‘Democratic Revolution’ in Ireland

Irish General Election - Enda Kenny's Victory ...

Enda Kenny claims victory for Fine Gael at Burlington Hotel. By infomatique via Flickr

Countries with elected parliaments operate under a strict-constructionist interpretation of the “consent of the governed” clause.

Irish voters lashed out in economic pain this week, withdrawing their consent in no uncertain terms, and dismissing Ireland’s longtime ruling party, Fianna Fail. It may be a historic change election.

Enda Kenny, leader of the victorious Fine Gael party, called it a “democratic revolution.” See the Christian Science Monitor story.

Irish voters are incensed over the banking meltdown and the collapse of housing values — which left their country nearly bankrupt — and angry about bailouts by the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

Fine Gael is projected to win 75 seats in the Irish parliament, 8 seats short of a majority, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Relying on the revised consent of the governed, Mr. Kenny is expected to forge a coalition government with the Labour Party, projected to win 37 seats.

75 seats + 37 seats = consent of the governed

The consent of the governed is just so tenuously conferred, and is valid so long as the new coalition can dodge a vote of no-confidence.

For the long-powerful Fianna Fail party, consent was replaced by contempt. Fianna Fail was reduced from 77 seats to a woeful minority of 20. And the Green Party was wiped out, losing all 6 of its seats.

Exactly what the new ruling coalition will do differently is far from clear, but the voters are not pleased that their recent proud prosperity has been reduced to indebted austerity.  They believe that ordinary Irish citizens are not responsible for the economic collapse, but are  bearing the resulting hardship.

Mr. Kenny has indicated that he will attempt to renegotiate interest payments on the unpopular bailout.

Spectacular street protests against dictators in Egypt, Bahrain, and Libya have attracted far more news coverage in the U.S.  However, this Irish election is more relevant to the political mood and financial power struggles in the Western democracies. (It’s interesting that the Irish vote comes as Republican governors fight to inflict a strong dose of austerity in the U.S.)

I can’t wait to learn more about the transfer of consent in Ireland. What course will the Fine Gael-Labour coalition chart?

Whether Democrats and Republicans can discern anything of value regarding consent of the governed in the U.S. remains to be seen.

— John Hayden

Economic Crisis, Political Turmoil, Consent of the Governed


All governments depend on the consent of the governed. That’s what we learned in high school, so it must be true.


We’ll see how that works in the real world of the 21st Century. Does the consent of the governed matter, in the global economy? Or in a world with imaginary national boundaries, do governments depend more on the consent of multinational corporations?


The political and social consequences of the Great Recession are beginning to manifest, but the results are unpredictable. For background, see World Economic Crisis Phase II, Political and Social Upheaval.


In North Africa and the Middle East, massive street protests oppose long-established regimes. It looks to me like mob rule. The mobs appear to have power to topple dictators, but mobs cannot control the establishment of a new order. As the dictators fall, power can be seized by opportunists, regardless of character, ability, or ideology.


In the U.S., Wisconsin and other states are attempting to impose budget austerity and blunt the power of the public-worker unions. It looks like rule by legislative majority. But legislating is a messy business in the U.S. Power in a state is divided between the governor and the legislature, which is itself fractured into two houses.


In the example of Wisconsin, Republicans have control of state government following the 2010 election. The rowdy opposition by Democrats and unions will almost surely prove ineffective. The legislative majority will have its way. But under democracy as it has evolved in the U.S., does the legislative majority represent the people, or do the legislators represent corporations and special interests that bankroll their election campaigns? In a modern democracy, power can be purchased by opportunists.


Today’s national election in Ireland may provide a first reliable reading on the consent of the governed in the 21st Century.  You can listen to and read a PBS report here.


Ireland, you may recall, was one of the first European economies to be staggered by the bursting of world financial and housing bubbles. The Irish voters will probably pass judgment on the austerity measures taken in Ireland, and on the bailout efforts by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.


Irish turnout is reported at 70 percent. The ruling party is expected to be ousted, but it will take about two days to count the votes.


There are so many other economic shoes waiting to drop. The debt problems of Europe, England, America, and Japan remain awesome and unresolved. We still have the possibility of default, or a chain of defaults in Europe, and among states in the U.S.


You want far-out scenarios regarding the consent of the governed? Consider the breakup of one or more major political structures.


If the USSR could break up, it could happen in the European Union, or even in the U.S.  The stability of Pakistan is not guaranteed. And speaking of stability, what about Saudi Arabia?


I could muddle on, wondering about the price of gold, or airline tickets, or $5 gas. But I just confuse myself more with every line I write. I must be watching too much Cable TV News.

See also,  You Say You Want a Revolution?

— John Hayden