The turbulent waters of 21st century politics

The turbulent waters of 21st century politics

IT SEEMS that 2016, the centenary of something truly momentous in this country’s history, started it. Soon after that centenary the British electorate voted to leave the European Union and soon after that the American electorate voted to elect Donald Trump as President.

Political stability has appeared to be absent ever since. The often staid, slow, rumble of democratic politics is now as infected with the fifteen-minute-long attention span of social media as everything else.

Even here our novel, three party, two-Taoiseach coalition, has spun into a three Taoiseach one as if operating along the lines of, “Look, if it’s not complicated enough for you, we can try this.”

I’m no Fine Gaeler by any stretch of the imagination but those pointing out the relative youth and worldly inexperience of our new Taoiseach, Simon Harris, whilst having a point, should remember that Donald Trump had never before held any political office on becoming President of the USA. If you think something is strange we live in an age where there is always an example of something even stranger.

Despite the numerous rumours circulating I have no problem in believing that Leo Varadkar stepped down as Taoiseach because he’d simply run out of steam. It was a startling resignation for sure but in our post Covid age, where nothing is supposedly as it seems and everyone with a phone has a social media opinion, why can’t something just be the obvious? Varadkar did once say he’d be out of politics before he was fifty so he did have an eye on life after the Dáil.

Now, maybe every excitable twitter and facebook devotee is right and many things are looming but, maybe, there aren’t. Of course, the devotees will just move on to something else but that’s the problem isn’t it because, unfortunately, the real world seems to be mirroring the virtual world in unpredictability and instability.

How many prime ministers has the UK had since the last election, three? Three prime ministers there and three taoisigh here. All without an election. Strange times indeed. We became used to the chronic hire and fire nature of Trump’s presidency but the nature of that, unfortunately like the man himself, hasn’t gone away, has it?

Covid times introduced us all to a cohort of people who didn’t want the world to be the way it was, that is tormented by a pandemic, and so made-up loads of fairy stories instead. There are still signposts not far from here with graffiti on them saying ‘Covid scam’. I know at least two people who it is now impossible to have a proper conversation with since they went down the Covid scam path. It is hard to connect in any way with people, whether in Cork or Cavan, who do not accept the very basics of our shared experience. Is this the way things will be from now on?

I’m old enough to remember when a newsflash would interrupt regular TV programming in such a way that it was clear something momentous was happening.

Now we have 24-hour news channels that have constant breaking news. We have journalists, admittedly some very good ones, posting daily podcasts. That’s a lot of incessant news coverage. And that calls for a lot of news. It is almost as if we are fuelling our own instability.

And yet. I’m no fan of our current government in the Dáil and the sooner we have an election the better. But the fact that a democratic government survives a change of Taoiseach is in some ways simply a sign of how democracy works. We elect TDs on their principles and their politics. Or at least we should do. The personality in the top chair isn’t as important as that. I know that sounds a bit stuffy.

But in a world where democracy seems more fragile than it has done for a long time, I’m happy that this little Ireland of ours is actually resisting the siren call of instability. I’m trusting that the forthcoming local and European elections will see the anti-democratic voices of the far right, for all their braying on social media, fail once again to gain any representation. I’m trusting that we’ll have those elections and, you know, there won’t be too much to report.


  • Joe Horgan posts on X at @JoeHorganwriter