A packed room awaited speakers Susan McKay, Pat Leahy, Kevin Rafter and Fintan O’Toole as they met to discuss in round-table format the changes that are needed from the new government as part of the Dublin Book festival. There was plenty of heated debate and audience participation, with several ideas repeatedly surfacing around the issues of free choice, taking responsibility as an electorate and the role of women.
Pat Leahy wondered how many of the reforms that were talked about in the election campaign will actually be pushed through by the new government. After all, it would be useful for them in a political sense, especially since there is such an appetite for political reform amongst the general public. There has been a great change on one hand, but on the other; how profound will this change be? He argued that if voters want to see meaningful change from the government, they need to look at their own attitude to politics, not just to the media and political institutions.
The question of whether Irish people really had a choice in the election arose – why is there no clear right/left divide? Kevin Rafter argued that the conservative nature of the electorate has facilitated this to a degree. In general, the voters are pragmatic and centrist; Irish people have demonstrated in elections time and again that they like reform to be gentle, to come slowly. Few people voted for parties with more radical reforms – so it’s not just what the government provides, it’s what the electorate look for. Kevin said that the electorate made a collective decision in the ballot box and need to give the government some space to implement their changes, investing a measure hope in their abilities.
Fintan O’Toole argued that the IMFEU deal should be foremost in the new governments mind, with a call for referendum. He said that Ireland is not just suffering economically, it is a country which is in fact in a democratic crisis – did it matter how we voted? The lack of choice meant that there wasn’t really any free choice, so the vote was effectively rendered meaningless. Fintan argued that the system lacks democratic engagement and long term thinking. He advised that power be given back to local government to really start making a difference.
Susan McKay looked at the number of women in parliament, stating that women’s political interests have not yet been acknowledged and women are completely underrepresented in politics on the whole. Government is still 85% male, and it’s not that the electorate don’t vote for women – they’re not given the chance. Women aren’t put in winnable seats and there are very few women are put forward in constituents. Susan called for a redress of this imbalance through a quota, saying it’s not about imposing women on electorates, but enabling them to have the option. Susan backed Fintan’s idea of giving power to local government.
All of the issues raised are of vital importance and the general atmosphere in the room was one of uncertainty, rather than fear. But if complacency amongst the electorate is an issue, the turnout at Dublin Book Festival showed that plenty of Irish citizens are still extremely interested in political issues affecting the country – so at least there is hope.