An Ireland without corruption and war?

Political Issues in Ireland Today. Second Edition - Irish Politics Today. Third Edition

November 26, 1999

Writing to Marx in 1869, Engels commented: "The worst about the Irish is that they become corruptible as soon as they stop being peasants and turn bourgeois. True," he continued, "this is the case with most peasant nations. But in Ireland it is particularly bad."

This quotation came to mind after reading Neil Collins's useful second edition of Political Issues in Ireland Today , which includes chapters considering "Corruption in Ireland" and also the impressive growth of the Republic's economy in recent years.

This new volume possesses a very different list of contributors from the first edition of 1994, and scrutinises a set of topics that overlap only partially; women did not receive a separate chapter in the first volume, nor, obviously, did the 1998 Belfast Agreement; and nor did corruption. Collins's interesting chapter on the latter suggests that "political corruption is not, however, a major problem in the Republic of Ireland".

This might surprise readers of The Irish Times , some of whom might reasonably by now have reached a different verdict. But Political Issues often carries a positive message, as with David Gwynn Morgan's confident assertion that "there is nothing much amiss with the (Republic of Ireland's) Constitution", or Collins and Terry Cradden's suggestion that "the most important elements of stable democracy for Northern Ireland are now present".

The book's intended readership consists primarily of "students of Irish politics in universities, colleges and schools". There has in recent years been a striking expansion of Irish politics-related courses, especially in Ireland, Britain and the United States. If those teaching them adopt this book as a core text, then their students will read lucidly written chapters on the topics listed above, as well as pieces on local and regional reforms, public services, social partnership, the European Union, health, housing and environmental policy.

Northern Ireland and the Republic are both considered, although most scholars who have written influentially on either place are absent from the list of contributors. The book concentrates on policy issues, which distinguishes it from some of the rival textbooks on Irish politics, John Coakley and Michael Gallagher's Politics in the Republic of Ireland being perhaps the most obvious example.

The latter addresses certain important aspects of politics missing from Collins's book. For example, while the 1994 edition of Political Issues contained a chapter dealing with political parties and elections, this second edition (unfortunately) does not. And the concept of the state is not seriously addressed. This is a pity, for numerous reasons.

In Northern Ireland, for example, the problem of state dependence is likely to outlive that of anti-state violence by some years, without any serious scholarly attention having been devoted to that fact.

Sometimes, extensive debates (on clientelism, on the politics of Sean Lemass) could have been introduced rather more thoroughly for the anticipated student reader. A bibliography, and more extensive references chapter by chapter, would have helped. So, too, would an introduction, or conclusion, to bring out deeper patterns within Irish politics, and to discuss the relationship between the respective arguments of different chapters.

An historical introduction would certainly have been useful, although something of this kind is offered in the companion volume to Political Issues , Collins and Cradden's Irish Politics Today .

This is the third edition of a concise book, which in its 1989 and 1991 versions was co-authored by Collins and Frank McCann. After the historical scene setting, there are chapters dealing with parties, elections and electorates, elites and pressure groups, the policy-making process, the constitution, local government, Northern Ireland and external relations.

Just as the second edition expanded the references and recommendations for further reading from the first, a similar expansion has taken place here from the second. But even (perhaps especially) a textbook might go further down that road than does the current volume, in the possibly misguided hope that students will want to use such a book as a starting point rather than as the last word on Irish politics.

Richard English is professor of politics, Queen's University, Belfast.

Political Issues in Ireland Today. Second Edition

Editor - Neil Collins
ISBN - 0 7190 5403 6 and 54044
Publisher - Manchester University Press
Price - £40.00 and £12.99
Pages - 210

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