A Government that keeps making enemies of its own people

It is not unreasonable to wonder whether, outside of Dáil Eireann, there is a single person in the country, who, when presented with the question “what is the biggest issue in Ireland at the moment?”, would answer “Turf”.

My own suspicion is that the answer to that is that there is basically no normal person in Ireland who would list turf in their top 20, let alone top 5, issues of importance. And yet, it is the issue on which this Government appears intent on tearing itself apart and doing immense political damage to itself in the process.

Here’s a secret: Whether the sale of turf in rural Ireland is banned, or remains legal, will have precisely zero impact on the global climate, or the rate of sea level rise, or the price of diesel, or the affordability of housing, or the state of the health service, or any one of the issues on which this Government will be judged when it comes time for it to seek re-election. It will not gain one single vote if it bans turf, or if it does not: Those in favour of banning turf will have voted Green already. Those against it will not be made more likely to vote for the Government because, in the end, the plan was stalled. The only thing that this row can do, however it ends, is lose votes for the Government.

Mary Lou McDonald must be privately delighted. Sinn Fein are being handed yet more votes by default.

This is yet another example of a government that does not seem to know who it is for, or who it is supposed to be appealing to. As so often, the audience for the Government’s ideas appears to be a very narrow sect of very odd campaigners, rather than the public at large. We see this repeated, time and again: The audience for the abolition of direct provision is the Migrant Rights Centre, not the public. The audience for hate speech laws is the Irish Council for Abolishing Civil Liberties, not the voters of Moate. The audience for the Governments’ grand interventions on Ukraine often seems to be lifetime diplomats at the UN, rather than the people it is asking to accommodate an endless stream of refugees.

The Government keeps getting itself into messes primarily – in my view, anyway – because it doesn’t really know what it is for, or who it exists to serve. It seems to exist in a very narrow bubble, where the opinions that matter to it are not those of the electorate, much of the time. And it also has adopted the attitude of the NGO class wholesale: That those who oppose it are bigots, or backwards, or standing in the way of something called “progress”.

Earlier this week, we published an Editorial on Housing which made this case: It said that the problem with the Government spending all these billions on housing Ukrainian refugees is that Irish people have every right to wonder why similar actions were not taken to advance the cause of our own homeless. Irish people, after all, have no other Government to serve their interests. The French Government is not going to build houses for Irish people, nor is the Italian, or the British, or the Ukrainian Government. Yesterday, the Taoiseach said in the Dáil that no politician should draw a comparison between the treatment of Ukrainians and the treatment of Irish people.

Isn’t that an extraordinary statement? That the representatives of the Irish people should not advocate on behalf of the Irish people? And that it is not “one or the other”?

Here’s the thing: In reality, it is one or the other. Like every country on earth, we have limited resources and cannot accomplish everything we might wish to. It is of course perfectly legitimate to argue that in the present circumstances, we should prioritise Ukrainians, but the idea that politicians should not even countenance raising the concerns of their own people says a lot about where our Governing class are at.

Every week, in this job, I get emails from people who believe – for whatever reason – that the Government is actively working against the interests of its own people, and who have come to believe that the Government is working in league with some shadowy cabal of foreign interests to perpetuate attacks on Irish people. This is why you increasingly hear things like “great replacement” or concerns about a still-unwritten and still-unratified “pandemic treaty”, and all of the rest of it. At the heart of every conspiracy theory lies the same basic breakdown in trust: People don’t believe the Government takes their interests seriously, or that it is working for them.

And why would they? In a country where some people have been on housing lists for 14 years, our political class seems more interested in banning the sale of turf, increasing immigration, and making it a crime of hate speech to say that a person with a penis is a man.

So who do you vote for?

Who do you vote for if you believe that it should be legal to sell turf? And that housing should go to Irish people first? And that people with penises are men? And that the Government should not punish you for choosing not to take a vaccine? And that people who commit sex offences should be in prison, not getting suspended sentences? And so on, and so on.

These are hardly radical positions. They were all relatively uncontroversial a decade ago. People who hold these views are not unreasonable. If these positions are “far right”, or “extreme”, then the political class is creating tens of thousands of “far-right extremists”.

It is legitimate to vote against this stuff. It is legitimate to oppose it. And increasingly, it is legitimate to wonder who, exactly, this Government thinks it works for.

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