The Irish economy has suffered the equivalent of an earthquake. The aftershocks are being felt by ordinary working people and the unemployed every day. People feel betrayed by a Government who has sold its soul. They are looking for leadership and hope. They are looking for people to bring forward ideas about the future. They want real solutions and are demanding new politics.
We need a seismic shift in Irish politics. The old civil war politics needs to be laid to rest and new ideas and new opportunities emerge. This can come from the political parties. It may however come from the people. Opinion polls carried out over the last year have shown a consistent moving away from the two big parties. For the first time in the history of the state the combined vote of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael has dropped below 50% in back to back polls. The combined Labour, Sinn Féin and Independent vote climbed to an historic high of 42%.
The recent Donegal by-election poll provides another glimpse of this ground breaking shift. Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty polled 40%. Who would have thought six months ago this was possible? While a lot of this can be attributed to the excellence of Pearse as a candidate and weaknesses in others, it does not tell the full story. In my view Sinn Féin is now being seen by more and more people as a real alternative. People know the big parties have failed them and lied to them. They know the cosy consensus between the big three is wrong. They are looking for something different.
And here lies the opportunity. The Labour Party has a choice to make. They can defend the status quo and seek to hold back the tide of change or they can embrace it and lead from the front. All of the signs point to them opting for the former. The real question is whether people will move ahead of the politicians. Will the voters continue to abandon the big two and embrace new possibilities? The option of a left coalition of Labour, Sinn Féin and Independents has always been dismissed as fanciful. But we are in uncharted waters and the impossible now seems possible. The decision rests with the Labour Party and its leader Eamon Gilmore – will he continue to defend old arguments or embrace new politics? Maybe the people might make his mind up for him.