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 Governments 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 didnt 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 countrys 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…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty