Cianan Brennan: Nine years of Fine Gael in government - what's changed?

Cianan Brennan: Nine years of Fine Gael in government - what's changed?

With Sinn Féin dominating the polls, a key question of this election is how did we get to where we are?

Put another way, Fine Gael has now been in government for nine years - how have the key metrics of democracy moved in that time?

There are two ways to do this - to look at where the Government started in the dark recession days of 2011 versus the present day, and to look at its record in the recovery era since 2016.

Health

Cianan Brennan: Nine years of Fine Gael in government - what's changed?

    Waiting Lists:
  • 2014 - 416,481
  • 2019 - 619,997, up 49%

    Trolleys figures:
  • 2011 - 336
  • 2020 - 760 (+126%)

Ireland’s creaking health service is best exemplified by two figures - waiting lists and trolley numbers.

Figures for waiting lists only go back so far as December 2014 - at that time the overall figures, inpatient and outpatient, were 416,000 per the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF).

Trolley figures three weeks before the February 2011 election were 336 across the country, according to the the INMO.

Pitching to the electorate ahead of February 2016’s vote, the central planks of Fine Gael's health policy were:

  • Carry out a bed capacity review
  • Have 93% of patients processed in emergency departments in less than four hours by 2021
  • Spend €250 million on reducing hospital waiting lists and trolley figures
  • Dismantle the HSE and open the new National Children’s Hospital
  • Recruit 4,400 frontline service staff, including 600 consultants, doctors and dentists
  • Negotiate a new consultants’ contract
  • Provide free GP care for the under-18s

A bed capacity review was carried out in January 2018, and called for 7,150 extra hospital beds to be provided by 2031. Taking that 13 year timeframe as a proxy, that would infer 1,100 new beds to be provided by 2020.

The most recent open beds report from the department, dated last February, suggests that capacity increased by 73 inpatient beds in 2017 and 228 in 2018 - a metric far short of what was called for.

Roughly 60% of patients are currently processed within six hours, some way adrift of the promised figure. Just under €270 million had been spent on attempting to reduce waiting lists up to October 2019, roughly 18 months ahead of target.

However, outpatient waiting lists have ballooned from 384,000 to 553,000 over the past four years, an increase of 44%, while record figures for patients on trolleys of 760 were recorded on consecutive days earlier this month - the figure as of 31 January 2016 was 341.

The HSE is still very much in existence, while the new Children’s Hospital has become one of the current Government’s main vulnerabilities. It’s currently scheduled to be open by 2023 at a cost of more than €2 billion - marking it as one of the most expensive buildings in the world.

The HSE has had a recruitment embargo in place since early 2018, while there are currently roughly 750 vacant consultant posts.

A new consultant contract was announced by Health Minister Simon Harris last December - however it has yet to be negotiated.

Free GP care for the under 18s was not achieved - it has taken its place in the full back line in Fine Gael’s current manifesto.

Mark: D

Housing and homelessness

Cianan Brennan: Nine years of Fine Gael in government - what's changed?

    Homeless figures
  • 2014 - 2,858
  • 2019 - 9,731 (+240%)

The number of homeless people in Ireland was first recorded on an ongoing basis in 2014, roughly when the current crisis was first noted.

In December of that year, the figure countrywide was 2,858. Data for 2011 exists per that year’s census, which notes a figure of 3,808 in April 2011 - however that figure does not rely on self-identification as homeless.

In February 2016, Fine Gael pledged to:

  • Increase annual housing output to 25,000 by 2021
  • Build 35,000 social housing units by 2020
  • Develop a “cost rental” option for low-income households in order to improve security of tenure
  • Introduce a vacant property levy to discourage the hoarding of land
  • Introduce rent review limits of two years
  • Create 40,000 construction jobs by 2021 in order to boost supply
  • Ensure that there is no need for rough sleeping, a fact the manifesto deemed to be “not acceptable”

Housing output for the first three quarters of 2019 was just under 18,000 per the most recent Rebuilding Ireland report, which would see the achieved figure just shy of the 25,000 commitment when extrapolated for a full year.

However, put in context, fully 76% of that figure comprised people availing of housing supports like HAP, which has led to allegations those schemes serve mainly to enrich private landlords.

Meanwhile, using Rebuilding Ireland’s own metrics just 14,059 social homes were constructed between 2016 and the third quarter of last year, 40% of the Government’s own target.

While cost-rental options were actioned, the first such scheme will not be delivered until 2021.

