Justin Barrett and James Reynolds in Sligo. (National Party’s website)
Founded in 2016 by Justin Barrett, famous for his role in the pro-life organization Youth Defence and his campaigning against the Treaty of Nice in 2002, as well as James Reynolds, affectionately known by his supporters as “the most controversial man in Longford Farming”, the party has a rather solid ultra-conservative grounding, something rather rare for a political party in Ireland, a land that, since the rising in 1916, has been pretty much devoid of the political and economic far-right.
And make no mistake, the National Party is as right-wing as they come. Just in their founding principles, they outline their desire for an outright ban on abortion, a clamp down on immigration, and, of course, a systematic retaking of rights from the EU. It’s crystal clear from their policies that they want a conservative Ireland, both socially as outlined above, and economically, and have no perceived qualms with saying it. The party unapologetically wants to reintroduce the death penalty, seemingly in order to create a justice system which has “the protection of society from criminality as its imperative value”, and it was only last year that the party leader Barrett even got into some hot water with the mainstream media for insulting Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s “gayness” and for supposedly saying that his National Party was “only for straight people”.
So far, so good (mostly). I’m rather conservative myself, and whilst I wouldn’t condone the frankly pointless attack on homosexuals by Barrett, I feel that such an attack was made by him alone, and not indicative of the party’s stance as a whole. At this point, there is very little reason for me not to vote for them. However, there is a problem. Since its inception in 2016, the National Party has done astonishingly little to write home about, so much so that even as I type up this article, I wonder if I’m writing about them almost a little too soon. It feels a bit like I’m trying to write a review for some blockbuster film, whilst still in the cinema, before the thing has even started.
But that’s just the thing, the National Party has already started. It has a decent website, some rather solidly defined goals set out that it wants to achieve, and even a solidly established leadership complimented by a semi-decent amount of grassroots support. But still, despite some noise from the press over very little, nothing has actually happened yet. Part of me wants to blame this lack of action on Barrett himself. Whilst I personally find that I’m having more and more in common politically with him than I have with an Taoiseach Varadkar these days, I still find myself much more sympathetic to the latter. Despite Varadkar’s sudden pro-choice turn, and despite his frankly shameful systematic support for the EU, I can’t help but to feel he’s still a better leader than Barrett, mainly because, whilst all these things may be true of Varadkar, at least he’s a decent public speaker. Barrett meanwhile shows very little authority on stage and a lot of the time just seems so deflated, and lacking in energy.
This energy problem also extends to the party supporters too. As of yet, the party has had very little impact on the pro-life side of the upcoming abortion referendum, something that they really should have had already, considering they’re one of the few pro-life political parties in existence right now. For me, this shows a serious lack of engagement compared to other conservative movements throughout the Western world. That being said, the party have seemed to become more involved in the issue, and they recently launched their “Abortion Never” campaign in regards to the Eighth Amendment. Where this goes is anyone’s guess at this point, but I think it’s obvious that the party is slow out of the gate on this issue.
Perhaps my criticisms so far have been purely about aesthetics rather than their actual policies. However, in the day and age of social media, perception is more important than ever. With this being considered, the perception of the National Party is a big problem. Opposed to coming across as a lean mean, conservative machine, the National Party comes off as an empty and crumpled cardboard box with MÉGA scrawled on it.
The only reason why I’m being incredibly harsh on the party in what I’m saying, is because I share the concerns of so many conservatives in Ireland who genuinely want a decent right-wing party to vote for in the next election, and even if they were registered to run, I don’t think the National Party in its current state would satiate that desire.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention that the National Party, who have been around since 2016 might I remind you, haven’t even registered as a political party yet, nor will they be fielding candidates as independents in the next election according to their official website. Now, they give a number of reasons for this delay, but considering the potential repeal of the Eighth Amendment being mulled over, the lack of real action from the most conservative party in the country can really only be explained by nothing less than complete and utter incompetence.
Whilst some may say that I’m simply asking too much from the party right now, or that I might even have some sort of ulterior motive in writing this piece, I honestly don’t believe the National Party have a future, at least in its current state. I would personally prefer to be wrong about this, and would (definitely) welcome a National Party Taoiseach just for the sake of a political shake up if nothing else, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.
Last week, as I was having a discussion regarding the National Party with another conservative, he made a point that really stuck in my head: “The National Party aren’t the UKIP of Ireland, they’re the BNP”. Sadly, there is definitely some truth to this statement, but not in the way you might think. Unlike the BNP, I don’t believe the National Party are a racist party. However, much like the BNP, the National Party lacks both the degree of energy, and more importantly, the degree of competence needed to get into government.
As such, I have no reason to believe that the National Party is anything more than a great, big waste of potential.
Interested in a different take? Read Michael O’Dwyer Connolly’s “The National Party: An Essential Alternative?“