On the desertion of Irish politics by Irish politicians…

Stephen Collins returned yesterday to more pressing domestic problems in Irish politics, and found both the government and opposition wanting both in terms of the seriousness with which they take the issues it is facing and their willingness to weigh in and face the anger and frustration of ordinary people currently under the financial cosh. And he doesn’t spare the opposition…

The failure of our major parties to mount a full-blooded referendum campaign is a symptom of an ailing political system.

For so many TDs, the only thing that matters is their own seats. Most party organisations are now based around the election of individuals and lack any wider concept of what they are in politics to achieve.

This personalised, issue-free concept of politics is precisely what has brought the country to its current sorry pass. The absence of real political debate in the 1997 to 2007 period facilitated government decisions that led inexorably to the collapse of the public finances. It also allowed our planning system to spin out of control, taking the banking system and the whole economy with it.

In government, Fianna Fáil ratcheted up public spending at a much higher rate than economic growth year after year – without providing the tax base to underpin it – while the Progressive Democrats and Charlie McCreevy slashed income tax without regard to public spending commitments.

And then the Opposition:

…mock indignation and constant, mindless heckling of government speakers in the Dáil took the place of reasoned, robust debate.

One of the reasons Fine Gael and Labour did not win the last election was that they avoided challenging the Government’s fundamentally flawed economic policies. Instead they concentrated on the soft option of health, which can be so easily manipulated to achieve scare headlines in the media. In the event, health didn’t pay the political dividends on which the opposition had counted.

The debasement of political debate has now become a really serious problem that is threatening the country’s viability. It has brought about a situation whereby not only the voters but most of the TDs seem to have no grasp of how precarious the state of the public finances really is and what the options are.

He picks out last week’s full frontal assault on Colm McCarthy on last week’s Frontline as indicative of the malaise in Irish politics… In any other modern democracy the public advocacy role currently being played by Dr McCarthy would be played by a professional politician. As he points out himself, his work is advisory.

Yet is the ‘expert’ whose work will not to be implemented who’s taking the brunt of the public anger (‘anger is not a policy’, ‘you’re talking through your hat’, ‘be emotional if you want then’ are all wonk’s statement not a politician)… The government is effectively buying in a consultant to give them advice and then sending them out to tell a teacher that the 20% they’ve already lost in ‘levies’ is necessary and that there is probably much worse to come…

For just example, it is not Dr McCarthy’s job to do a risk assessment on the cuts he’s earmarked in the HSE… However it would be the Health Minister’s job to do that…

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  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    re “One of the reasons Fine Gael and Labour did not win the last election was that they avoided challenging the Government’s fundamentally flawed economic policies.”

    That is because they agreed with it – there was a cosy consensus that the good times would roll on and on and anyone suggesting otherwise might by vitue of undermining confidence upset that gravey train. The only people who did so were the Scoialist party and SF.

    The main reason they deserved to lose the election was that they were not prepared to challenge the corruption as evidenced by Berty unable to account for large bundels of money that kept incovientently being mentioned at the Tribunals.

    The real failure of ALL the parties is that not one of them will tell the Plain People of Ireland that the country now cannot afford the current public sector expenditure and large pay cuts and job losses are inevitable.

  • Mick Fealty

    Sammy,

    That’s not quite true though is it? Labour backed a 2% tax cut which indicates they hadn’t quite got their finger on just how unsecured the public finances actually were.

    But Sinn Fein weren’t exactly pointing out the problem either… It’s the precision with which politics is both done by politicians and reported by the media that is the problem…

    It is a kind of symbiotic relationship…

    And in the meantime, TDs think if they shout loud enough on the floor of the Dail we’ll believe their opposition is actually worth something…

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Mick,

    I was including Labour as one of those who got it wrong and ONLY the Socialist Party and SF who were not happy with the policy direction – I recall a particular Dail debate in which Berty simply laughed at and ridiculed (I’m pretty sure it was Joe Higgins) the suggestion that house prices were unsustainable.

    The next day I looked in the Irish Times expecting some fair analysis of the exchange – but it just reported,in the sketch column, that Berty had amusingly seen off a begrudger – not what you might have expected from a serious, analytic newspaper.

    I might try to track that exchange down as it nicely sums up the public mood and the politics and the media at the time.