A vacant property tax was indeed brought in from January 2017 at a rate of 7%. Rent review limits have been capped at 24 months since 2016.

The most recent figures from the CSO indicate that just 14,600 construction jobs were created between the start of 2016 and the first quarter of last year.

Meanwhile, perhaps most significantly, homeless figures have risen dramatically over the past four years, from 5,715 in January 2016 to 9,731 at end December 2019, an increase of 70%.

Mark: C-

Justice and Crime

Cianan Brennan: Nine years of Fine Gael in government - what's changed?

    Homicides:
  • 2011 - 78
  • 2019 - 54 (-31%)

    Burglary:
  • 2011 - 25,904
  • 2019 - 16,580 (-36%)

A recent spate of horrific gangland murders has put crime to the forefront of many voters’ minds. However, Taoiseach Mr Varadkar has stated that while such grisly killings make for eye-catching headlines, the actual murder rate in Ireland has significantly decreased in recent years.

In the 12 months to March 2011, 78 homicides were carried out in Ireland, together with 25,904 burglaries. Current statistics remain under reservation due to inconsistencies in garda records.

Prior to the 2016 election, Fine Gael pledged to:

  • Raise Garda numbers to 14,000 by 2021
  • Create an armed support unit for Dublin comprising 55 gardaí, and the establishment of Garda community teams to operate in rural communities
  • Tackle rising insurance costs by reviewing the effectiveness of the injuries board
  • Establish a Judicial Council Reform the direct provision system for accommodating asylum seekers

The murder rate fell by roughly 50% between 2007 and 2017 to a rate of 0.9 per 100,000 per the most recent UN homicide study. However, the rate jumped from 0.7 in 2015.

Garda numbers as at end October 2019 stood at 14,108. The Dublin armed support unit was set up as a force of 60 in early 2016 and officially launched in December of that year as Ireland’s sixth armed regional unit.

Two major reports on the insurance crisis have been published by the Personal Injuries Commission, which found that payouts for soft tissue injuries in Ireland are four times their UK equivalent. However, reform has yet to be enacted.

Membership of the Judicial Council committee, tasked with setting personal injury payout guidelines, has been identified by the Chief Justice. However, the council has yet to meet.

No reform of the direct provision system has taken place.

Mark: C

Tax and the Economy

Cianan Brennan: Nine years of Fine Gael in government - what's changed?

    Unemployment:
  • 2011 - 444,299
  • 2020 - 120,200 (-73%)

    Budget:
  • 2011 - €17.7 billion deficit
  • 2019 - €1.4 billion surplus

In February 2011, there were 444,299 people on dole queues.

The national budget deficit meanwhile was €17.7 billion in 2011 as the financial crash left the economy on its knees.

In 2016, Fine Gael pledged to:

  • Add 200,000 jobs to the economy and bring the unemployment rate below 6% by 2020
  • Increase the minimum wage to €10.50 per hour
  • Abolish the Universal Social Charge
  • Encourage 70,000 emigrants to return home
  • Apply an additional levy of 5% on those earning more than €100,000
  • Increase the threshold for inheritance tax to €500,000
  • Eliminate new government borrowing by 2018

The total number of people in work increased by 246,100 between the first quarter of 2016 and the third quarter of last year, to a final employed figure of 2,326,900.

The current unemployment rate is 4.8%, although it rises far higher when localised for certain rural jurisdictions.

The minimum wage in Ireland at present is €9.80 per hour, despite a recommendation from the Low Pay Commision that it be raised to €10.10 in the last budget.

The controversial USC has been reduced in scope over the past four years, but it nevertheless remains very much in existence. Roughly 110,000 people returned from abroad since 2016.

However, even more people emigrated - net outward migration for Irish nationals was 14,200 over the past four years.

No high earner tax has yet been implemented, though Sinn Fein for example has proposed one of its own in its current manifesto. The current inheritance tax threshold per October’s budget is €335,000.

National debt rose by €5 billion between 2017 and end 2018, marking the country out as having one of the highest debt per capital levels in the developed world.

However, the country’s budget has run to a surplus each year since 2017, after a decade of running deficits in the wake of the financial crash, though much of this was attributable to inflated corporation tax receipts, which can disappear as easily as they manifest.

Much of the decisions made in recent years have been taken with Brexit in mind - the UK had not yet voted to leave the EU at the time of the last election.

The Government has received much praise for the perceived sensible and non-sensationalist manner in which it has handled the complex Brexit process.

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