The Potential of Tóibín-ism:
Ten years since the economic crash, Irish politics is a graveyard of parties that have attempted to fill an imagined political vacuum.
Reports of the death of our two (and a half) party state have been exaggerated so far. While there has been an apparent shuffling of the electoral deck with regards the rise and fall of Labour and mainstreaming of Sinn Féin, politics in the 26 counties remains broadly similar eleven years on from the bank guarantee of September 2008.
Aiming to be a positive force emerging out of the wreckage of the pro-life campaign is Peadar Tóibín and his new political outfit Aontú. Self-styled as a left-republican party with an overtly pro-life platform, it has garnered significant support from malcontent Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin supporters which has materialised in well attended meetings across the country.
Tóibín has distinguished himself as a rather personable figure in his constituency of Meath West and the country as a whole. Coming from a recently demilitarised party where obedience to is key to success, he made a principled stand against abortion beginning in 2013 and culminating with his resignation from Sinn Féin last year, which, if nothing else, earned him the respect and attention of the 33% who voted pro-life in the eighth amendment referendum.
From his track record alone it is clear that Tóibín is a safe pair of hands to begin such a venture, and has been keen to do the important legwork of establishing a cumann structure across the 32 counties. Electorally, the party has serious prospects, colonising a tract of disgruntled FF voters as an anti-Mícheál Martin outlet, as well as offering a home to SDLP voters west of the Bann.
While overt in his republican heritage, he has found favour as far afield as southern unionists in the Irish press, with the dejected remains of the Catholic right pledging some degree of support to him. A haemorrhaging of conservative voters from Fianna Fáil or a backlash against Sinn Féin as it starts to lose its share of the protest vote may stand to benefit Aontú, as well as careful positioning around regional issues of rural decline.
Tóibín’s personality is one of passable charisma, and even in the eyes of the repeal-voting public he distinguished himself well in the TV debates leading up to the May 25th decision. In his performances against Minister for Health Simon Harris he showed himself to be the most dynamic figurehead to emerge from the pro-life side during an otherwise abysmal referendum performance. With an accent on anti-corruption and ‘small c’ conservative values the outlook of Aontú fits the potential mould for a populist movement in Ireland. Furthermore, Tóibín can be complimented on his opposition to increasing EU federalism and his comments, however milquetoast, about immigration.
If you want to cut deeper, whether its proponents know it or not, Aontú seems a modern and more secular iteration of Catholic corporatism which was once the mainstay of the republican movement. By not falling into the same trap that befell Creighton’s Thatcherite Renua of overemphasising the market and the yearning for middle class tax cuts, Aontú has the potential to be a lot more successful.
In many respects, Aontú mimics the path taken by populist parties of old, from De Valera’s pre-1932 Fianna Fáil to Clann na Poblachta in the 1940s, both of which witnessed success on their republican, economically interventionist platforms. The road map for Aontú is naturally one of slog, but these credentials alone could suffice to earn them a foothold within Irish political life as a rallying point for what remains of the pro-life movement.
Repeating the Mistakes of the Provisionals?
Speaking on the Irish Times’ ‘Inside Politics’ podcast, Tóibín revealed himself to be conscious of the fact that he desires his party to be a counterbalance to any nativist movement that could emerge in Ireland. His belief is that the democratic socialist platform of his party, combined with its pro-life republican credentials, will act as a tonic against right wing populism which has engulfed large swathes of the Western world. In this belief he reveals himself to be a lot more grounded than most of the opponents of the right emanating from the liberal centre and hard left.
However, the recent commitment of the Party at a leadership level to sign its name to a supposed ‘Anti-Racism Election Protocol,’ spearheaded by none other than the ENAR Ireland organisation, highlights some cause for concern. To be clear, ENAR Ireland exists by its own mandate to be an organisation committed to foisting globalism onto the Irish public, lobbying the Irish state on behalf of its patrons abroad. For Aontú to sign its name down to this pledge and subsequently defend its actions speaks of insincerity.
No grouping in Ireland can claim to be genuinely radical without starting to grasp and challenge the role of liberal NGOs in binding Ireland to globalism. ENAR Ireland exists to stem any anti-globalist sentiments in Ireland no matter what language they use to obfuscate this point. While it claims to be challenging the smug consensus of the Irish elite, Aontú appears geared to be complicit in the nexus of NGOs that support the system. Whether they are simply unaware of the negative role of international NGOs in Irish politics is unclear. If Aontú is wilfully negligent on this issue, where else can they fall foul?
The republican movement which Tóibín hails from originated in the communal rioting of Northern Ireland in 1969. A more traditionalist and somewhat anti-Marxist faction of the IRA grew restless with the inattention and left wing politics of the Dublin-based leadership of the IRA and split. While the provisional IRA never declared itself as openly conservative, there was an implicit streetwise communalism about them that its detractors always picked up on.
However, within a decade the provisional movement was committed to leftist politics indistinguishable from the Marxist elements they originally rebelled against. What began as international solidarity with Palestine and Cuba soon reverted to the open borders third-worldism found within Sinn Féin today. It seems an iron law that any movement not explicitly nationalist becomes left wing eventually, and that could be the fate of Aontú as it was the provisional movement.
Association with a globalist lobby group will only be the thin end of the wedge if history is a yardstick. By not challenging globalist axioms head on, the rest of the platform is in danger of being made redundant. This lack of clarity could mean discord between Tóibín and grassroots members in the years to come, as evidenced by apparent disquiet over immigration at local meetings that may seek to take the party in a more openly nationalist direction.
As alleged before, Aontú does have the potential to give the pro-life movement a foot in the door and incubate a real opposition movement in Ireland. However, if it fails to make the proper friend/foe distinctions and sides upfront with Ireland’s NGO industry it could turn away much of its support. If when all is said and done, Aontú merely emerges onto the political centre stage as a watered down version of Sinn Féin or the ideological equivalent of Fianna Fáil from the early 2000s, then what really is the point?
Tóibín is a rarity in the Oireachtas as being a fundamentally decent human being and a principled man, but if he misinterprets the Irish political scene and unwittingly ends up acting as a Pied Piper for the pro-life movement, Aontú could do more harm than good. The provisional movement had the excuse of having a war to deal with and the cold shoulder of the Free State when it embraced left-wing politics from the 60s onwards; Aontú does not have that excuse.
Aontú will no doubt assemble bands of decent patriotic Irish people semi-aware of the issues facing the country today. Unfortunately, by not defining itself as explicitly against the liberal establishment, and indeed embracing the axioms of the hard-left, it may have set in motion its subsumption into the political cartel that it hopes to rebel against.
Ireland can only hope that Tóibín overcomes the many dangers that lie ahead of his movement, and emerges a real force of opposition.