As Britain woke on Friday morning to discover that Theresa May had flushed her Commons majority down the drain, people found themselves having to learn about an unfamiliar party on which May (or her successor) would be relying to get anything done. The titles of the hastily commissioned primers – ‘So, Who Are The DUP?’; ‘Who are the Democratic Unionists and what do they want?’ – told their own story. The Democratic Unionist Party is Northern Ireland’s largest political force and was until recently the principal coalition partner in one of the UK’s devolved governments. But most of the time, what happens in Belfast or Derry is deemed irrelevant to political life on the other side of the Irish Sea.
When Michael Noonan, the finance minister in Ireland’s outgoing Fine Gael-Labour coalition, said that ‘party allegiances are reverting back to what was the norm over the years,’ he might as well have been clicking his heels together and murmuring ‘there’s no place like home.’ The 2016 general election marked another stage in the disruption of the old political order, leaving Irish politics more fragmented and unpredictable than ever before.
It was meant to be the day on which normal service was resumed. Having followed the path of economic virtue mapped out by Draghi, Merkel and the IMF, Ireland’s governing parties would reap the rewards at the ballot box. Failing that, a strong performance by Fianna Fáil would show that the inherent conservatism of the Irish people had reasserted itself, as they lurched from one centre-right party to another and back again.
Irish politicians have spent the last few years telling anyone who cares to listen that ‘Ireland is not Greece,' but in some respects the country appears only too keen to imitate its fellow PIG. As soon as the news about 'Maria' made international headlines, concerned citizens were on the look-out for blonde-haired children living with Roma families; two children who matched the profile were taken into care by police in Dublin and Athlone before you could say ‘witch-hunt’.
Never let it be said that Irish republicans are slow to jump onto a passing bandwagon. As the Occupy protests spread from city to city, the Real IRA issued a statement claiming credit for two bomb attacks on Northern Irish banks. Santander branches in Newry and Derry City were targeted over the summer. According to the group’s leadership, 'such attacks are an integral part of our strategy of targeting the financial infrastructure that supports the British government’s capitalist colonial system in Ireland,' and would 'send out the message that while the Irish national and class struggles are distinct, they are not separate.'
Barcelona was an incongruous setting for Pulp’s return last month, the first of a batch of summer gigs after a decade’s hiatus. The Sheffield group belong so firmly in the tradition of Grim Up North social realism that it’s hard to square their pasty, charity-shop image with the Mediterranean backdrop of the Primavera Festival. But Jarvis Cocker showed no signs of awkwardness, and the Primavera crowd of mostly twentysomething indie fans might as well have been designed for the band.
For a country that appears to show no great regard for highbrows, Ireland has had its fair share of intellectuals in government office, from Justin Keating and Conor Cruise O’Brien in the 1970s to Michael D. Higgins and Martin Mansergh more recently. Yet none rose as far as Garret FitzGerald, the two-term taoiseach who died yesterday. FitzGerald began his career as an academic economist before entering the Dáil and assuming leadership of Fine Gael, and never quite lost his donnish air.
In his History of Contemporary Italy 1943-80, Paul Ginsborg quotes an American officer based in the peninsula after the war who found the skewed priorities of the natives rather disturbing: ‘The Italians can tell you the names of the ministers in the government but not the names of the favourite products of the celebrities of their country. In addition, the walls of the Italian cities are plastered more with political slogans than with commercial ones.’ In contemporary Bolivia the ratio of political slogans to commercial ones is at least ten to one, and that’s being generous to the ad hoardings.
When the Swedish furniture giant IKEA decided to build one of its cavernous stores in Dublin, Ireland’s property boom was at its extravagant peak. By the time of the grand opening at Ballymun on 27 July – there was a log-cutting ceremony – thousands of unsold apartments stood empty within a few miles of the place. Yet the slump hasn’t put a stop to IKEA’s gallop. On the first morning of business, a few hundred people turned up before it opened, hoping to be the first to get their hands on the self-assembly bookshelves. So far, on average, 15,000 people have crossed its threshold every day. The canteen served 137,000 Scandinavian meatballs in one week.
There seems to be one clear message from last Friday's voting in Ireland: people liked their Celtic Tiger, and now that it's gone, they want somebody to pay. Elections for the European Parliament were held alongside local council polls, and there were a couple of Dublin by-elections thrown in for good measure, so the opportunities to stick it to the ruling coalition were delightfully varied. Fianna Fáil had an awful day, their worst since the 1920s. They were overtaken by Fine Gael on a national scale, but the details of the defeat must have made it particularly galling for Ireland's one-time vote-harvesting machine.