Here’s an audience-generating idea for impoverished RTÉ. Now that the curtain has come down on Dancing with the Stars for another year, it’s time to trot out a different form of entertainment. I’m thinking line dancing. You know that line-up where everybody wears cowboy hats and collectively steps to the left, then to the right? There would be no shortage of willing contestants in Leinster House. RTÉ could call it Dancing with the Tsars and film it in the Dáil chamber where politicians have, of late, been tripping the light fantastic from left to right with glitter ball-worthy gusto.

Sinn Féin’s dash across the political spectrum with its U-turn on the hate speech Bill gives new meaning to celebrity contestants’ tiresome jargon about their “journey”. Having voted for the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill at report stage in the Dáil on April 26th, the party, busy pimping itself for government, now wants the Bill torn up. This volte-face, surely, is unrelated to Sinn Féin’s recent decline in opinion polls and haunting memories of its dismal outing in the 2019 local elections.

This was the party’s second spectacular change of heart this month. The first was when it reneged on Mary Lou McDonald’s pre-poll promise that, should the family and care referendums be rejected, she would re-run them, if in government, using the wording recommended by the Citizens’ Assembly. No sooner were the resounding No votes counted than the back-pedalling began.

There is also speculation that Harris may reassign McEntee, who has been targeted by the right as the Cabinet’s champion of ‘woke’ issues

Following the shock waves created by voters in those referendums, politicians have been jostling to outpace each other in their rush to the right. With Leo Varadkar’s decision to resign largely being attributed to the failed plebiscites, Simon Harris, the new Fine Gael party leader who wanted to give us drunk tanks is trumpeting “law and order” as he awaits his election as taoiseach. Though he steered the hate Bill in the Dáil when he was the substitute Minister for Justice during Helen McEntee’s maternity leave, the Cabinet he will lead is expected to jettison the planned legislation, probably killing it off by sheer lack of action until the demise of this Government, when all uncompleted Bills will fall. There is also speculation that Harris may reassign McEntee, who has been targeted by the right as the Cabinet’s champion of “woke” issues, despite the crucial changes she has implemented in the realm of domestic violence.

With former Fine Gael minister for rural and community development Michael Ring complaining that the party has been “too left for too long” — and demanding a return to “traditional values” — the battle for the votes of conservative Ireland is on. First to the starting line were Independent TDs Michael Collins and Richard O’Donoghue in November when they formed their new party, Independent Ireland, which has been associated with European Conservatives and Reformists, a Eurosceptic grouping in the European Parliament that wants stricter controls on immigration. When Michael Fitzmaurice joined Independent Ireland last month, it grew to three times the Dáil size of Peadar Tóibín’s Aontú.

Yet it cannot claim to have a scintilla of the influence Tóibín, a TD originally elected for Sinn Féin who left it over abortion, exerted on the outcome of the referendums. He was part of a mixum-gatherum of conservatives who opposed the proposed amendments along with Senators Rónán Mullen, Michael McDowell and Sharon Keogan, David Quinn and Maria Steen of the Iona Institute, and the Catholic bishops.

Crimes of misogyny and racism are becoming commonplace. Reported hate offences are increasing but the existing laws are inadequate to deal with them

Mullen, McDowell and Keogan are also opponents of the hate speech Bill. They have a credible cause. The Bill is not perfect and requires amendment but it is necessary to transpose the EU framework and replace the toothless Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989, which predates the explosion of social media. The passion of some opponents in espousing the right to freedom of expression on X is in marked contrast to the virtual silence that prevails in Leinster House about the urgent need to reform libel legislation. Crimes of misogyny and racism are becoming commonplace. Reported hate offences are increasing but the existing laws are inadequate to deal with them.

Newly elected Fine Gael leader Simon Harris insists he is yet to finalise his cabinet ahead of his impending appointment as taoiseach. Video: Getty

In 2019, a young mixed-race family was subjected to hateful comment online by far-right protester Gemma O’Doherty and others when they featured in an advertisement for Lidl. Despite a Garda investigation arising from a complaint by former trade union leader Brendan Ogle, no prosecution was considered winnable under the existing hate legislation. The family subsequently left Ireland having received a death threat.

Sinn Féin is playing a dicey game by trying to catch up with the perceived changing winds. The party should remember what adults warn children about scowling — when the wind changes, your face will stay like that forever. There are many reasons why the referendums failed. Anti-liberal voting was just one of them. If Mary Lou McDonald intends to be the first woman taoiseach after the next election, she will have to rely on the Labour Party, Social Democrats and, possibly, some left-wing TDs to form a coalition. If she keeps switching course to suit oscillating public moods, that task will be a harder sell.

The realignment of politics is good for democracy. The auguries are that, under Harris’s leadership, Fine Gael will be the biggest of 3½ Dáil groups on the right

Fine Gael, on the other hand, should keep on going right back to its home habitat on the right, where people who “get up early” are prioritised. The era of catch-all parties ended in the last century; sometime around February 1987 when the niche Progressive Democrats, which McDowell would go on to lead, won 14 Dáil seats. There is a substantial conservative constituency in Ireland that needs to be represented. If its voice is not heard in Dáil Éireann, more extreme alternatives will fill that gap.

The realignment of politics is good for democracy. The auguries are that, under Harris’s leadership, Fine Gael will be the biggest of 3½ Dáil groups on the right, including Mattie McGrath’s and the Healy Raes’ Rural Independents. Under Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin — despite Willie O’Dea’s and Éamon Ó Cuív’s yearning for a shift to the right — that party sits in the centre, along with the Greens. Providing the left-wing counterweight are Labour, the Social Democrats, and, in theory, Sinn Féin.

This spread of ideologies gives voters more choice and less breathing space for the manipulative and dangerous lies of extremists who are hostile to democracy.

QOSHE - Sudden stampede to the right by our politicians can only benefit democracy - Justine Mccarthy
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Sudden stampede to the right by our politicians can only benefit democracy

8 1
29.03.2024

Here’s an audience-generating idea for impoverished RTÉ. Now that the curtain has come down on Dancing with the Stars for another year, it’s time to trot out a different form of entertainment. I’m thinking line dancing. You know that line-up where everybody wears cowboy hats and collectively steps to the left, then to the right? There would be no shortage of willing contestants in Leinster House. RTÉ could call it Dancing with the Tsars and film it in the Dáil chamber where politicians have, of late, been tripping the light fantastic from left to right with glitter ball-worthy gusto.

Sinn Féin’s dash across the political spectrum with its U-turn on the hate speech Bill gives new meaning to celebrity contestants’ tiresome jargon about their “journey”. Having voted for the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill at report stage in the Dáil on April 26th, the party, busy pimping itself for government, now wants the Bill torn up. This volte-face, surely, is unrelated to Sinn Féin’s recent decline in opinion polls and haunting memories of its dismal outing in the 2019 local elections.

This was the party’s second spectacular change of heart this month. The first was when it reneged on Mary Lou McDonald’s pre-poll promise that, should the family and care referendums be rejected, she would re-run them, if in government, using the wording recommended by the Citizens’ Assembly. No sooner were the resounding No votes counted than the back-pedalling began.

There is also speculation that Harris may reassign McEntee, who has been targeted by the right as the Cabinet’s champion of ‘woke’ issues

Following the shock waves created by voters in those........

© The Irish Times


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