Polling the future

The Cast Stone

SHIFTING SANDS Leinster House, where the balance of power may be changing.

The Cast Stone
Michael Gallagher

It’s Thursday morning in Castlebar and the coffee shop is quiet. There’s a gentleman in the corner engaged in an intriguing phone conversation about everything from army intelligence to the racehorses he has in training around the world. I strongly suspect there’s nobody on the other end of the line, but that’s another story entirely.
Today, is a seminal day in Irish history. It may not seem so to the vast majority of the population, but to me the results of The Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll released this morning gives cause for hope. It shows Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil support down to 18 and 20 percent, respectively, while Sinn Féin gallops ahead to 36 percent. The independents are showing solid gains too.
In my view, since the foundation of our 26-county state, we have been ever-so-slowly moving towards this moment when the two main political parties find themselves firmly on the back foot. I couldn’t be happier. Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have forgotten who they represent. Both parties are shadows of what they should be. Both parties are ensnared by terrible leadership and they constantly give the impression of disdain towards the people.
Earlier this week both Mícheál Martin and Leo Varadkar openly sniggered and laughed in the Dáil as opposition politicians called them to account for what they saw as mismanagement of the nation.
When Galway TD Catherine Connolly spoke about a constituent who spent seven painful days on a trolley waiting for a hospital bed the dynamic duo looked about as interested as a dog at an opera – and it got worse.
That type of disdain might be an unconscious reaction, but it’s telling. The ruling political classes see themselves as untouchable. We thought we got rid of royalty a century ago, unfortunately we only created a system equally discriminatory.
There are more people homeless in our state than ever before. Our young people are flying away because of the pittance they’re being offered by employers here. There is little or no prospect of young people ever owning their own home in the future. Rural Ireland has been decimated by closure of services. Our public transport system is pointless and pathetic outside our four main cities. We’re being driven into the ground by stealth taxes. Thousands of homeowners whose walls are cracking before their very eyes are being fobbed off time and time again. Students have to work day and night to pay for free education. And among the myriad of other things, out health system is about as effective as the one on the moon.
This morning it was announced in the media that a new hospital has opened in Spain to cater exclusively for Irish people on the never-ending waiting lists here. How embarrassing! Has our government politicians no shame? The sick are among the most vulnerable in our society, yet they’re being farmed out to our Spanish neighbours.
I’m so proud of our nation, our island, our people – but I’m ashamed of our government and the way they have degraded our society; the way they have taken the comfort, care and hospitality from our society; the way they have all of us scrambling for a living, scrambling for healthcare, scrambling for dignity. I’m ashamed of our government.
I wasn’t like this all my life. I remember the sunny day in 1977 when Fianna Fáil swept into power in a landslide. There was utter joy in our home. In my childhood mind the good guys had won, the bad guys had lost. My family were Civil War republicans and dyed-in-the-wool Fianna Fáil. Dad had been out the previous day driving people to the voting centre. He was proud to be part of the team powering Denis Gallagher to the Dáil. The Currane man was a decent, caring man who became a minister afterwards, and I will never forget the excitement that night in Doherty’s in Mulranny as we awaited his victorious homecoming and then the cavalcade into the island.
In my mind, at that time, Fianna Fáil represented rural Ireland and the drive for an eventual 32-county state. After all, they styled themselves as ‘The Republican Party’. How wrong I was. Today, they’re far removed from a party representing rural Ireland and are even further parted from the quest for a united Ireland.
There has to be something better than the political shambles we suffer today. There has to be an avenue towards a just, equal and fair society where our ‘royalty’ are replaced by real people. Today’s opinion poll gives me hope that a real Ireland may be just over the horizon. I look forward to that day.