Posted by: gaiusc | 9 July, 2009

Democracy Irish Style – Putting the cart before the horse

Ned O’Keeffe is always good for some light entertainment. When he’s not shuffling around the backbenches of Fianna Fail making a clown of himself, he can be found resigning from government ministries for voting on issues where he had a personal business interest.

However, last weekend he really stepped up to the mark and produced some quality material. Basically, he summed up democracy and the average Fianna Failer’s view of how it works. Democracy is defined as “a form of government in which the right to govern is vested in the citizens of a country or a state and exercised through a majority rule”. Ned though has a different definition of democracy, which goes like this: “vote for anybody other than me and I’ll punish you”. In this new and innovative form of democracy, Ned will only represent people who vote for him. The others can go and rot.

In the 2007 general election, Ned O’Keeffe got 10,081 first preference votes in Cork East. The electorate in that constituency is 84,354 so Ned got just under 12% of the first preference vote. In a daring and imaginative move, he is going to increase his party’s share of the vote by punishing the other 88% of his constituency. I doubt he cares too much as I understand that he won’t be running in the next general election but it’s an illuminating case study of how Irish politics works. It’s all gombeenism and backscratching and keeping enough people happy that you make the vote quota in the next election.

There are a couple of problems with his stance. The quota in Cork-East is 10,762 and there are four seats. Only 43,048 votes are sufficient to decide who the four elected representatives are, so as long as 51% of the population are happy to maintain a backscratching parasite-host relationship, 49% of the electorate can be disenfranchised and consequently ignored. This does not a progressive society make as the disenfranchised 49% are still paying the wages of that public representative. Over 200 years ago, Britain’s most important colony rebelled over the issue of taxes with no representation. Treating the 2,500 population of Rathcormack like second class citizens is the equivalent of having a job but refusing to work with any managers you don’t like. Think of how long you’ll last in the workforce if you have that kind of an attitude to your employers.

As well as that, the public finances are not Fianna Fail’s warchest for election campaigning. It’s OUR money coming out of OUR taxes. Rathcormack has grown in size from 500 to 2,500 people with no appreciable improvement in services. The school is severely stretched. I’m sure there might be even more over-stretched schools in the county but funds should be allocated on the basis of need, not cynical vote management. The 2,500 people of Rathcormack will almost certainly not vote for Fianna Fail next time and with the arrogance of O’Keeffe, more may follow suit.

The mistake O’Keeffe and many of his ilk in Fianna Fail make is to assume that democracy is “we rule and the serfs meekly permit us to do so if we throw selected ones some scraps”. That is not the case. They are employees of the state. We are the state. They are our servants, they get very well rewarded for the job they do and it’s about time we reminded them of the fact. The only way to hurt them is at the ballot box.

The next general election this country faces may well be the most important in the history of the state. The country is falling apart economically and this is in large part due to the gombeenism and parochialism of Irish politics where vested interests have their sticky fingers in every policy decision. We, as a state, need to decide if we want to live in a modern European nation or a backward, divided oligarchy where emigration becomes the only option for the bright and talented. Rewarding politicians like Ned O’Keeffe means that Ireland will remain a backward nation looking for scraps from more progressive nations, with tax exile policies, etc. Why not be more ambitious? Why not encourage real business instead of pouring money into propping up the housing market? We have a choice to make and the time to start deciding is now.



  1. […] Democracy – An Irish Solution to an Irish Problem? Back in July, I looked at the curious case of Ned O’Keeffe who has come up with a new and novel approach to winning […]

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