Current Affairs Health Politics

Irish Leaders North And South Are Less Than Inspiring

In a recent and rather pessimistic article for the News Letter the unionist commentator Alex Kane coined a pithy phrase to describe the inherently dysfunctional regional administration at Stormont: “…two governments in the one Executive”. A similar description could well apply to the national government in Dublin. Just as the barely contained rivalry between Sinn Féin and the DUP has eclipsed the participation of smaller parties in the Executive, so too has the shadow boxing between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael obscured the presence of Green Party ministers and their legion of advisors in the coalition. All eyes are on the big two beasts of Irish politics, forced together by electoral circumstances, and united by little more than a determination to deny Sinn Féin and the smaller parties of the ideological left access to the levers of power.

The disunity of purpose in the governing troika is most obvious in the very public contradictions on further lockdown restrictions with the Tánaiste and Taoiseach managing to spin in opposite directions of each other within the space of a few days. Leo Varadkar, after contriving an artificial row with NPHET, hints at a Level 5 style “circuit break” to halt the latest wave of Covid-19 infections, possibly with an extended closure of schools, followed by Micheál Martin firmly ruling out such a move and pledging to continue with the present arrangements. Not so much a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing but more of a case of both hands holding knives with the intent of doing serious harm to the other should an advantageous moment present itself.

Things aren’t much better in the north-east of the country, and arguably worse, with the Stormont Executive also split over how to respond to the advice of its health teams as a second surge of the pandemic ripples out from various points across the island. The Democratic Unionists are reluctant to accede to calls for urgent action on the worsening figures, with a handful of senior DUP leaders clearly in the anti-lockdown camp, while SF struggles on how best to respond while still trying to maintain the facade of cooperation in the Executive that the local and national press demands.

All things considered there seems to be little reason for optimism as we head into the winter months.

13 comments on “Irish Leaders North And South Are Less Than Inspiring

  1. That’s a good piece by Alex Kane. I detest the use of “Protestant” and “Catholic” as shorthand for unionist and nationalist, but understand the realities only too well to appreciate their loose accuracy.
    I am far more sanguine than Kane about the future. I think that Johnson et al will bring about, or lay the ground for, the break-up of the United Kingdom. Brexit was always a Little Englander project, and as such has created divisions between England and the other constituent parts of the UK that will prove impossible to mend. (It’s not even as if the Tories are trying to mend them.)
    The DUP, without whose fervent support inside and outside Westminster Brexit would not have happened, have, through their shortsighted stupidity, brought a United Ireland closer than seemed possible pre-Brexit. The Stormont executive has been a joke since its outset, but as long as it was ticking away in the background, and even when it wasn’t ticking away, the vast majority of people were contented enough with the best of both worlds – being as Irish or British as they wanted, as the occasion arose (NHS, anyone?) – and also having all the benefits of being an integral part of the EU. But Brexit changed all of that. Suddenly we were bounced out of the EU against the democratically expressed wishes of a clear majority of the people (which included a slim majority of unionists, I might add). So, in large part thanks to the DUP, the choice for the people of the North had/has now become between a Little Englander UK (with Johnson, Cummings, Reece-Mogg, Gove and various other reprobates at the wheel) or the EU through unity with the rest of Ireland. I strongly believe that the DUP will live to regret forcing this choice on the previously relatively-contented people of the North.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, the line the DUP took… it really was incredibly reckless, and thoughtless, as a strategy. And shown to be so by the manner in which DUP influence, or supposed influenced, at Westminster, simply vanished the moment it wasn’t necessary.

      Whatever else the degree of destabilisation of the British polity is something to see. This is not, by the way, necessarily a good thing. The idea of neighbouring state that is prey to such dynamics now makes one wonder what things will be like say five or ten years down the line. And given the Tories are dug in for at least three or four more years near enough impossible to see that crew having the ability to knit things together in any useful fashion.

      Not to get dewey eyed about the past, but I don’t think there’s been a time when the level of political ability amongst the Tories has been so low and for such a long time. I couldn’t stand the Thatcher people but at least one knew they were in the main fairly substantive politicians and to some degree rational.

      Back on the topic of the OP. All too true re leaders on the island. They’re just not that good and faced with two potentially existentially scaled challenges, Brexit and the pandemic, they just aren’t cutting it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Of course the level of political ability amongst the Tories is so low. Before the general election Johnson expelled most of the more able and saner MPs who opposed his Brexit fantasies and stopped them standing as Conservative MPs.
        As you say, Brexit is the epitome of Little Englandism,. It’s likely that the UK will be finished by the votes of English MPs supported by English voters. The problem is that the supporters of Scottish independence or a united Ireland thought they’d be dealing with rational politicians who’d reach reasomable deals. What they’ve got are a bunch of xenophobes driven entirely by short-term self-interest and hostility to their neighbours.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Some very good points there, Wee Jim.
          Particularly liked this: “What they’ve got are a bunch of xenophobes driven entirely by short-term self-interest and hostility to their neighbours.” That’s probably the crux of the problem. Driven entirely by short-term self-interest, these people don’t give a flying one for the long- or even medium-term consequences of what they’re doing. Such are their ties to big business (corruption, in other words) almost to a man and a woman they literally can afford not to care. Whatever happens won’t, to any meaningful degree, affect them.
          It still astounds me, though it shouldn’t, that at the same time as he was selling Brexit to the masses, through his company the cartoonish throwback Rees-Mogg was advising investors to move their money to Dublin. On a similar theme, during the referendum campaign another arch Brexiteer, James Dyson, was busy buying a Singapore penthouse for £43.5 million, and subsequently a Singapore “bungalow” for £26.5 million. These things were well documented and reported upon at the time. The brazenness of these people is almost equal to their hypocrisy. As is the stupidity of those ordinary people who, despite knowing all of this, still trooped to the polling stations to do what Rees-Mogg etc told them to do. I’m not sure who I hold most in contempt, the corrupt brazen bastards or the people who follow them like sheep (to the slaughter).


