The political map in Ireland is far from a settled picture. The latest Opinion poll from Red C bears this out. It is quite clear that people are still generally unsure of where it is we are going or what it is we want. The government is determined to try and avoid a referendum on an EU deal, because to do so could threaten the stability of the government, of Europe, and indeed, if it were rejected, might leave Ireland facing the EU exit door. Yet a referendum may be the only route back to some sense of political normality. People need to decide what they want, whether they accept cuts or not, whether they want default or not and whether they want the EU or not. Governments over the last few years have taken these decisions on behalf of the people, its time to stop trying to protect people from themselves as they see it. We need to decide our future as a people and wherever that result lands us we need to take it from there either agreeing and putting to bed the idea of defaults and leaving Europe orindeed facing the reality of default and making our own way.
As things stand people are not sure what to believe but it’s easiest to keep blaming someone, especially politicians who don’t think you can be trusted with the decision but they can.
Fine Gael remains the dominant force in opinion polls. They have however dropped to 30%. Now that is still a strong rating for Fine Gael but let’s put it in perspective, for the majority of Irish history that 30% would have been a poor result for the former dominant force Fianna Fail. The strength of Fine Gael surpasses any of its rivals today but it is nothing like the electoral strength of Fianna Fail in the past. This suggests a real and genuine weakening of faith and a lack of conviction on where to go by the electorate. Something we have not witnessed before.
The Labour party continues to slide. Now less popular than even Fianna Fail for all it has endured. Labour is continuing to take blame on both sides of the government equation. While Fine Gael is seen as chomping at the bit to engage private sector and generally push a right wing agenda Labour are seen as the stumbling block. Resistant to change, tied to unions and still trying to protect poor and workers over the bottom line figures.
On the other hand supporters of left wing politics believe Labour is selling out and that they are not opposing Fine Gael policy strenuously enough. They believe there is not enough Labour influence on policy. So Labour is eaten away from both sides as Eamon Gilmore tries a difficult balancing act. There is only one solution for Labour and that is to flex its undoubted muscle, but that inevitably means that storms will arise in government and a government may even fall. It takes real courage on the part of a politician to be willing to stand by something even if it spells the end of a government.
Labour knows that they are being squeezed in the base heartland by Sinn Fein. Unless Labour can meet this head on and demonstrate a problem with SF policies then they are in trouble. Sinn Fein will be delighted as yet again they creep slowly up the polls. Given the circumstances one might expect that SF as a new force claiming radically different policies should be doing much better. There is still something holding people back from flooding to the SF flag. Whether it is their past or the fact that the polices are just too different we can’t say. It is likely however that if SF can gain new faces and can just move policy every so slightly to the middle ground the may yet become a real and threatening force on the political map.
Recent polls are disappointing for Fianna Fail. They seem to have stagnated and desperately need a rise to keep momentum. There is life in FF have no doubt, hence despite the unfavourable conditions from their perspective they still match SF who are ploughing fertile ground. FF has taken a decision for a slow and steady path. There were no drastic changes. No new faces within its HQ to lead internal change, no one has yet been blamed for what went wrong. The process of reorganistion is taking place although it could be done with a little more energy. The ultimate problem with the public remains. FF is tired of the blame game, they want to move on and come up with fresh policies but they need to realise that the past cannot be ignored. It doesn’t take much, just one interview could start the process, but whereas the public want the government to stop looking back and blaming and start planning for the future, they also want FF to properly articulate what it thinks it did wrong. Micheál Martin said ‘sorry’ but for what? The most important thing FF still must do is show the public exactly what lessons it learned, what would the party never do again if it had the opportunity? Until that happens FF will struggle to keep its plans for a slow claw back on track. They must reach 25% by the 2014 locals, in reality that should not be difficult, the fact that FF may see that as a tall order is where it’s problem lies.
Independents and the ULA are increasingly popular. They represent a halfway house. Their appeal lies in the fact that to support an individual or and very small grouping, one does not have to sign up for all that comes with the larger ones. That means it’s an issue of trust, it is much easier to know and trust one person than 20 or more. Trust remains the key in politics above any policy. People will still follow a solution to the left or right and through hell itself if they think they can trust the person leading it. But we are an electorate increasingly afraid of giving our trust, and sadly one might say, who can blame us? After all trust is a two way street and politicians do not seem inclined to trust the people to decide the country’s future in a referendum either.