Match-making in the interest of stability

Patricia Feehily


Patricia Feehily

Match-making in the interest of stability

With no clear winning party, Irish voters have cast themselves into a real political mess

NOW that the people have spoken, will someone please tell us what exactly did we say?

Or did we say anything at all, apart from uttering a grunt of satisfaction when giving the Government a kick in the pants for all the pain we’ve endured for the last five years?

That’s the real beauty of democracy. You can get your revenge at the polling booth and that’s it, really, for most of us. Or that’s the way it used to be anyway. Now, they want to know what we said; what message were we sending out on the ballot papers, apart from the disgruntlement. What kind of a Government did we vote for anyway, and could we not have made the message louder and clearer?

Oh God, the tedium of it all. The great political thinkers of Leinster House have gone off to ‘reflect’ on the message they got from the electorate, but so far they haven’t even been able to interpret it.

Can I suggest that they consult the inventors of the Smartvote app who provided an online questionnaire for would be voters who couldn’t make up their minds who to vote for in this election. “Find the candidate who’s right for you”.

After completing 30 questions about yourself and your personal beliefs, they matched you up with the candidate or candidates who most reflected your values and ambitions, and so you didn’t have to send any message at all. When I was young, we used to fill up compatibility questionnaires like that - usually in trashy women’s magazines - to identify the kind of life partner we should choose. The trouble is we never really told the truth about ourselves, even in an anonymous questionnaire, and I usually came up with someone who was a cross between Che Guevara and Ghandi. It’s just as well that I could never find him anywhere, because the marriage would have been doomed from the start. He’d have seen through me straight away.

Anyhow, after five years studying CSPE at school, a lot of befuddled young people were delighted to avail of the facility. They know nothing about Civil War or parish pump politics. Some of them said afterwards that only for the app, they’d have been lost. They’d have had to rely on “mugshots” in deciding who to vote for. Hallelujah!

I don’t know what we said on the ballot paper, but it looks now as if we’re going to have a ‘caretaker government’ until Easter at least, and if I were one of the caretakers, I wouldn’t care less to be frank, but thankfully not everyone is like me. Most people do have the interests of the country at heart. At the moment, they’re scratching their heads in utter bewilderment, unable to read the electorate’s specifications. The trouble is that if they can’t decipher the message between now and the end of March, we might have to say it all over again, with no ambiguities this time. But do we know what we said?

I don’t think there was any message, apart that is, from the disgruntlement. Whatever we voted for, we didn’t vote for a government, stable or otherwise, although we did vote to kick one out. We didn’t give much thought to a replacement. I don’t even know if we wanted a replacement. A plague on all their houses, maybe!

At the end of the day, however, and despite all the reverence we profess for democracy, the politicians and the analysts are giving us credit for a level of political sophistication that we don’t really possess. We’ve just graduated from ‘mugshots’ to questionnaires, for heaven’s sake. As a nation we’re not even good at arithmetic and most of us are spatially challenged. Look what happened when they sprung the concept of ‘fiscal space’ on us. We panicked at the thought of the maths, although we’d never had any problem with the notion of ‘elbow room’. Now they think we understand all the computations and possibilities of PR. I have to admit that I’m a bit of a floating voter myself – not because I change my mind at every election, but because, to be honest, I’m all at sea most of the time.

On the other hand, I suspect that the politicians are not ‘reflecting’ on our incomprehensible message at all. They’re too busy doing the sums before embarking on a spate of unprecedented horse-trading, which may or may not make some sense of what they thought we were trying to say in the ballot box, but which to the best of their respective abilities will advance their own particular interests in the long run.

That, of course, won’t stop some analysts from claiming that the people have made a clear choice to change the political landscape forever and define it by class rather than civil war race memories or parish pump politics. I think I preferred the latter two. They were less divisive.

Vested interests particularly want to force a marriage of convenience between the two main parties who have been at each other’s throats for nearly a hundred years. But really, in the interests of stability, I think they should fill in the compatibility questionnaire first, before the match-maker is called in.