Democracy’s Child, Dictatorship

Contrary to what the German ‘elite’ think of the Greeks at the moment, we can generally expect to find the pearls of wisdom we need there, even if they have to be excavated from 2,500 years ago.

Plato had something to say that might sound warning signals about the Fine Gael-Labour coalition: “Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty”.

With a combined strength for the Coalition of 113 Dail seats, just 52 TDs will occupy the opposition benches, and several of those are likely to be sympathetic to Fine Gael on a range of issues and policies, with Fianna Fail already indicating that it will be supportive where government policy is in accord with the previous administration’s. That leaves fewer than 30 Dail Deputies between Sinn Fein, the United Left Alliance, and left-leaning independents, who are ideologically opposed to the stated programme for government.

In these conditions, there can be no expectation of close-run votes in the Dail, even on the most contentious of issues. When it comes to the matter of standing orders in the Dail where these affect issues like speaking time and order of business it will largely be in the gift of the governing parties to make concessions and not because it is right, or equitable, or fair, or indicative of parity of respect for the voters who put those Deputies there to give voice to their concerns.

Between the parties that make up the Coalition there will undoubtedly be tensions, and within the parties too. But given the likelihood that the opinion poll ratings for both parties will drop substantially there will be little appetite for publicly expressed discord within or between the parties. Despite Eamon Gilmore’s closing oration at the Labour Delegate Conference when he presented a rosier outcome for Labour at the next election than history would indicate, many of the newly elected Labour TDs will have a serious fight on their hands to hold their seats. It is likely that Fine Gael’s position will be little different. The need for survival is a great gagging device.

It is quite likely that we will see legislation or regulation proposed that under normal conditions would either not be proposed or would be modified because of tight voting conditions that normally prevail in the Dail. With the majority it will command this government need not be so restrained, and those who think that Labour would guard against the introduction of repressive legislation don’t know their recent history. Section 31 of the Boradcasting Act is one example, introduced by a Labour Minister, Conor Cruise O’Brien, and there are others.

It is likely that Sinn Fein will shine in opposition. The party has seen returned as Dail Deputies not just a cohort of intelligent and highly articulate TDs but also a leader who has demonstrated exceptional political skills, is a good communicator, and is a person with considerable international stature. There is no doubt that Sinn Fein is ready in the starting blocks, rarin’ to go.

The United Left Alliance too will shine. Again, they have a group of intelligent and highly articulate TDs, with street ‘cred’. They will relish the thought of getting stuck into Labour from the word ‘go’.

It may well be that the most effective opposition will have to be fought on the streets outside Leinster House, and the United Left Alliance and Sinn Fein will be primed for that too. That may well be the place that dictatorship will be denied, and democracy enhanced. The republic is after all, according to another Greek, Cicero, “the property of the people”.

So it must remain.


About Tom Stokes

Tom Stokes is a writer and journalist, and has taught media and journalism at foundation and under-grad levels. He holds a BA in Communications and Cultural Studies and an MA in Journalism from Dublin City University. He is a grandson of John Stokes, a striking tram driver in the 1913 Lockout and a Volunteer in Boland’s Mill in the 1916 revolution. He is an organiser of the Citizens’ Initiative to establish a new national day in Ireland on April 24th, to be known as Republic Day, and is co-organiser with Marie Mulholland of the campaign to have Ireland's new children's hospital dedicated to the memory of Dr Kathleen Lynn, to be named The Kathleen Lynn National Children's Hospital. View all posts by Tom Stokes

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