Social media discourse on Ireland's general election reads like Fox-news type hyper-demonization but Ireland over the past decade has gotten a lot right but where's the balance.
New York: From 3,000 miles away, the Ireland mainly portrayed in the Irish mainstream and social media looks like a land where despair is rampant. Nine years or so on from the collapse of the banks and the Celtic Tiger, life has improved significantly in Ireland but you would never think it so by reading the coverage.
The mood music sounds like one long and very large howl from the voters amid increasingly frantic efforts to soothe the electorate by the politicians with whatever pacifier that works. Alas, given the American experience, the long and whining road that is election 2020 may well be the roadmap for future elections in Ireland too.
Perhaps it is the function of distance, but there is a sense from here that much of the Irish electorate is definitely benefitting from the massively improved economy, yet some never seem satisfied.
The influence of social media as we have seen in the U.S. has become profound. It is a forum where everybody is angry and anonymity ensures that even the most inflammatory rhetoric can gain traction as Donald Trump has successfully proved.
There is a Trumpian feel to the Irish discourse on social media, a bitter and malevolent tone that has spilled over on to the doorsteps by all accounts. Fox News-type hyper-demonization of Irish politicians on all sides is a deeply unhealthy development.
Following this Irish election from America, one has a view of a country with its hair on fire, about to explode at any moment. The anger and tension and yes, even hatreds, expressed towards others seems utterly at odds with the country I recently visited where the gloom and doom of the Celtic Tiger aftermath had at last faded and hope for better times was being realized.
It had been a long climb back.
The reality is that unemployment and emigration, other than voluntary emigration, have decreased dramatically. Those two realities in themselves make for hugely significant achievements. Both are issues that bedeviled every Irish government since time immemorial but have been competently managed by the current coalition.
Brexit is being dealt with in the most practical way possible and internationally, Ireland has rarely held more stature after how the government handled it. In sporting parlance, the Irish ran rings around the British and emerged with a massive boost to their international reputation.
In addition, the extraordinary turnaround in the economy, the vote to approve same-sex marriage and the vote to allow abortion rights and end forever the scandal of thousands of women traveling to Britain for illegal terminations were all huge boosts to Ireland’s self-image and international standing.
Meanwhile, after a stormy voyage, the Irish peace process has docked safely with a renewed joint administration ensuring the specter of the violence of the past has been finally banished.
From the outside progress on Northern Ireland, finding the best way to navigate Brexit, restoring low unemployment and emigration numbers, passing landmark legislation on issues such as same-sex marriage are all tangible accomplishments that seem grossly overlooked this election season. When the history of this era is written, those will be the headlines.
Are there still problems? Of course.
The three Hs – health, homelessness, and housing -- as well as pensions, still dominate in Ireland, as they have for several elections.
The inability to resolve or alleviate them is the great modern failure of successive governments. Of course, the media and social media are going to focus more on the failures, but viewed from an international perspective the success stories of Ireland are being drowned out by the universal negativism and a very different picture of Ireland is being painted.
Social media has coarsened political dialogue everywhere, and people under the cloak of anonymity are making accusations and allegations that would simply not have seen the light of day a decade or two ago.
The Irish electorate has always prided itself on being among the most involved and advanced when it comes to election issues. But there may be an issue that they have fallen victim to the Trump virus which values conspiracies and condemnations over facts.
One hopes that is not so, but the contagion might well have taken hold. There is plenty wrong with Ireland but there is also much right. There seems to be no balance.