Anthony Sheridan: When The Establishment Betrays The People’s Trust


From top left to right: Green Party Leader and Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Taoiseach Micheál Martin after the first cabinet meeting of this current government on June 29, 2020; Anthony Sheridan

The political establishment that has [mis]ruled Ireland since independence is on the verge of extinction.

For clarity, here’s a good definition of the term ‘establishment’.

”The ruling class or authority group in a society; especially, an entrenched authority dedicated to preserving the status quo.”

An establishment’s greatest resource is the people over whom it exercises power. Its success depends on the people’s willingness to tolerate its behaviour.

When an establishment betrays the people’s trust one of two things will happen. The ruling elite will attempt to preserve its power by becoming ever more oppressive, even to the point of violence, or the people will bring it down and replace it with a new establishment that will return the balance between rulers and the ruled.

For example, abuse of power and an abject failure to respond to the needs of ordinary people triggered the French revolution in 1789. The revolution marked the beginning of the end of the divine right of kings to rule and the eventual emergence of the middle class political establishment we see in France today.

In addition to getting rid of corrupt regimes revolutions also serve to enlighten citizens to the fact that it is they, and not the ruling elite, who are the rightful owners of political power. They become aware that power flows from the bottom up, that those at the top exercise power solely on sufferance from the people. This sense of people power is as strong in France today as it was in 1789.

Unfortunately, the opposite is the case in Ireland. This is because there has never been a political revolution in our country and as a consequence there has never been a change in the mindset that sees power as belonging to the powerful.

We had a rebellion in 1916 that ultimately persuaded the British establishment, who were distracted by the brutality of WWI, that a degree of independence for Ireland within the Commonwealth was better than more war and rising criticism from the international community.

This resulted in the relatively smooth replacement of an oppressive, self-serving colonial establishment with an equally oppressive, self-serving home-grown version.

This home-grown establishment immediately set about creating a political regime that ensured the subservient mindset instilled in the population over centuries of colonialism lived on as a powerful means of political manipulation.

They created a system of gombeen clientelism where crumbs were handed out in payment for votes. Citizens were led to believe that the natural order of power in a democracy was a top down system, where the ruling establishment knew best.

This is why, unlike functional democracies, Ireland never benefited from the healthy tension between a Left/Right political system. There was never any real political opposition in our parliament. We never witnessed political parties seriously competing with each other to promote and implement their own political ideologies for the greater good of the country.

All we got was a political ruling elite, principally made up of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, masquerading as separate political parties. They are, and always have been, one political class with one overriding ambition – to exploit the people and resources of Ireland for their own benefit. The only competition they engaged in over the decades was in the Tweedledee Tweedledum race for government where the opportunities for self-enrichment are most plentiful.

As the political establishment became weaker in recent years smaller parties such as the Progressive Democrats, Labour and, currently the Greens were recruited to support the ruling political class.

The abandonment of most, if not all, of the ideals and policies of these smaller parties was the price demanded and received in exchange for admission to the exclusive ruling elite club.

The British left-wing journalist, Owen Jones, provides the best definition of this particular type of establishment:

”The establishment represents an attempt on behalf of powerful groups to “manage” democracy, to make sure that it does not threaten their own interests.”

But the century-long manipulation of the people and contempt for democracy by this political regime is rapidly coming to an end. Irish citizens are beginning to realise that it is they who are the rightful owners of power and not the ruling political establishment.

It is crystal clear from recent elections and polls that the people are rejecting the old regime and are demanding real change in how the country is governed. That this demand for change is being ignored not just by the political centre but also by mainstream media demonstrates just how out of touch the establishment is with this revolutionary redirection in Irish political history.

The consensus among the ruling regime is that housing, health and the economy are the reasons for their continuing loss of power, that if these problems are fixed they will survive – it is a vain hope.

While these problems are obviously of huge concern to the electorate they take second place to the demand for radical political change. People have come to realise that the old regime must be abolished and replaced with a genuinely democratic system. This change of mindset in the electorate is not a temporary phenomenon, it’s permanent – the old corrupt regime is finished.

The dramatic and historic rise in support for Sinn Féin is the most visible sign of this new emerging political landscape. But that party should take note. If it fails to radically overhaul how the state is governed, if it fails to abolish the old establishment and create a genuinely democratic balance between rulers and the ruled then it too will be rejected by the power of the newly enlightened electorate.

Anthony Sheridan is a freelance journalist and blogs at  Public Enquiry.


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14 thoughts on “Anthony Sheridan: When The Establishment Betrays The People’s Trust

  1. Clampers Outside

    A fine piece, but I guffawed when you quoted Owen Jones as if he had some sort of insight. Your own piece Anthony had already explained that point well enough without any need of repeating the point with reference to that nincompoop :)

    1. Clampers Outside

      Sinn Fein will make little or no changes to the system.
      You can take that to the bank…. in Corn Flakes box :)

      1. Micko

        No one can make any changes.

        Senior Civil servants run this country.

        I think this is why we’re getting left behind with Covid. Suits to many of them.

        1. Cian

          What does that actually mean?

          How, exactly, are we “getting left behind with Covid”?
          And how, exactly, does that suit the Senior Civil servants that run this country.

      2. Bitnboxy

        I do agree with Clampers re the Shinners. They won’t really change the “system” and I can’t see then making much of an in road into the housing crisis. They talk a good talk though. One can’t deny that.

        1. millie bobby brownie

          I think it’s foolish to make those kinds of assumptions considering they’ve never been in government, only ever the big bad wolf in opposition. So we have no benchmark by which to measure them.

          (Though I do agree they talk a good talk.)

          If they are voted in and fail to deliver on their election promises, well then they’d rightly deserve condemnation, and they’d be every bit as guilty as FF/FG of empty promises and political failure.

          1. Rob_G

            They have been in government, for many years, in the North, where most of the metrics used to measure performance of a government are worse than down here,

    2. Bitnboxy

      Owen Jones’ capacity to wind up (for some by his mere existence) all the right sort of populist reactionaries never fails to amuse me. I think his sexuality and class makes him even more a target of abuse from the usual suspects.

      I would certainly not describe him as a nincompoop (I assume he has said something pro Trans rights to rile up Clampers) but he has made some questionable turns. Momentum was basically a Corbyn-cult within Labour unable to tolerate any dissent with an aversion to centrism. His view on Brexit and Labour’s positioning was correct and despite much rancour from Labour remainers, he urged that Labour red wall candidates should not be identifiable with a prior Remain position. He sensed that Brexit remained popular in deprived northern constituencies (I say this as one who sees Brexit as a hardline Tory con-job that will invariably further impoverish these areas).

  2. Niall

    Not sure how the Provos are expected to deliver radical change when they’ll need to share power with either FF or FG to form a govt.

  3. Blob

    just look at all the ex-FG politicians who became lobbyists for industries they did favour for while in government. none of them go into politics to try create a good society for all. they just want to make money, and they see an entire public as collateral to that.

  4. Gringo

    This is the recent history of Ireland in a nutshell The establishment have become so corrupt and incompetent they can’t even buy a site for a hospital never mind build one. Meanwhile our ex Ruc police boss has decided to repeal any of Paddy’s laws that don’t suit him. What a farce

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