Ireland’s Pepsi Challenge Election

Pepsi or Coca-Cola

Coke or Pepsi? Both will rot your teeth, the real choice of course is to choose another game, a point subtlety missed by the Irish electorate this week. Yes the Fianna Fáil incumbency has been well and truly kicked to the curb, but replaced by a solidly right of centre led coalition. The Pepsi challenge moment for the Irish electorate was presented thus; rightwing, homophobic neo-liberalists (Fine Gael) versus the post-Marxist political wing of an alleged terrorist cum-smuggling operation (Sinn Féin). Go on, you choose.  Yes there is an Irish Labour party and they did make gains. Yes there are plenty of independents from all sides. But Ireland has gone with the high fructose corn syrup option when she should have walked right out of the store. In changing one civil war party for another the country is left with a dominant political coalition that now very much resembles the one embodied by Cameron and Clegg on the Downing Street lawn almost a year ago. We may not like to admit it but there is a right wing to Irish politics and it is now in power.

So what next? Sticking out a tongue and taking the Fine Gael / IMF dispensed medicine is the easy option. Not a particularly rosy one, but it is the safe bet. Above all else the Irish are a nation of safe people. But some time over the next 18 months, it’s going to dawn on the population, particularly those on the margins already, that this government can not and is not going to be all things to all voters.  Option two, tougher, involving as it does a little more graft, guile and imagination, three qualities very absent from this election. On the ground Irish society is going to have to stop bemoaning a corrupt government (they’re gone) and start holding the current government to account. This Fine Gael government cannot be allowed make worse Fianna Fáil’s mistakes through either a) ideology or b) stupidity. With a government likely to form by the end of next week and a busy EU schedule over the next month, Ireland better be ready to move fast.

Protest movements don’t come naturally to the Irish, but two recent examples from the UK are worth noting and would seem to be shrink wrapped and ready for an Irish voice-over. UK Uncut’s ingenious creativity and the incredible speed and inclusivity of the Save our Forests campaign. UK Uncut’s triumph is its creative engagement of people who don’t normally do protest. And in Vodafone and the banks, they have picked targets beyond sympathy. SoF exemplified the power of the network, and how massively important it is to put together a coalition of common interest, even if membership is open to those with usually opposed views. And the story was bulletproof, there is nothing more noble than fighting for English heritage.

What are the Irish equivalents? What are the narratives that will spark conversations on Facebook, Twitter and and maybe ignite some action offline. As the bubble moment of ending 80 years of Fianna Fáil dominance implodes and Irish voters are reminded that they’re in negative equity and it’s still raining outside, it’s time for those who have not been listened to in the last month, and will be utterly sidelined by their new government to start a new dialogue. I’d love to hear some ideas how this can be done.

3 thoughts on “Ireland’s Pepsi Challenge Election

  1. There are some civic movements that have started with the intention of holding the political parties to account. Once such endeavor is which seeks to chart and scrutinise progress in the area of political reform. I agree, however, that we have not seen the grass roots protest movements you highlight taking hold in Ireland. While there is much political discussion on, and other online outlets, there appears to be a lack of a coherent call to action when instances of injustice or gombeenism are called out.

    The Shell to Sea campaign (as highlighted in is, however, a good example of where the community rose up against the apparatus of the state and got things changed (although the outcome is still far from certain). It was not a sexy online movement, but rather a traditional protest against an injustice perpetrated by the state against its people. I think it’s important to note that protest movements do not necessarily need to have a big online element to be successful, and that there are movements against government decisions all around the country (e.g. in terms of the closure/downgrading of hospitals etc). Perhaps, the issue is to have a way of grouping these all these together and ensuring people have a platform to help one another (a kinda kickstarter for campaigns).

  2. A number of things: Don’t dismiss Labour outright, it wasnt a clear choice between SF and FG. Labour have made huge gains and Rory Quinn articulated it very well when he said (paraphrasing) that Labour do well on the run up to an election as people recognise the fairness and just cause of their policies but on the day people get scared and play it safe. Labour are by no means left, centre left at best but can be a gateway to more open thinking about fairness in society through a gradual introduction to, what were, traditional policies of the left.

    As pointed out by Gene Kerrigan, FG and FF are right-wing parties , they just are not described as such. Time to change that. FG have nailed their colours to the mast of homophobia and inequality.

    You have to recognise that this is the most engaged the electorate has ever been, with a massive turnout all over the country, to dismiss it because FG got the majority is wrong. Huge change has happened its just not the cataclysmic change some wanted: SF are moving away from their old ways, new blood, unburdened by SFs past, are coming into the party; Peasre Doherthy is smart and articulate and unburdened by the troubles in the north; Labour gained a lot more seats and are actually taking of staying in opposition if a compromise cannot be reached; they have some key points they appear not to want to budge on; the United Left Alliance (which can be considered ‘hard left’) are in the Dail: that’s an amazing thing. Decent, smart and articulate independents have been elected and will most likely form a technical group with ULA. Good. This is all great change.

    The electorate need to stay engaged and scrutinise the new Government at every turn and not wait until it all goes to shit as happened before. More and more people know what a bond is; what bond markets are; and more and more are somewhat aware of the mystical dealings of financial markets and the globalisation of the finance industry. Lets keep that up, lets continue the education and lets keep making change. Change has happened, its just slow change: a psychological shift is occurring and thats the most important thing and one that needs to continue.

  3. @Richee, I think you’re on to something. Creating a fun and inclusive mechanism to call out even small levels of gombeenism would be a big start. Looking from across the Irish Sea, it does appear that there is a huge engagement with politics up to a level, but that just falls off a cliff before action happens.

    @bv you’re right, I did over simplify Labour’s position, but that was to make my point that by going in with FG they dilute their progressive message, and the message the electorate sent by voting for them. Yes the point of politics is power, on balance I still think the Greens did the right thing four years ago by jumping in with FF. But the danger of the coming months is that people think we have reached change. And it looks and feels like Fine Gael. It does not. The election was seemed to me lacking in dialogue about fairness in society and social exclusion. About what sort of society Ireland should be aiming at, aside of course from one with more jobs, which is a fair point. Fine Gael are not going to make this argument. Any my worry is that Labour become Ireland’s Lib Dems rather than Ireland’s leading progressives.

    I think we’re on the same page in a way, it’s now all about the hard yards. But they’ll be harder still if people thing the job is done simply because Dick Roche and his kind have been booted.

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