Brian Cowen’s handling of the Irish economy was excellent, not least because of his commitment to cross-border dealings – that may be Margaret Ritchie’s view this past weekend, but it is astonishingly and disgracefully out of touch.
The financial meltdown in the Republic of Ireland has heralded a political meltdown which is surely more dramatic still. Fianna Fáil is not just the party which has led Dublin’s government for three quarters of the time since independence and not just the party which has won most seats in every Dáil, but also a fundamental part of the fabric of a state now hitting middle age. The link between the financial and political chaos is more than just politicians’ handling of it.
In the way that FC Barcelona is “more than a club”, Fianna Fáil is “more than a party” – it is woven in to every aspect of Southern Irish life, from finance to sport. Fianna Fáil politicians went easy on bankers commiting people to irretrievable debt, priests committing children to lifetimes of misery and people with pasts refusing to say where the bodies are buried the same way Fianna Fáil GAA referees go easy on Fianna Fáil goalkeepers commiting professional fouls. Blind eyes were turned on the upward journey, but the downward one has been just as swift, brutal and bitter as a dodgy property deal, a child abuse cover-up or a mother still waiting for the body to be found. Fianna Fáil was not just the Republican party, it was the Republic of Ireland – from the positives (strong export base, remarkable sense of community, astonishing cultural output etc) to the negatives (aforementioned).
So, as Fianna Fáil effectively ceases to be (at least temporarily, but perhaps even permanenently), what will Ireland become? This is a much more fundamental question than the result of a forthcoming election or even a financial deal to satisfy the IMF – because Fianna Fáil is (was?) much more fundamental to Ireland than a political party. We should all understand that none of us has anything to thank Brian Cowen and co for – and as a result of their excesses, what we are witnessing is a social change beyond current comprehension.