keywords: clientelism Irish political Ireland clientelist politics bureaucracy information brokerage
Clientelism Irish Politics clientelist political Urban Ireland information reputation brokerage Irish county council administration government planning brokers clients Dublin bribery county councillors TDs planning rezoning development plan illegal housing corruption influence information patrons political local city corporation
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Table of Contents
Existing studies of Irish politics presume a clientelist exchange between politician and voter: the politician uses personal influence to obtain state benefits for the constituent, and the constituent provides electoral support in return. This study investigates the accuracy of this assumption by tracing how people actually obtain the state resources they need, and examining the exchanges between voter, politician, and bureaucrat that revolve around public resources.
A number of issues are addressed. First, there is little data on how or why clientelism operates in urban Ireland, as most studies have examined only rural communties. Second, despite the clientelist rhetoric, the actual necessity for clientelist exhanges has not been demonstrated. Third, it is unclear which social and economic factors encourage voters to become clients, or what political benefits politicians receive by acting as patrons or brokers. Finally, the thesis investigates why clientelism should in fact exist in a homogeneous society which lacks politically salient ethnic, class, or regional divisions.
Research shows that clientelism exists in Dublin, but politicians do not control material resources, but rather information regarding state benefits and access to the bureaucrats who allocate benefits. Often, politicians ensure that voters obtain benefits which they are entitled to, but which they might not otherwise receive. Politicians do not obtain a direct return for this assistance, but their enhanced reputation in the community increased their overall electoral support. Brokerage exchanges are mot frequent among poorer segments of the community who are most dependent on state assistance. State officials help create the demand for information and access, while also helping politicians to satisfy those demands. Clientelism is both an urban and rural phenomenon; the control of information and access gives politicians considerable leverage over people who depend on state assistance.
This study is, by necessity, a snapshot in time; it is a study of micro-processes, set in the context of macro-structures. Such an emphasis should not be taken to suggest that macro-structures, or historical processes, are therefore unimportant. Such areas are beyond the scope of this study, but they are no less significant for that reason. The importance of cultural values, such as nationalism and party ideology, in Irish politics cannot be underestimated. One of the conclusions of this thesis is that clientelism is less central in the political system than electoral rhetoric would otherwise suggest. Clientelism exists within a broader cultural and social context which determines the form and content of clientelist exchanges, and must be understood in that context. However, micro-studies, distinguishing clientelist fact from clientelist myth, are a necessary precondition for broader investigations of Irish society.
Following a common anthropological convention, this study is written in the present tense. This should not, however, suggest an unchanging system at equilibrium. Indeed, there are good reasons to expect that the clientelism of the 1980's is markedly different from the clientelism observed from 1978 to 1980. There have been important changes in political and administrative structures which have altered the context of clientelist exchanges.
Anthropological research depends very much on personal rapport with informants. This is especially important in political clientelism, since research focuses on behaviors that are often defined by participants as "immoral", or, at the very least, dubious. The question of what is "really" going on is crucial, and different people, each with their own special motivation, will claim to know the "behind the scenes" truth. It is difficult, therefore, for the researcher to determine the accuracy of the information he receives. This is perhaps even more difficult in Irish politics; Irish politics is small scale, in that everyone knows everyone else, and will be interacting with them for many years. Information is both especially valuable (in the right hands), and especially dangerous (in the wrong hands). The factionalism which is endemic in party politics means than politicians have few permanent friends and many temporary allies, who are not given any more information than is necessary.
This must pose a problem for the researcher. The necessary personal contacts were difficult to create and maintain, since to be trusted by one politician was sufficient reason to be distrusted by others. Sufficient contacts were eventually made, across party lines, to collect information on most of the relevant issues. I had one advantage: being an outsider. There is a tradition of American academics doing research in Ireland, and then returning to the United States. The "American researcher" is a safe, although not well understood, role. People were slightly more willing to talk to me than they would have been to people they would expect to continue seeing for many years. In so far as I was "safe", I could be boasted to about matters which they could not tell others.
In addition, I spent longer in Dublin than most such foreign researchers; and certainly long enough to be no longer be "safe", and better able to distinguish boasting from reality. I first arrived in January 1978, and continue to reside in Dublin (as of December 1985). Although the bulk of research took place between 1978 and 1981, I kept in touch with various individuals in politics. As time passed, my own network of contacts developed, and I have sometimes been able to gain access, through the personalistic "back door", to events and institutions that would not have been accessible through the front door. Many individuals can no longer be classified as informants; they are friends.
This raises another methodological issue: anonymity. Ireland is sufficiently small that few case studies have been published in which the main characters were not immediately recognizable to many people throughout the country. Dublin may have a population of almost one million, but the political arena is very small, and so it is difficult to maintain the anonymity of informants that any researcher must, ethically, maintain. I have tried to do this by relating only those specific cases in which the participants could not easily be recognized. Even the two areas in which I spent much of my time while doing research have been disguised as much as possible, and rarely referred to directly. Most of the material I gathered through participant observation was, in any case, neither startling nor immoral. I suspect that I have been more concerned to maintain the anonymity of informants than the people actually involved would have been. It remains, never the less, an obligation which one owes to people who have extended their trust to an outsider.