that political science has nothing to say about how the destruction of a country’s social fabric affects the quality of its democracy. That is a stark vision of politics for the 21st century.


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