At last the Irish crisis has spawned a new political party! Ireland has been something of an oddity amid the volatility that characterises European politics today that we have taken so long to see a new party emerging from the wreckage that our economic and political elites landed us in.
Greece has given us Syriza, Spain Podemos and now Ciudadanos, and Portugal Tempo de Avanzar. Neither has such political creativity been confined to the left as UKIP in England, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in Germany, Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement in Italy and New Dawn in Greece show. But Ireland had, up until this weekend, shown no appetite for crafting a new collective political response.
Presumably, the bastardised concoction of a name that the new party has chosen is meant to signify that they aspire to a ‘ré nua’ for Irish politics. Yet, that is where the similarity ends with any of these other parties. For Lucinda Creighton’s new party is a firmly centrist party, even though we are told we have to wait months before we will know with any precision what exact mix of market and state it is going to promote.
Indeed, from the little we know, the new party seems uncannily similar to parties from the past rather than proposing anything new as all the other parties mentioned above do. Its mix of free market economics with ‘compassionate’ social policies and transparency in politics reminds many of the appeal of the Progressive Democrats when founded. Firmly right of centre, it would appear.
Yet, much more than its vague and aspirational identity, it is the manner of its formation that reeks so strongly of the old elitist politics that bears such a responsibility for this country’s deep malaise and lack of any new direction. The gathering of professionals from sectors of the financial, advertising and technology sectors seeking to craft an organisation, a message and an identity shows what an elite project this is, a million miles from any links with grassroots civil society.
It is this fundamental fact that marks Renua Ireland out as yet another manifestation of the takeover of politics by PR gurus, marketing strategists and media advisors that lies at the heart of the malaise of contemporary politics worldwide. Where a new politics has emerged, most notably in Latin America over the past decade, it has come from the self-organisation of marginalised sectors of society incubating an alternative project for transforming society.
Out of the intense struggles spawned by such civil society movements have emerged what are really new political parties, not just with a superficial new sheen but with a radically new way of doing politics, a politics from below. This is what is badly needed in Ireland but we see few signs of this emerging.
The other major political revelation of the past week concerns Sinn Féin’s dependence on corporate America for its financing highlighting how Sinn Féin comes to appear ever more like Fianna Fáil over the decades it dominated Irish political life: a populist appeal to less well off voters hiding a deep alliance with corporate capital whose interests it faithfully and instinctively served. That Gerry Adams could proclaim Sinn Féin as the party of business at the recent Ard-Fheis without it causing any murmur of unease is indeed disturbing. It wouldn’t happen in Syriza or Podemos.
But then, as was revealed so starkly yet again in the party’s hamfisted and self-serving response to the appalling revelations of the sexual abuse of Paudie McGahon, Sinn Féin doesn’t do dissent. In this aspect, at least, Fianna Fáil comes out in a better light: even in the darkest days of the ‘una Duce, una Voce’ period of the party, a dissident wing showed it couldn’t be cowed.
By contrast, it appears that, in public at least, there are no dissenters in Sinn Féin and everyone is willing to follow the leader no matter what he says and does. Apart from just how creepily unreal this is, it reveals a party whose overriding value is power at any cost, no matter what trampling on basic human rights nor cosying up to corporate America it takes. At least we know Sinn Féin won’t be supporting Renua Ireland’s attempts to bring more transparency to Irish politics.
All of which shows, yet again, how out of step we are with developments in Europe. What passes for the new in Ireland, whether from Renua Ireland or from Sinn Féin, resembles some of the more chilling aspects of the past. Meanwhile, one vainly looks for signs of anything new stirring in the undergrowth of Irish politics.