Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Irish General Election 2020: Your Vote is Important

Irish President Michael D. Higgins dissolves the 32nd Dail

I always get a sense of 'here we go again' when an Irish general election is announced. Social media can often skew public feeling. I always ask myself - more of the same when the results come in or some kind of change? Like most social media input and public comments on news media websites, you'd swear every election in Ireland is on the brink of a political and voting revolution.

Prepare for the increased social media wave of angst and protest and 'our time has come' and 'we'll teach FG-FF a lesson' in the chatrooms, barrooms, church car parks, radio and TV shows over the coming three weeks.

But come election day, the same people protesting and giving out for the past few years about governance decisions and policy will slip quietly into their polling stations and plant a firm 1, 2, 3 etc right where they always do, next to the guys and gals who have an FG or FF after their name on the voting sheet.

Perhaps if Irish voters *really and truly* want significant party change, the first step is to rid ourselves of the above voting hypocrisy. Protesting and giving out is not change of itself. Change happens when you *actually* vote differently.

Ireland like many western countries is dominated by large political parties. But unlike some western countries, particularly in mainland Europe, Ireland is not well-served with alternative party options. Outside of the third largest party (Sinn Fein), most smaller parties simply don't have the all-constituency infrastructure to maximise a swing in popular votes towards them in a single election. Large city and rural areas can also be very diverse in voting, combined with its proportional representation system. Particularly in rural areas, local politics plays an important role, even in national general elections.

Dáil Éireann is made up of 158 TDs (MPs), but over the past ten years the country has increasingly shifted away from majority, single-party government. Recent FG-FF governments have relied on 'support & confidence' agreements because no single party can attain an 80 seat majority and this is unlikely to change in the coming years. Now, attaining 50+ seats places a party in a strong post-election position to form a working government using party coalition or, as above, with a secondary 'support & confidence' party.

The choice for voters is that there are few realistic alternatives to the two dominate right-of-centre parties. In essence, there is no cohesive left-of-centre block of parties. Due to the historical political landscape and animosity, both main parties are completely adverse to coalitions with Sinn Fein. Outright social and left wing parties in Ireland over the past three or four decades have split resulting in a significant but a multitude of single independent TDs with highly diverse political agendas from the right-to centre-to left. In the modern era of Irish politics, smaller parties like the Progressive Democrats, Democratic Left and Renua have dissolved or disappeared without elected seats. Even attempts at forming Independent Alliances rarely stay the course and are often one-election term alliances.

Ireland does have a Green Party, but again it does not have a constituency ground structure to maximise any significant amount of seats that the recent local election swing suggested it could benefit from. Its Labour party is but a shadow of itself in low seat single figures.

And therein is the heart of the Irish political conundrum for Irish voters every national election. No viable party alternatives. Despite a proportional election system, once the election is called, it's back to your corners and every party for itself, still trapped in historical delusions of single-party power, which confounds the whole idea of proportional party politics. I sometimes wonder if all Irish political parties have forgotten that we vote on a PR system and voters are heavily influenced by local representation, like councils, not first-party-past-the-post.

Change and power shifts in party politics rarely happen over a single election. But we need to separate protest and giving out about particular government or party politics and understand that change does not happen through hypocrisy (saying one thing and doing another) but requires an action of purpose.

YOUR vote is important. It is a constitution right. You cannot even begin to effect change unless YOU change. It is no good doing the same thing again and relying on others to effect that change or believing YOUR single vote will change nothing so I might as well do what I've always done. That is not change!

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