By Anthony Sheridan
The political establishment that has [mis]ruled Ireland since independence is on the verge of extinction.
For clarity, here’s a good definition of the term ‘establishment’.
The ruling class or authority group in a society; especially, an entrenched authority dedicated to preserving the status quo.
An establishment’s greatest resource is the people over whom it exercises power. Its success depends on the people’s willingness to tolerate its behaviour.
When an establishment betrays the people’s trust one of two things will happen. The ruling elite will attempt to preserve its power by becoming ever more oppressive, even to the point of violence, or the people will bring it down and replace it with a new establishment that will return the balance between rulers and the ruled.
For example, abuse of power and an abject failure to respond to the needs of ordinary people trigged the French revolution in 1789. The revolution marked the beginning of the end of the divine right of kings to rule and the eventual emergence of the middle class political establishment we see in France today.
In addition to getting rid of corrupt regimes revolutions also serve to enlighten citizens to the fact that it is they, and not the ruling elite, who are the rightful owners of political power. They become aware that power flows from the bottom up, that those at the top exercise power solely on sufferance from the people. This sense of people power is as strong in France today as it was in 1789.
Unfortunately, the opposite is the case in Ireland. This is because there has never been a political revolution in our country and as a consequence there has never been a change in the mindset that sees power as belonging to the powerful.
We had a rebellion in 1916 that ultimately persuaded the British establishment, who were distracted by the brutality of WWI, that a degree of independence for Ireland within the Commonwealth was better than more war and rising criticism from the international community.
This resulted in the relatively smooth replacement of an oppressive, self-serving colonial establishment with an equally oppressive, self-serving home-grown version.
This home-grown establishment immediately set about creating a political regime that ensured the subservient mindset instilled in the population over centuries of colonialism lived on as a powerful means of political manipulation.
They created a system of gombeen clientelism where crumbs were handed out in payment for votes. Citizens were led to believe that the natural order of power in a democracy was a top down system, where the ruling establishment knew best.
This is why, unlike functional democracies, Ireland never benefitted from the healthy tension between a Left/Right political system. There was never any real political opposition in our parliament. We never witnessed political parties seriously competing with each other to promote and implement their own political ideologies for the greater good of the country.
All we got was a political ruling elite, principally made up of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, masquerading as separate political parties. They are, and always have been, one political class with one overriding ambition – to exploit the people and resources of Ireland for their own benefit. The only competition they engaged in over the decades was in the Tweedledee Tweedledum race for government where the opportunities for self-enrichment are most plentiful.
As the political establishment became weaker in recent years smaller parties such as the Progressive Democrats, Labour and, currently the Greens were recruited to support the ruling political class.
The abandonment of most, if not all, of the ideals and policies of these smaller parties was the price demanded and received in exchange for admission to the exclusive ruling elite club.
The British left-wing journalist, Owen Jones, provides the best definition of this particular type of establishment:
The establishment represents an attempt on behalf of powerful groups to “manage” democracy, to make sure that it does not threaten their own interests.
But the century long manipulation of the people and contempt for democracy by this political regime is rapidly coming to an end. Irish citizens are beginning to realise that it is they who are the rightful owners of power and not the ruling political establishment.
It is crystal clear from recent elections and polls that the people are rejecting the old regime and are demanding real change in how the country is governed. That this demand for change is being ignored not just by the political centre but also by mainstream media demonstrates just how out of touch the establishment is with this revolutionary redirection in Irish political history.
The consensus among the ruling regime is that housing, health and the economy are the reasons for their continuing loss of power, that if these problems are fixed they will survive – it is a vain hope.
While these problems are obviously of huge concern to the electorate they take second place to the demand for radical political change. People have come to realise that the old regime must be abolished and replaced with a genuinely democratic system. This change of mindset in the electorate is not a temporary phenomenon, it’s permanent – the old corrupt regime is finished.
The dramatic and historic rise in support for Sinn Fein is the most visible sign of this new emerging political landscape. But that party should take note. If it fails to radically overhaul how the state is governed, if it fails to abolish the old establishment and create a genuinely democratic balance between rulers and the ruled then it too will be rejected by the power of the newly enlightened electorate.