Having the courage to leave our political tribe behind

Having the courage to leave our political tribe behind Leo Varadkar and Micheal Martin Photo: Independent.ie

We are all products of our backgrounds and upbringings. It’s fascinating – and often amusing – to see that the older people get the more they resemble their parents in looks, mannerisms and even attitudes and dispositions.

It’s not surprising that people raised in the same family, particularly if that upbringing has been a relatively happy one, will share broadly the same outlook even if the emphasis might differ. People with the same points of reference and experiences often come to the same conclusions.

Irish politics has been like that almost since partition and the foundation of the southern State and generations of families have voted the same way, almost indifferent to the way the sands have shifted.


The so-called ‘new politics’ that emerged after the inconclusive 2016 general election that saw Fianna Fáil support the minority Fine Gael administration was hailed as a breakthrough by many commentators. Gone, we were told, were the old civil war enmities that had marked politics in this country for decades.

But, whatever about the posturing after the last election and the feigned differences between the two parties, their ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement has been quite a happy one since the parties disagree on so little – certainly neither party is providing a big picture of where they see Ireland in the future other than as a neoliberal marker economy where houses are seen as investments rather than places to raise families.

Truth be told, it’s been like this for quite some time. At the height of the boom, every political crisis played out in the same fashion: when the issue would emerge, the respective minister would come before the Dáil and promise to throw more money at the problem. For their part, the Opposition would simply shout “spend even more money”.

With an election due, there is a stifling conformity in Irish politics. Dáil debates, despite the occasional descent to farce, are vanilla affairs where backbenchers dutifully read speeches to one another than have been handed to them by the press office.

Faced with this, one either has the option of business as usual or to have the courage to step back from tribal politics. While one’s parents and grandparents might’ve comfortably found themselves at home in either of the two big political tribes, these parties are increasingly a cold house for people of faith or those who continue to cherish the right to life of the unborn.

If people of Faith are to have an impact, they need to have the courage to face up to the reality that they are now strangers in what was their political home”

Neither Fine Gael nor Fianna Fáil now pay even lip service to the concerns of people of faith. Catholic schools are essentially being stripped of their ethos by stealth and there is not a single voice in the main parties who is speaking for the one in three people who voted to retain the Eighth Amendment. Meanwhile, on issues of homelessness, the right to a decent standard of living and action on climate change it’s hard to see more than pious sentiments coming from the mainstream parties.

If people of Faith are to have an impact, they need to have the courage to face up to the reality that they are now strangers in what was their political home. They cannot continue to lend their votes to these parties and expect different results. Someone who I respect greatly recently told me of the hostility she experiences as a member of one of the bigger parties for her Faith-based values. For years, she was determined that she could effect change from within. She now know that this was wrong and has instead switched to Aontú – a party where she feels that her values are truly respected and articulated.

Unless more people make a leap like this, the main parties will continue to conclude that the votes of people of faith can either be taken for granted or are irrelevant.

If not, then we must confront the reality that we get the politicians we deserve and stop grumbling or acting as if we are powerless.