SATURDAY is the day of reckoning for our political parties and individuals putting themselves forward for election to the 33rd iteration of Dáil Éireann. The country’s electorate will have the opportunity to cast their votes in a general election, being held on a Saturday for the first time since that of 1918.
Opinion polls and noisy outpourings on social media have their place, but the real verdict on our politicians and what they stand for can only be truly delivered through the democratic process of exercising one’s franchise. To not do so deliberately hardly qualifies one to be giving out about those who get elected, especially ‘keyboard warriors’ spewing abusive vile in their direction.
Whatever you think about politicians – the established ones and the fresh-faced new hopefuls – it takes courage to put one’s name forward as a candidate. The last two elections since the economic downturn of the late noughties saw the public’s anger with those in power manifested and candidates have, quite rightly, been subjected to scrutiny on the campaign trail and in the media.
In 2011, in the raw aftermath of the bail-out of the banks and the subsequent intervention of the troika that imposed several years of austerity, voters resoundingly punished Fianna Fáil for leading the country from boom to bust. While some progress had been made with the economic recovery, by the time the 2016 general election came around, people in rural areas in particular let the Fine Gael-Labour Party government know in no uncertain terms that they were not feeling the uplift, with the latter party taking the brunt of the electoral punishment, and the former having to negotiate a confidence and supply agreement with Fianna Fáil to prop up a minority government, which – amazingly – hung in there for almost four years.
The outgoing government has had a poor legislative record and the country seemed to have come to a standstill with all the uncertainty created by Brexit over the past three-and-a-half years. However, its failure to meaningfully tackle the country’s public health and housing crises have left Fine Gael candidates exposed to a backlash from the electorate this weekend.
In theory, the country is doing well economically, but public services are now worse in many cases than they were when the government took office and people are angry about this and sick of all the ‘spin’ about what a great little country we have and the great future we have to look forward to. The reality is that Brexit is about to bite and there is so much that needs to be done by the incoming government to create a more equitable society, to help the most vulnerable people in our midst – not just the sick and the homeless – but also the new breed of ‘working poor’ who struggle hugely to afford to put a roof over their heads because of high rents and the cost of property.
Then, we have the costly business of climate action, which will be a critical issue for younger voters, who should be out in bigger numbers for this general election with the voting taking place on Saturday. First-time voters and the cohort of people who turned out to vote in referenda in recent years that cleared the way for same-sex marriage and abortion legislation could put a different complexion on the outcome of this general election if they are as eager to come out and vote now as they were then.
Whatever way it goes, we need a more decisive result this time around. A minority government only leads to stalemate and very little gets done. And, as we all know, there is so much that needs doing to try to achieve a more balanced society.
We need a government that is empowered to take the radical steps that are needed to provide fairness for all.
Before the 2016 general election, we wrote here: ‘It cannot be all about the economy. As several politicians have pointed out, Ireland is a society and not an economy. To fulfil the ideals of the men and women who took part in the Easter 1916 rising a century ago, our society needs to be fair and equitable; it is far from it and the establishment parties need to take this wish of the people a lot more seriously if they want to be relevant to them.’
The same still applies in 2020. Polling stations are open from 7am to 10pm this Saturday, giving everyone ample time to exercise their precious franchise, wisely, we hope.