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Home » Uncategorized » Hostage-takers and gatekeepers: Populism and its potential in the Republic of Ireland

Hostage-takers and gatekeepers: Populism and its potential in the Republic of Ireland

In November 2013 I was one of the editors of a book entitled The Changing Faces of Populism: Systemic Challengers in Europe and the US published by Lexington Books. This was a collection of case studies that sought to provide a snapshot of the situation throughout Europe. As part of this book I wrote a chapter on populism in the Republic of Ireland. The introduction below, while the full piece can be read here

PopCoverIntroduction

In November 2010, University College Dublin economist Morgan Kelly wrote an article in the Irish Times entitled ‘If you think the bank bailout was bad, wait until the mortgage defaults hit home’.[1] He dealt with the human cost for those families struggling to deal with overpriced mortgages and the economic cost for the State, which, he said, was in danger of heading for bankruptcy. Within three weeks of this article being released, the government had agreed to a bailout mechanism with the ECB, the IMF, the European Commission (hereafter Troika) and three individual member states. His final remarks, raised fears of the emergence within five years of a “hard right, anti Europe, anti-Traveller party that will, inconceivable as it now seems, leave us nostalgic for the, usually, harmless buffoonery” of the traditional, established parties. In a country that has never had a strong hard right tradition, such a prospect raised serious concerns not only for Irish political culture but also for similar potential developments elsewhere in Europe.

By his own prediction, it is still too early to say whether his fears could reflect reality. Given the absence of enduring far right parties in Irish history since independence, there is sometimes a tendency to compare Ireland to “the Finnish exception”. [2] However, the growth of the True Finns in that country has shown the danger of unwarranted complacency. As the Republic of Ireland struggles through persistent economic recession and political disenchantment, it is worth assessing the potential for a new populist onslaught in Irish politics.

In the interest of comparative utility, this paper will look at potential areas of encroachment for parties of the Populist Radical Right, and other political tendencies with significant counterparts in Europe and North America. It will therefore be necessary to examine whether there are factors in Irish constitutional design and political practice that encourage the growth of populist movements or that mitigate and absorb such tendencies. In a society that has undergone considerable social flux in the past quarter century, the analysis will examine if circumstances have changed enough to provide new opportunities for political actors of this kind. This will involve an examination of nationalist discourse among the major political parties and the relationship between voters and their liberal democratic institutions.

The paper finds that, thus far, there are two types of actors worthy of scrutiny in the coming years. The first are the “hostage takers” who mainly participate indirectly in the electoral system but who mobilise around referenda and hold politicians to ransom on specific issues. Secondly, there are “gatekeepers” who attract the votes of the Populist Radical Right but who have not behaved like them thus far.

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