President says end of two-party dominance is an opportunity for social cohesion
By Bernard Purcell
The days of Irish politics being dominated by two large parties without any core ideologies or principles have gone, President Michael D Higgins suggested in London last week.
President Higgins, who was in London to mark the 1916 Centenary by attending a major concert by British and Irish musicians at the Royal Festival Hall, was asked about the original ambitions of 1916 leaders like James Connolly to make Ireland a more just society.
He was also asked if he drew any historical significance or irony from the fact that on the precise hundredth anniversary of the end of the Rising word had come from Dublin that Fianna Fail had reached agreement on supporting a minority Fine Gael government.
President Higgins – who frequently referred to social justice as “social cohesion” said that, contrary to many commentators who said such a minority government would be inherently unstable, he believed it provides tremendous democratic opportunities.
He hailed “the new atmosphere into which we have moved where we have minority governments negotiating for support and different themes of policy”.
“Some people suggest this change might be instability (but) it provides opportunities for the advancement of issues,” said President Higgins.
“(These) issues, in the case of Ireland, are very much, in relation to, let us say, homelessness, and also redefining different forms of inclusion.
“We’ve gone a very considerable way towards gender equality, we have still to do so in the commercial sector yet (but) I choose to see the circumstances as ones that are as full of opportunity as they are of other aspects of change,” said the President.
Asked if he ever thought he would see the day in which two-party dominance would end he said he had, and added that multi-party governments were not at all unheard of in Irish politics.
“I think I did. When I started in politics in 1969 for the first time it wasn’t that far from the end of the 1940s, early 1950s, when you had a government that had been composed of many, many different parties.
“What I think is interesting is we are actually past the post-ideological debate. I think what you’re going to see, in every country in Europe, huge debates not about whether you should have social cohesion but how quickly you can get to social cohesion.
“It is without doubt the biggest issue in Europe. It is exacerbated by the issue of dealing with the refugee crisis and it is exacerbated by the international flows of capital.
“You’ll see, even in the United States during the debate for the Presidential election, there has surfaced huge issues about social cohesion in one of the most powerful economies in the world.
“So it is going to be the shape of the future and arguments about what does this mean, I think, you may well see where people’s ideas do matter and different ideas of social cohesion and social stability will make their way back into politics in a way that in a post-Modernist period they haven’t,” the President told the Irish World.
Asked if he wished to comment on the role – if any – Irish voters in this country might play in next month’s Brexit referendum, he replied: “I’m sure that the Irish community (here) are very capable of making up their own minds along with the citizens of the United Kingdom.
“Irish governments do what Irish governments do and Irish Presidents do what Irish Presidents do. So it isn’t appropriate for me to speak about Government policy…it is very important for me to respect the fundamental rights of the citizens of the UK to make their decision on their future. After all, a hundred years ago we were seeking (the same).”