Credit: Social Democrats

The Dante Alighieri of Dublin Central

The tomb, in Florence, of the renaissance writer Dante Alighieri, is empty. Inside the Basilica of St. Maria Croce, just to the right of the main entrance, the Florentines built for their most famous writer a sarcophagus of magnificent marble. Dante’s face, in sculpture, adorns it. There is a long inscription, in Latin, detailing his virtues. In death, his nearest neighbour should rightly be Michaelangelo, who is at home, just one tomb up. But for hundreds of years, the tomb of Dante has remained unoccupied.

Why is Dante’s tomb empty? Well, the story goes as follows: In his life, the Florentines exiled him. He was involved, in the days before he took up the pen, in a political dispute over who should rule in Florence. He lost. They sent him away, and he took up writing as a hobby in exile, in the city of Ravenna. That is how the world came to possess the work known as “Dante’s inferno”, and many others.

Belatedly recognising his value and brilliance, the Florentines decided to honour his death in 1321 with a magnificent tomb, and several equally magnificent statues. They wrote to people of Ravenna, where he had spent his exile, and requested that his body be sent back to them. “No”, came the reply. “You didn’t want him in life, and so you may not have him in death”. Dante’s tomb is in Florence. His body, by contrast, is in Ravenna, to this day.

I thought a little bit of Dante’s tomb this weekend when I saw the following from Gary Gannon, the Social Democrat’s TD for Dublin Central:

He’s come late to the cause of social justice and equity in the matter of immigration, has Deputy Gannon. Just last November, he was on the very same channel – Newstalk – telling the world that the protests in East Wall amounted to a “far right rally”.

Just ten weeks later, he’s sounding like a chap giving a speech at one of those rallies.

Those protesting, frankly, along with the much greater number of Dublin Central voters who agree with the thrust of the protests but aren’t taking part themselves, have every right to echo the message sent to Florence: You weren’t with us in November, don’t bother trying to be with us now.

The Social Democrats, following Gannon’s lead, quickly got in on the game. And then, probably realising that they had committed the cardinal sin of left wing politics and told the truth about immigration, they suddenly deleted it:

There is, you sense, a dawning realisation in Leinster House on this issue: We’re in trouble.

The appeal of left of centre parties to the public has always been more emotional than ideological: The ordinary person might not understand the ins and outs of Keynesian economic theory, or be fluent in the language of social progressivism, or really know what “solidarity” means beyond being a buzzword, but they have always had the impression that parties of the left are on their side. That Gary Gannon, for example, with his impeccably working class accent and regular denunciations of the privileged in society, is standing up for them.

The immigration issue is therefore a wedge: It is being hammered into the public consciousness in working class communities that when Gary Gannon and others rant about the “privileged”, they’re talking about them. And that far from standing with them, on matters of concern, the likes of Gannon would sooner stand with the well-paid academics in the Universities who like to study the far right pathology of working class people.

Voters don’t take well to that kind of stuff, and hence, now we’re seeing the full reverse ferret.

Don’t underestimate, though, the political appeal of the new line of argument: Ireland is a country where politics is, first and foremost, local. Activists looking for some kind of national movement tend to get very excited when they see protests in areas against Government imposing a migrant centre in a particular town or locality, but they also tend to misunderstand the protests: Take a generic town protesting against direct provision, and tell that town that the centre is being moved to the opposite side of the country, and the protestors will declare victory and believe that they have won.

But in fact, Government immigration policy in that scenario hasn’t changed at all: Only the local impact of it has. You’ll go far with NIMBYism in Ireland – there’s a reason we all want more housing, but not here.

In Gannon’s case, though, I think the ship has sailed. He’s not only a Johnny-come-lately, he’s also someone who attacked his own voters, and own constituents, as “far right” for expressing a concern he now says is legitimate. Like Dante Alighieri, his seat will still be there after the next election.

But there’s a fair chance Gary Gannon won’t be in it.


Editor’s note, for the pedants amongst you: Yes, in the headline, the analogy is imperfect. Gannon would more properly be the Florentines in this analogy, much too belatedly recognising Alighieri’s genius. But if you can make *that* headline work, then send me in your CV.

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