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COMMENT: A nation of political animals

Monday, 1st April, 2019 7:59am

Story by Jack Gleeson
COMMENT: A nation of political animals

Theresa May’s term as British Prime Minister has been dominated by Brexit. PHOTO: BIGSTOCK

COMMENT: A nation of political animals

Theresa May’s term as British Prime Minister has been dominated by Brexit. PHOTO: BIGSTOCK

I BUMPED into an old friend in the gym last week. We lived in the same working-class suburb many moons ago and I hadn’t seen him for a while.

I began by asking how he was getting on and was exchanging pleasantries when he mentioned he had been watching Brexit unfolding on TV.

I’d never discussed politics with this friend, and hadn’t put him down as a political animal, but he articulated his views intelligently and was obviously well clued in on what was happening across the Irish Sea.

We both agreed with the consensus in Ireland that the Brexit debacle had become almost as entertaining as it was worrying.

Afterwards, I wondered why people in Ireland were generally more knowledgeable about politics than our nearest neighbours seemed to be.

Far right-wing politics and extremism have a grip in England and have brought the whole UK to the brink of disaster as the mainstream parties try to adapt their policies to combat the threat.

There’s little doubt that the rise of Nigel Farage and UKIP forced the Conservatives to hold the Brexit referendum and helped drive the yes campaign to victory on the back of falsehoods and misrepresentations.

You could argue that a misinformed public, who were generally politically apathetic anyway, were easily led. And when you hear a British politician claiming Fianna Fáil won every Irish election between 1932 and 2008, like MEP Daniel Hannan recently did, you can understand why.

I don’t believe the same political ignorance exists in Ireland, at least on the scale it does in other Western democracies. The politics of Trump or Farage, while still a global threat, are unlikely to get a foothold here.

Protests by handfuls of Irish radicals just doesn’t get traction. The recent protests outside the private homes of Government ministers were widely condemned and ridiculed.

The newly formed Irexit political group is more a bizarre curiosity than a serious threat to Irish politics and anti-immigration activists find it hard to get a platform willing to allow them voice their dangerous, abhorrent views.

So how come the Irish are less susceptible to political populism? What drives our politically active youth to campaign successfully for abortion and same-sex marriage legislation? Why is it that we’re mature enough to have an openly gay Taoiseach with immigrant heritage who’s only ever criticised, supported or talked about for his politics?

Maybe it’s because our turbulent history fuelled not just war and division, but also political awareness and the value of voting for and living in a fair, peaceful society.

The sons and daughters of families who were once entrenched Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael supporters have matured into intelligent political animals with the DNA of a nation not easily fooled by the politics of fear and ignorance.

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