First reflections on Irish elections, February 2011

OK, I didn’t vote for the first time in my life. Not because I was confused, nor because there was no one to vote for (after all there was the Left Alliance, and particularly the Socialist Party), nor even because I didn’t feel strongly enough about getting Fianna Fail out. But because I realized, finally, that the system does not work. That laws are not made by the Dail but by cabinet and that the enforcement of the party whip does not allow members to vote independently. And that many of the laws on the books are anti-equality anyway.
But this does not mean that I have nothing to say, even if some of my friends say that not voting does not give me the right to comment (since when is voting compulsory? Not voting is also a political act).
So here go some of my first reflections having watched some of the coverage on RTE – boring alright, but compelling all the same despite the results being so predictable. Some of these reflections relate to the marginalization of the issues I am concerned about – has anyone heard anything about the rights of migrants and asylum seekers in the campaign? Has anyone heard anything about equality? If you have, let me know.
Listening to the regal speech by the winner, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, all I could think about was inequality and exclusion. The inheritor of the Blue Shirts (the exclusivist forerunners of the Fine Gael Party, which, in the 1930s, emulated fascist salutes and politics, but which did not go as far as other European Fascist movements) spoke of his aims to make ‘this little nation’ ‘the best in the world’. However he did not mention the price of repositioning the Republic of Ireland on the capitalist world map: redundancies in the public sector, cuts to the minimum wage, and above all, putting the servicing of the Irish debt to the IMF and the ECB above the welfare of Irish citizens and residents. Right of centre, bourgeois to the core, middle class souls, Fine Gael epitomizes all that we must resist.
On the other side, in his first post election speech, the leader of Fianna Fail (the Soldiers of Destiny – but whose destiny, I wonder) clicked the confessional button. Like his predecessor Bertie Ahern who apologized for the state’s role in the abuse of thousands of children at the hand of unscrupulous religious – as if his apology could erase the pain – Micheal Martin acknowledged that ‘mistakes’ were made, but insisted that his main objective is to ‘rebuild the party’ – as if anyone cares whether the party was built, rebuilt or otherwise.
Rhetoric  aside, I felt a chill listening to these two smug individuals who said not a word about growing poverty since Ireland was ‘bailed out’ leaving people smarting with higher taxes, lower welfare allowances and increasing policing of every aspect of their lives. Neither they nor the other leaders, with the exception of Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party, said anything about poverty, inequality, and the fear and rage felt by so many, and as they spoke I smelt stale beer and stale urine, and the black stench of fear.
A fear which I am sure is shared by some 6,000 asylum seekers still abandoned in direct provision hostels, waiting for their deportation letters while attempting to make a life for themselves and their children. And by thousands of undocumented migrants, often finding themselves without work due to the economic decline, yet unable to return home to worse conditions. And by Roma people – EU citizens, yet unwanted here or elsewhere. And I was thinking about Europe’s panic about refugees from the recent Middle Eastern and North African insurrections potentially knocking at Europe’s door to be met with plans for standardised EU immigration policies, the short version of which is ‘don’t let them in, or get them out’.
And although two brave former migrants stood for elections, it was clear from the outset that their chances were minimal. Not only are the winners – Fine Gael, Labour  and Sinn Fein,  and the losers – Fianna Fail and the Green Party, so obsessed with ‘the nation’, ‘our nation’, but this election has made clear, once again, that all the discourses of inclusion, interculturalism and integration are dead and gone, if they were ever sincere. Yes, several Socialists and independents (not all of whose politics I share) have been elected and hopefully they will rattle the complacent cages of the Dail, but how much effect can they have in opposition without changing the whole system I am not sure at all.
A friend texted me to say she was having her first Black Bush in the Blue Shirts era. As I don’t do whiskey, I am drowning my rage in these words, wondering how far to the  right can we move before we fall off the cliff.

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12/18/2017 Migrant Activism and Integration from Below in Ireland

Edited by Ronit Lentin and Elena Moreo Palgrave MacMillan, 2012...read more
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