This blog post from political scientist Derek Lynch suggests that there might be folly or panic – or perhaps both – behind Enda Kenny’s denial of freedom of conscience to his parliamentary party. Implicitly it also raises the question that if the street opposition to the sham democracy now being played out in the Irish parliament seemed to threaten him more than it does at present, would he go down the same road as Erdogran and Rousseff?
A decision to stamp on dissent when such a move was neither technically nor politically necessary is a dramatic statement indeed. It is an aggressive kick in the face to those of other opinions. The leadership line is that there has been lengthy debate: this is simply closing that process according to the rules. Technically, that may be true. But when such an aggressive shutdown is not really required, it takes on an entirely different character. It is like Premier Erdogan ordering the riot police to charge or President Rousseff saying “show no mercy.” Endless debate on such sensitive matters is not surprising. It is no harm either if the numbers are in the bag and the actual legislation is safe.
This assertive line suggests a Government or a Taoiseach that feels the need to be assertive. It is a sort of machismo effect. But what lies behind it? And what will be the lasting impact?
Enda Kenny shares the widespread frustration at the behavior of the Church in the child abuse scandals. He believes very firmly in the unity and longevity of this present coalition with Labour. He may also be advised, not so much by “pragmatic” conservatives as by social democrat Fine Gaelers schooled in the Garrett FitzGerald years. While Kenny built his support by persuading Fine Gael conservatives that he was moving in a different direction, he now finds his interests “pragmatically” aligned with FG social democrats and a militantly secularist Labour Party. The assumption is that his conservative base will stick around because they have nowhere else to go and value personal loyalties anyway.
But all is not well with this assertive Enda Kenny. The surge of machismo reveals a panic at the heart of the machine. In fact, politicians in both major parties are experiencing the same phenomenon. They would like social policy to go away. For, it is very unlike economics. With economics, there is a whole constellation of variables always in flux: growth rates, exports, Asian markets, U.S. elections, Middle East wars, the price of onions, SARS … politicians cannot credibly promise to produce this or that result without qualification. But, with social policy, voters can ask – what do you believe? Do you believe that marriage is intrinsically a celebration of heterosexual love and commitment? Do you believe a foetus in the womb is a living human being? Of course, some will be able to say – it depends. But, listening to the debates, on all sides, it is clear that participants have direct answers to many of these questions. And these answers translate into policy choices that must ultimately be addressed by politicians. There is no external environment to reference.
It is this fact that has Irish politicians, especially in the center-right parties, in a state of absolute fear and pandemonium. They are challenged to show courage and personal honesty.
All pointing, might we dare to hope, to a new and meaningful alignment in Irish politics and a re-enfranchising of a sizeable swathe of the electorate who currently have no party to which the can in good conscience give their support?