Best Article on real politics in Ireland – They’re either liars or incompetents

Shane Coleman: It’s up to us to demand brave policy choices from leaders

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29 October 2013

GUESS who said the following? “To take away your rights to have a medical card beyond the age of 70 years – I reject it! The cheek of them. Shame on them. Shame. On. Them!” They were the words of Enda Kenny, the then leader of the opposition, to pensioner protesters five years ago. And they sum up the depressing uselessness of Irish politics probably better than anything else.

Here’s what happens. In boom times, the government of the day gives away as many goodies as it possibly can to expectant voters. The opposition berates it for not doing nearly enough.

In bad times, the government of the day is forced to make tough decisions (albeit “politically proofed” ones to attempt to limit the electoral fallout) to correct the mess made during the good times. The opposition bitterly opposes the cutbacks.

However, despite vowing to reverse them when they get into power, by the time of the opposition’s pre-budget submission the following year, those very same cuts are factored into their calculations.

Truth in Irish politics is another country.

In the last Dail, Fine Gael and Labour were shameless in their approach. Every cut and tax hike, bar none, was denounced.

Both parties misled the public into believing there was some magical alternative to the austerity Budgets being introduced by Fianna Fail and the Greens. They promised that bondholders would be burned. That the ECB would be put in its place. That the banks wouldn’t get another cent. Readers won’t need reminding of Labour’s “every little bit hurts” general election ad.

They must have known back then that this was all nonsense – if they didn’t, it raises questions about their competence. Yet they still did it.

The other parties are no better. Fianna Fail has always been shameless in opposition. The 1987-89 Charlie Haughey government is remembered favourably for delivering the tough medicine that had been so badly needed for the previous decade and taking the country out of the economic morass. Not so well remembered is the naked opportunism that Fianna Fail showed in opposition prior to 1987, and its election ads that health cuts hurt the old and the sick.

Despite promising a different type of politics this time around, Fianna Fail is now firmly back in default opposition mode. Sinn Fein, meanwhile, despite overseeing cutbacks in government north of the Border, is claiming we can invest and stimulate our way out of our budgetary mess and simply tax the rich. It’s nonsense.

The truth is that if Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein were in government today, they would have introduced largely the same Budget. The only difference is that the voices of condemnation would have been from Fine Gael and Labour.

It is only right that political parties are criticised for this charade. The media is correct to highlight Kenny and Gilmore’s empty promises to pensioners five years ago. But it’s not enough to point the finger at the political parties. What about us as voters?

Politicians are no more dishonest than the rest of us. Most of them are decent men and women, genuinely in politics to try to do some good. But they are not stupid. They know what works with the electorate and what doesn’t. And it’s undeniable that what works is telling voters what they want to hear, not what they need to hear.

Alan Dukes’s Fine Gael got no electoral reward for taking a responsible approach to opposition with the Tallaght Strategy back in the late 1980s.

In contrast, Fine Gael and Labour’s utterly irresponsible opposition tactics from 2008 to 2011 were rewarded with the biggest government majority ever.

It’s causing them huge problems now because they haven’t been able to deliver on their promises. However, that lesson doesn’t appear to have been learned by either the current opposition parties or, it seems, the electorate.

There has been, quite rightly, universal condemnation of Fianna Fail for its mishandling of the economy during the latter part of the Celtic Tiger years. But the opposition’s failures shouldn’t be forgotten.

Let’s be honest. What would the reaction have been to an opposition party back then that had shouted “Stop”? A party that said, during these boom times we need to rein in public sector pay increases; restrict lending for mortgages; not go ahead with huge increases to pensions, child benefit and other social welfare payments, because they’re not sustainable? It would have been political suicide.

Has anything changed since then? There is a gap in the market for a party willing to make brave policy choices to remove us from our endless boom-bust cycle. It’s up to us, as voters, to demonstrate there’s a market in that gap.

Shane Coleman is Political Editor of Newstalk 106-108FM

Irish Independent