Tuesday, July 05, 2005

What I Think I Know

So, if I'm going to educate myself, perhaps I should start by setting down what I already know. In terms of politics, this shouldn't take long. I know some about Irish politics, some about British politics, and some about American politics. I'm talking here about the governmental structures in each of these countries, and the groups involved in those structures. Some of what I write here could well be wrong - if I find that it is, I'll try to correct it in future posts. I'm making no checks as I write here on google or any other site, so if I make blatant mistakes, they're all my own fault. I'll deal in this post with Irish politics.

Irish politics is a small field. Most of the major debates in recent years have involved movements away from the rules of the Catholic church, and the rights of immigrants and citizens. Scandals have been concerned for the most part with money, in the areas of embezzlement and bribery.

There are four major parties in Ireland: Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, the Progressive Democrats, and Labour. Minor parties include the Green Party, Sinn Fein, and the Socialist Workers' Party.

Fianna Fail are currently in government (possibly with the aid and/or coalition of the PDs - I'm uncertain of this, as detailed below). FF are, at least in Irish terms, conservative, with most of their voters being elderly, comfortably-off, or both. Their major policies center around things staying largely the same, attracting foreign (particularly American) investment, and not being Fine Gael. FF is headed by Bertie Ahern, commonly referred to as the Teflon Taoiseach, since nothing anyone says about him, true or not, seems to stick. He is most notable in my mind for referring to large protest marches as "support for the government position", or words to
that effect.

Fine Gael are the second-largest party at the moment. They're almost solely defined by not being Fianna Fail, and can't always even make a stand on that - when there were protests against the war in Iraq, and American planes landing in Shannon, Fine Gael were notably absent from the protests, with the rather feeble excuse that they had an annual meeting the same day as the largest march. I think Fine Gael might be headed by Enda Kenny. They're currently in opposition, of course.

The Progressive Democrats are a "break-away" part of Fianna Fail, and seem to provide nothing more than an opportunity for those not comfortable being identified with the original party to march in step regardless. The PDs' policies are almost invariably the same as those of FF. I think they may be in coalition with FF at the moment, but the only way it's evident is that the PDs occasionally threaten to break the coalition if they don't get their way on a particular issue.

Labour are Ireland's only credible left-wing party. Despite voting for them, for the most part, in the last election, I can bring to mind remarkably little about them, and can't name any leaders of the party. Labour stand mostly for the rights of the people, the protection of trade unions, and, of course, opposition to Fianna Fail. I've rarely, if ever, disagreed with anything a Labour representative had to say.

The Green Party are a rather poor shadow of their European counterparts. While they claim to be concerned mostly with environmental matters, their actual conduct seems to belie this. Much as I'd like to vote for them, the amount of wavering they do pushes me away from them regularly.

Sinn Fein are an anachronism in Irish politics, concerned almost solely with Northern Ireland. They're widely seen as the political arm of the IRA, a terrorist group which is now falling in on itself more than anything else. Sinn Fein are the only party on my "never, ever vote for these" list.

The Socialist Workers Party seems to be composed of young, hyper-idealistic Marxists and idiots who like to protest, in equal part. They're notable for little more than opposing everything any government do, and also for having almost no actual political power. Nonetheless, they endure, and since their use of a term to refer to themselves that no real socialists would use provoked my current examination of politics, I suppose they have some uses.


At Wednesday, July 06, 2005 1:28:00 p.m., Anonymous Katherine F. said...

The significant difference between the PDs and FF, as far as I can tell, is that the PDs are free-market ideologues. At least, Michael McDowell is, and he's the leader at the moment, so the party follows him. FF are pretty keen on government spending, provided it's handled carefully.

On SF: it's worth remembering that SF are also a socialist party, though this tends to get eclipsed by the whole political-branch-of-the-IRA thing. This is one reason why they get a lot of support in working-class areas of Dublin. Mum says they're basically Stalinists, though of course they're not stupid enough to say so out loud. (This is on the basis of personal encounters with Shinners: she used to work for RTE in the late 60s, and once edited a book written by Gerry Adams, so she knows what she's talking about.)

I can recommend Brendan O hEithir's The Begrudger's Guide to Irish Politics for a cynical, entertaining and easily-read guide to the lay of the land; it only comes up to 1986, but it's very informative all the same.

At Wednesday, July 06, 2005 1:34:00 p.m., Blogger Deirdre said...

From the few times I've attempted an email scattershot at political parties FG & Labour are usually the first to respond. Labour are the ones that come back to you with stuff. Which reminds me...

At Wednesday, July 06, 2005 8:57:00 p.m., Anonymous dorianegray said...

FWIW (as a random datapoint, maybe), the way I tend to see our political parties runs...

FF: Right of centre, still has or claims to have some nationalist/32-county-state issues.

FG: Right of centre, but left of FF, has dropped any nationalist/32-county-state issues it may have had.

Labour: Left of centre, a bit old-fashioned but in a good way.

PDs: Right of FF and rabid capitalists.

Greens: Left of centre, environmentalists, and inclined to be fluffy.

SF: Rabid 32-county-state crowd, otherwise (on the rare occasions that they think of anything else) left of centre.

Socialist Workers: Left of everyone else, tend to strike me as the lunatic fringe of the left wing.

Then there are the Christian Nutjobs (can't remember their actual party name, but they have no TDs anyway) who are against divortion and aborce and have no other policies, and the Natural Law Party who want the Dail to go in for Yogic Flying and have no other policies (and also have no TDs). And bunches of Independents who campaign on whatever issues are close to their individual hearts and occasionally find themselves in the startling position of being courted by minority governments (Tony Gregory comes to mind).

At Thursday, November 10, 2005 7:53:00 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Katherine F. I am also constantly amazed by the propensity of civil war politics FF and FG. The PDs are IMO a mauch more modern party. Labour is torn between 19th century red rose socialism and some very modern and smart ideas.

At Thursday, November 10, 2005 8:03:00 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

also important IMO is this:


as the old left-right distinction doesn't quite cut the mustard any more.



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