Expert Column – Politics matters

The Ireland of 2012 doesn’t look all that different to the Ireland of the mid 1980s when I was an undergraduate in the hallowed halls of UCC. Ireland today is mired in the midst of a deep and lasting recession just as it was in the 1980s. Unemployment and emigration stalk the nation. Many students feel they have no future in this country just as they did back in the 80s.

Following the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway, Ireland is once again in turmoil over the question of abortion just as it was in the 1980s during the famous so called right to life amendment. Twenty years after the famous X case basically turned the 1983 referendum result on its head no government has legislated for the Supreme Court’s decision in that case. Political cowardice is blamed by many for this state of affairs. The Taoiseach, without irony, says he won’t be rushed into a decision on legalisation. People protest on the streets. Both sides flood the airwaves. Close to 30 years after the referendum and abortion is as divisive an issue as it ever was.

On the economy the infamous decision of the Fianna Fáil-Green government to guarantee the deposits and obligations of the six Irish banks on the infamous night of 29 September 2008 has saddled the country with a private debt that is still climbing but is now rather tragically public debt. The result, as students above all will know, is a policy of austerity that is a mirror image of the 1980s. A grossly underfunded educational system ,that the political elite want to be world class, is instead educating its people for emigration.

We have just passed a referendum on Children’s Rights but until we as a state commit in legislation to enforcing this decision no child at risk in Ireland today will be in a better position simply because a referendum was passed.

Speaking of referendums no DCU graduate has a vote in the Seanad elections although a referendum was passed as far back as 1979 allowing for the extension of Seanad votes to graduates of third level institutions beyond Trinity and the NUI. Thirty three years and not an ounce of legislation to give effect to a decision of the people. Now the current government proposes to abolish the Seanad which will require yet another referendum, although they don’t seem in any particular hurry to do so.

And so as we face into yet another austerity budget which will have implications for students and their educators alike, the point now remains much the same as it did in the 1980s. Politics matters. The decisions governments make or don’t make matter. Our nation’s economic woes have been exacerbated by the bank guarantee scheme, perhaps the most vital decision any government has ever made in the history of the state. Abortion remains a conundrum because of decisions unmade. DCU students still don’t have a vote in Seanad election because of a decision unmade.

So, for those of you who might be disinterested in politics or feel that politics has no relevance for you let me remind you of a salient fact. Fianna Fáil, the party which has dominated this state since it first came to office in 1932, was routed in the last general election due to decisions it made in government. The people took their revenge at the ballot box. We live in a representative democracy which has much to be proud of but which also has made many mistakes. Our democracy can only be held to account by an engaged citizenry which will vote.

Engage yourself, it will be worth it.

Prof. Gary Murphy is Head of the School of Law and Government

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