Irish Political Culture

In the context of the economic convulsions, loss of sovereignty, and demise of Fianna Fáil from 2008 to 2011, there was no shortage of assessments of the cumulative failures of Irish political culture. The state was depicted as a failed entity and a parody of democracy, where local government did not seem to exist in any meaningful sense, where 94% of decisions on public expenditure were made at national level, where there seemed no obvious link between local taxation and local services, and where there existed a national parliament that passed already decided legislation rather than initiating it, and with no transparency for citizens. In relation to these failings, there also seemed to be much food for thought in the observations of the historian, Tony Judt, on the international financial meltdown: “we have substituted endless commerce for public purpose and expect no higher aspirations from our leaders”.

Irish political culture tended to see the republic and nation as co-terminus as opposed to seeing a republican citizenship that was conscious, active and needed to be watched over with the vigilance of civic virtue. There also developed a certain nostalgia for the civil war generation and its idealism and sense of public service that had been seemingly abandoned by the subsequent generation. Some of this was unduly simplistic and ignored many historic ambiguities in relation to Irish political culture, but there is no doubt that economic managerialism came to dominate political discourse to the neglect of tackling a poor political culture. The general decline in voting turnout in most EU countries between 1985 and 2010 was mirrored in Ireland: voter turnout for Dáil elections gradually declined from over 76% in the 1970s to less than 63% in 2002 before increasing to nearly 70% in February 2011.


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