IT COULD finally be happening. The end of 2014, the start of 2015, and the politics formed by a civil war that ceased in 1923 could be about to end.
That is remarkable on two counts. One that it has taken so long. And secondly that it is actually happening. It’s taken nearly 100 years for Irish politics to take on a new shape, a shape not formed by the divisions of a short, bitter conflict.
Even a few years ago I would have seen no possibility that Irish politics would take on any shape except that framed by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Their respective policies were not important.
What was important was the pedigree and heritage they carried by virtue of how they felt about the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1922. They garnered their core votes on that basis, on nothing short of a tribal basis.
But all it seems is changed. Even Michael Noonan, the Finance Minister, recently said of Irish politics that “it’s all left and right now”. Which is remarkable in itself, seeing as up until this point the politics of the Irish state has never been about left and right. It has simply been about Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. And now, it seems, it is not.
What this will mean is hard to tell though it does look as if it will come to pass. Fianna Fáil, for instance, have not disappeared as many prematurely thought they would but neither do they appear in any way capable of reclaiming the pivotal position they once held.
In their place Sinn Féin have risen to prominence; as the media and political establishment have made plain by their concerted efforts to throw anything they could at the party, whether it be child abuse cover-ups or a criminal past.
Sinn Féin on their part, and always with a studied eye on the political landscape, have now decided to firmly position themselves as a party of the left. This means two main things for the Irish political landscape.
It means that the anniversary of 1916 in a short 16 months or so will see Sinn Féin in contention to be in power. To be in Government. In 1916. No wonder Gerry Adams has no intention of stepping down. He can see the great prize within reach. He and his party, after everything, could be sitting in seats of true power when the anniversary of the Easter Rising occurs.
How much do you think Sinn Féin would like that? And that, of course, means something else too. It means in all likelihood that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will be sitting elsewhere in the Dáil. Together.
The two parties divided by history and culture but without a sliver of difference between them when it comes to policy or political belief will find they are sitting together. As many are suggesting they now should be for if Sinn Féin position themselves on the left, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael can only go where they naturally belong. On the right.
Now this might just be a repositioning of political influence, an empty movement in an increasingly discredited political system. But we don’t know, do we? Because the truth of the matter is that, unlike virtually every other country in Europe, Ireland has never had politics in the way it has been done elsewhere.
We have never had a left/right divide because we’ve never really had a left, or at least, never had a left in power. We’ve only ever had the two civil war parties, a smattering of smaller parties, a ragbag of coalitions and politics without any political content.
The late Jackie Healy Rae epitomised this. For him politics was simply about getting the best deal for the people in his small part of Kerry. That and nothing else.
That could all be about to change. We could now be facing an actual choice in how the country is run. A choice between, to paraphrase Enda Kenny, those who see Ireland’s hope as being the “best little country in the world for people to do business in” or those who see Ireland’s hope as being the “best little country in the world for people”. Who knows? But it sure would make a change.
And surely Irish politics would be the better for it. For in that way there would at last be a clear choice between the Ireland we’d like to have rather than a choice between the colours our grandfathers wore.