  2. Great comment, WorldbyStorm (as always). I’m pretty certain the DUP, aside from their own anti-foreigner inclinations, were driven by what they saw as an opportunity to stymie the chances of a border poll by ditching the EU, the main guarantor of the GFA. So blinded by their own tunnel-vision logic, they didn’t realise for a moment the enormous damage they would do in the process to what they were trying to safeguard, the union. Nor did it occur to them that another major guarantor of the GFA is the US – most especially the Democrats – upon which all sorts of (pie-in-the-sky?) trade deals supposedly depend.
    I totally agree about the calibre of politicians, nowadays. We kid ourselves if we believe that elected politicians are driven solely, or even largely, by conscience or a dedication to public service. A tiny few may be, but they soon become cynical and/or resentful. Sadly, the vast majority are motivated by ego and a lust for power. As well as that, the salaries for politicians are not nearly enough to compete with the private sector for the best brains. So, as the saying goes, when you pay peanuts you get monkeys – and, in this case, corruptible monkeys. In fairness, it is mostly a thankless task. And after the novelty wears off it must be hard to stay motivated.
    I realise all of the above are sweeping and generalisations, and there are likely other factors. But I would argue they have a lot to do with what we currently have representing and governing us.


    • Thanks Tamam. And likewise. But just on the point of politicians, it’s a horrible job but agree completely I do think ego is a huge component of what keeps them going. And even the best seem to be prey to that. Re the US very true, that’s a great point, it’s amazing isn’t it how they just didn’t bother to factor that in. Even Trump’s emissaries have been more low key in recent times, perhaps because the penny dropped it wasn’t the best look to be getting the digs into the GFA/BA in an election year. But then the DUP’s focus is so monomaniacally focused towards London that no great wonder they can’t see there are other powers beyond it. When even London has to recognise that then that leaves them even more adrift.


      • I know it has all been said before, but nonetheless the thought never ceases to amuse me of how, once the “welcome to your new home” honeymoon period was over in some future united Ireland, Northerners of all persuasions and none would soon find out how much they have in common. Not least, the widespread (though not universal) disdain there is in the South for brash Northerners of whatever type.


        • Yep, it’s a real problem, though as you say not universal. Partition is a mentality as much as a physical reality. I remember when Adams arrived in the Dáil and it was striking to hear a Belfast accent there and whatever one’s views of SF it was important in its own way.


          • I actually don’t mind it. It’s no different, I suppose, to the regional rivalries that co-exist within every nation. In fact, come the day, it might actually help bring about that elusive bonding of the diverse people of the North. 🙏


  3. I see the Northern executive has imposed a four-week “circuit breaker” lockdown from this Friday. I can’t for the life of me think of any logical reason why “places of worship” are exempt from the broader impositions. According to every Abrahamic faith “God is all around us” and, more precisely, “You can drop to your knees and worship God at any time, in any place and He will hear you”. So according to their own lights, places of worship are not necessary for people of faith to worship. If the social aspect of church-going is supposedly the reason for the exemption, then, on the same grounds, other more precise social gathering places such as cafes, pubs, restaurants etc should also be exempt. Laughable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Truth be told I find all this more frightening than laughable.

      It’s true people can do any number of things at home: pray, cut their hair, shine their shoes, watch movies (if they have access), surf the internet (if they have access), work (if their job permits it), make new cloths for themselves, study( although that’s problematic, more later), tend minor illnesses and injuries, or do any number of things.

      Some things have been much more resistant to “workarounds” that can be done at home. Interaction with other people is certainly one of them. Education is another. Even when students have perfect access for online learning and parent/family support to do so, it’s utter nonsense that their education isn’t going to suffer from this. It’s amazing how many people who were saying last year “Oh HS/Secondary Education is more about social skills than academics.” have changed their tune to “There’s no reason a kid with internet access and family support can’t get a perfectly good education through distance learning.” The younger ones need the structure of the classroom and are vulnerable to the subtleties of communication that get lost in the “Zoom class” formats, or distractions that can occur if they are at home. Hands on projects for older students don’t translate well to distance learning either.

      Between the fact that so many kids all around the world, have been made to miss up to a year of school or more is extremely worrying in my book. It gets more worrying when some political analysts expect that numerous countries are going to cannibalize education budgets for public health. For loads of kids around the world, this can be “outcome changing”.

      Beyond specific issues in education, domestic violence, mental health, cancer patients and more, I find an important distinction is getting glossed over. In normal times you don’t need a pub, restaurant, cafe, or church to socialize with other people!!! However in many places the lockdown or social distancing rules will discourage or forbid you from chatting in a public park, going over for a cup of coffee or tea, fishing in a nearby lake with friends (some people got fined for this near where I live), hanging out on the front porch, block parties, parties at your home, etc. It’s one thing to dismiss restaurant meals, pints, or theater tickets as “luxuries we can do without for the greater good”. Imposing isolation of this kind on our social species for months on end? That’s something very, very different.

      We don’t know enough about the long term effects on the population but a lot of early signs are rather disturbing. Doctors have reported a lot of people coming in with various medical problems they would have been deemed very low risk for before the pandemic.

      I’m not a lockdown-skeptic in the hard political sense of the term, and don’t necessarily endorse a Swedish policy. However, the people who are too quick to happily embrace this as a “New normal” scare me more than the lockdown skeptics in some ways.


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