I’d been thinking along similar lines to this for a while but could never sum it up as well as Scofflaw did over two posts on this boards.ie thread about the household charge -
From post 2:
A little while ago in the “left-wing, right-wing” discussion, I rather unkindly commented that the Irish voter doesn’t make decisions on a left/right basis, but on a “costs me/costs someone else” basis. Elsewhere, and equally cynically, I’ve said that anyone who believes the Irish “don’t do civil disobedience” is missing the fact that the characteristic of Irish civil disobedience is that it is not overt or loudly demonstrative but instead consists of passive resistance to unwelcome measures, and is normally found only when a government measure costs money.
I think this is another good example of that feature – there’s a form of Irish “social solidarity” where nobody challenges anyone else’s playing of the poor mouth card, and expects similar license themselves. Only about half the population appears to be willing to pay taxes on the basis of the sort of social solidarity found in, say, Nordic countries – the other half won’t reach for their wallets unless they’re obviously going to be forced to do so.
from post 4:
I’m thinking of the Household Charge, the non-means-tested Medical Card, student fees, household rates (back in the day), septic tank charges, turf cutting, and so on – the examples are pretty numerous, and all share the same feature, which is that a hit to the pocket gets you a revolt. To some extent one can even attribute some of the Greens’ electoral unpopularity to the 5c “carbon charge” on fuel. Even our attitude to Europe seems largely determined by whether it’s perceived as giving us money or costing us money.
I’d consider passive resistance characteristic because the public demonstrations, in most cases, were quite small – and often consisted of the same people – while the effect on the government usually resulted from a far wider pattern of passive non-payment or non-compliance.
I’ve discussed “salience” elsewhere specifically in respect of the household charge, and agree it’s important, but nothing I’ve said requires that it not be.
There’s an easy upcoming test, of course, which is water charges. I’d expect to see there the exact same results as the household charge – there will be a number of “public meetings” with much the same faces at each one (SF/ULA making political capital and grabbing airtime, essentially), and a wider pattern of passive non-compliance which will be decisive.
As to the “most vulnerable in society” and the Nordic model – that’s the point, really. We’re not talking about the “most vulnerable in society”, most of whom are exempt from the household charge in any case – we’re talking about people’s readiness to proclaim themselves as “most vulnerable” when by any objective measure they’re not, and what is actually objected to is that they are losing some of their discretionary spending capacity.
There is room for a lot of shading on details, some of which you’ve picked up on, but I would say that my central point here is that Irish politics is primarily about the money in one’s own pocket at all levels, from the voting public to the elected representatives (with the latter a reflection of the former), and that public debate revolves around money to the exclusion of principle. As an ancillary point, I would say the Irish public demonstrates certain forms of rather negative social solidarity about money, such as not contradicting someone else who is playing the “poor mouth” card in order not to be contradicted when playing it oneself. The “most vulnerable in society” thing I regard as merely another card in this kind of play – a form of hypocritical claim that frames one’s argument for personal benefit as a moral argument, and one’s opponent, therefore, as callous and vicious.
I don’t like that kind of argument from either side – on another thread, we had a poster framing opposition to mortgage write-downs in an equally tendentious way, with non-payers characterised as well-off D4 types while those who wouldn’t get a write-down characterised as quintessentially good Irish people. Either way round, it’s grossly dishonest, and regrettably characteristic of public discourse in Ireland. One might say that the love of money is the root of all Irish politics, but that it’s the love that dare not speak its name, and therefore hides behind a cloak of decency – which renders much Irish public discourse fabulously hypocritical.