Ideals of Fianna Fail
I N the Republic the ieferen
dum campaign is in full swing. The plebiscite on Oct. 16 will not only decide whether we retain or abandon proportional representation as the method for elect ng the Dail. It will also decide whether Irish politics break free from their presen stalemate and acquire s new dynamism--or continue to stagnate.
P.R. has not reduced our political life to the Management of an economy. but it now ensures that this State of affairs will continue. If we get rid of P.R., either Fianna Fail will win sufficient strength to provide politically Creative government or else it will be decisively defeated by an opposition which will haVe been forced to fight and think.
One way or another, the regime of government by bare majority and of comfortably secure opposition will come to an end.
Politics have been reduced to economic management by the continuous dearth, over more than 30 years, of political ideas and ideals in Fine Gael and Labour. and by the simultaneous erosion of political ideas and ideals in Hanna Fail.
Clann na Poblachta brought some fresh political thinking in the late forties, but its brief intrusion into the national arena constituted a mere passing episode in this progressive political anaemia.
In the final analysis, taking the intellectual sterility of the main opposition parties as a given factor, the intellectual desiccation of Fianna Fail has been the direct cause of the present stalemate.
Politics is concerned with the entire life of state and .society in all its aspects, and Fianna Fail came to power in the thirties with convictions and a programme covering every aspect of Irish life. This was its strength and the secret of its long endurance in power. This
was what made it a "national party'', appealing to the most disparate groups of society as it appealed to many distinct aspirations of individual citizens.
Fianna Fail was strongly committed to the achievement of full national autonomy. in fact if not in form. It was genuinely concerned about ending partition and about reviving Irish. It developed a new system of local government.
In the League of Nations it evolved an independent Irish foreign policy which foreshadowed its similarly creative role in the first years of Irish membership of UNO. It had a clear and extremely
avant-garde concept of Church-State relations in a Catholic country.
All of these were great political themes, classic themes of politics as such.. They did not preclude concern for the realms of material welfare and the economy: Fianna Fail assisted the small farmers, began systematic industrialisation, promoted the building of hospitals and houses, developed new forms of state economic enterprise.
As a revolutionary regime, it left the Soviet Union far behind in the effective improvement of the living conditions of the poor.
But while concern for the economy and material welfare were not by any means ignored, the factors which made Fianna Fail a great political force were the great themes of State. Government, society and culture which it emblazoned on its banners and worked--more or less wisely—to carry into effect.
Gradually, however, whether through successful achievement or through tacit withdrawal, these great political themes have ceased to be operative in Fianna Fail. More decisively, they have not been replaced by equivalents or alternatives.
Progressively, Fianna Fail has become one-dimensional in its preponderant concern. and that one dimension is economic power, whether of the State or of its individual citizens.
There may be reasons which make this understandable. The economic crisis of 1958 may well have been an extreme national crisis which called for extreme concentration on a single goal. Yet the fact remains that, by shedding its general political aspirations and : creativiy, Fianna Fail reduced itself to the intellectual level of the two opposition parties.
It reduced the political debate to one-dimensional haggling about the ways and means of making and distributing money. And on this level, opposition parties can always outbid, and economic pressure groups always checkmate, the government in power.
If Fianna Fail falls from power, it will be because it reduced the political debate not only to terms on which a government must always lose, but also to terms which made its politically-motivated sup
porters-in the broad sense—lose faith in it.
Only in the short run can economic considerations alone predominate in a state. In the
long run. politics are determined by the overall needs and aspirations of the ' polls as a specific human society. By ignoring these needs and aspirations in the Irish polls today, Fianna Fail is writing its own death-warrant.
And yet it is only fair to say that Fianna Fairs brave attempt to carry the day on the P.R. issue may be the party's
residual political instinct trying to break out of the straitjacket it has made for itself towards a new. politically creative freedom.
I say "brave attempt" because it is being made in the teeth of the two opposition parties and of a reactionary Press which sees its advantage in encouraging a cretinous "agin the government" mentality.