April 3, 2024 - 7:00am

Having lost two referendums and a Taoiseach, several politicians are doing a complete 180 on policies they were promoting just a couple of weeks ago.

For example, Taoiseach-in-waiting Simon Harris has vowed that law and order and migration will be among his top concerns upon entering office. Already, he has expressed a willingness to adopt proposals that would see asylum seekers’ applications processed in third countries. This is a swift reversal from his predecessor Leo Varadkar who, among other things, condemned plans by the United Kingdom to process asylum seekers in Rwanda as “shocking” and “wrong”.

The incoming government has also promised to opt into an European Union (EU) migration pact from 2026 that will see international protection applicants detained while their application is being processed. Detention centres and relocations to third countries are the very proposals that Irish government ministers decried as “far-Right” not too long ago.

Acting in lockstep, the main opposition party Sinn Féin has also shifted its rhetoric, attempting to one-up the government on migration. Opposing the EU directive on migration, Sinn Féin has claimed it is opposed to “open borders”. Unsurprisingly, party leader Mary Lou McDonald jumped on the bangwagon too, accusing the two main parties — Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael — of being too deferential to the EU at a recent event.

Having embraced the EU with zealotry after the Brexit vote, viewing it as a step towards a united Ireland, McDonald is now promising to stand up to Brussels dictates. Her party, she has said, would only adopt EU policies “when they are good for Ireland”.

Beyond this, there has been a renewed focus on bread-and-butter issues. Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea stated shortly after the referendum defeat that the government should “focus on housing, health, and law & order, and stop playing to the woke gallery”, and “start listening to the people, stop talking down to them and stop listening to the out-of-touch Greens & NGOs.” Such sentiments were echoed by Sinn FĂ©in Justice spokesperson Pa Daly who said of the government’s proposed hate speech bill that “it is abundantly clear that this legislation has been badly thought through and is not fit for purpose.” This comes in spite of the fact that every Fianna Fáil and Sinn FĂ©in TD voted for the bill in the Irish Parliament, Dáil Éireann.

Ireland’s main political parties have seemingly adopted the Groucho Marx quotation, “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.” Whether this drift back to the centre holds remains to be seen, but it is at least a sign that the political class has realised just how unpopular these measures were. Common sense is slowly creeping back into Irish politics.


Theo McDonald is a writer based in Ireland.

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