National interest requires a national government. Now dream on

NEW and unprecedented high watermarks are being recorded on a weekly basis.

These include record unemployment and emigration; highest Government bond yields on international markets; steepest ever decline in mortgage credit availability; dire business attrition and failure rates and deplorable foreign media reviews of our country.

If this is a national crisis, is it time for a national government? Are our politicians the only ones not prepared to encounter fundamental change? Could this proposed panacea be the simplistic musings of those who do not understand party politics and the motivation of politicians? Let’s think the unthinkable.

On MBA courses for business whizzkids, they teach systems to assess business situations in the context of preparing optimal strategies. SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) and PESTLE analyses (political, economic, societal, technical, legal and environmental) are two abstract approaches. The sexiest of all is the Boston Consulting Globe (BCG) matrix. This examines relative market share and growth to distinguish the potential of different enterprises.

The formula classifies four definitions of cash cow, star, problem child or dog. If we apply these techniques to a national government, it theoretically passes all relevant stress tests. It delivers consensus, leadership, credibility and solutions.

If you are to ask a political insider what they think of a national government, they look at you blankly as if you were a complete innocent fool. It is perceived as a totally partisan suggestion, the inference being that Fianna Fáil has a divine right for inclusion in government. The overwhelming desire is to purge Fianna Fáil from office.

Eamon Gilmore’s most popular rhetoric has been “get them out”. After 13 consecutive years bringing us from boom to bust, they deserve the isolation of barren opposition. This may be too pleasurable a quick fix. Blame, anger and vengeance may be justified. But they are not a policy or a sustainable solution.

It won’t be many months after Fianna Fáil are in opposition before they start beating familiar populist drums. They will support every campaign of opposition to hospital closures, welfare cuts, other unpopular economies or tax hikes. The same opportunism that the present opposition is accused of will become the pursuit of choice by FF. You can readily imagine the refrain such as “whatever cuts we did, they were never like this…” It won’t be long before apathetic, shortsighted voters fall prey to the usual cycle of political game playing. If our problems require a five-year concerted approach of austerity and discipline, the greatest protection for politicians is to neutralise their principal competition. Shared opprobrium, responsibility and blame remove the usual electoral threats to an unpopular government. If there was a new government in the morning, it is undeniable that while the faces might change, the enormity of the problems and painful solutions would not alter.

A Fine Gael/Labour government introducing residential property tax, water rates and reducing PAYE credits would encounter open hostility.

The widescale closure of hospitals, reduction of pupil/teacher ratios or culling of 30,000 public sector jobs will result in massive street protests – irrespective of who administers the medicine.

The kernel of tweedledum and tweedledee politics is that politicians do not act in government as they say in opposition. Their story suits the scenery. It’s the same as a barrister, acting for the plaintiff or the defendant – either way you draw your fat fee.

The nearest we previously came to some form of national government was the allaght Strategy (1987-’89). Alan Dukes afforded the Fianna Fáil minority government a Dáil no combat zone for cuts in public expenditure. The lesson of that episode has not been forgotten. Dukes was dumped on as a weak and ineffective opposition leader. FF got all the credit for having the courage to carry out the cutbacks, being rewarded with victory in the 1989 general election. There was no opposition upside. A national government provides equality of credit and merging of opprobrium. A national coalition involving FF, FG and Labour represents more than eight out of 10 voters. The gap in the market is only for left or right-wing extremists.

Many commentators have crystallised our political problems by concluding there is an absence of effective leaders. The personal rejection in consecutive opinion polls of Brian Cowen and Enda Kenny is evident. Highest-ever dissatisfaction ratings have been recorded. Cowen’s principal failing has been sour and surly communication. Kenny is depicted as an economic lightweight, with doubts that he doesn’t know the difference between GDP and GNP. Our political problems run much deeper than imperfect personalities at the top. A national government provides the ultimate and most potent form of authority. It is the antidote to the cancer of the body politic. What’s that? Local constituency politics. The Dáil is full of glorified county councillors. Obliging messenger boys and girls tending to constituents’ individual needs is a reasonable social service. Advocacy and representation for sports clubs’ grants and repairs to the school roof fulfils a worthwhile community role. These harmless activities are graduating to an unacceptable intrusion into the functioning of government.

A horror story is being catapulted onto the national stage. Jackie Healy Rae’s package of Kerry projects is an affront to rural folk elsewhere. The politics of expediency is based on blackmail. Little wonder Noel Grealish and Mattie McGrath are tempted to get in on the act. Centralised government is unravelling before our eyes. Can anyone credibly argue that each TD is equally entitled to one of 166 pet plans?

THE most powerful vested interests in this country are not elite groups or social partners. They are the local communities and pressure groups that terrorise TDs, who are only interested in their own job survival.

The point of difference for a deputy is the leverage they can extract for local consumption.

Few would have thought prior to the British general election that they would end up with a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition. Those parties’ historical mutual opposition was buried in the pursuit of the national interest. FF and FG politicians readily record that civil war politics is long since dead. I wonder. Maybe they perceive it’s in their mutual interest of cronyism to maintain this division.

The Celtic Cubs can only understand it in a hereditary context. There are no policy differences, only pragmatism.

Perhaps our politicians don’t really matter. The economy can be run ultimately by the European Central Bank in the best interests of managing the euro. NAMA and the NTMA will manage resolutions to our banking and property implosions. The bond markets would be delighted with the political stability of a national government. Workers are coming round to the understanding that life is all about paying homage to bondholders. The solution to our perfect storm of problems may well be the perfect government, based on the best of the talents available. Dream on… No, wake up. Politics is about the pursuit of personal careers, not the national interest. Debate about a national government is a dialogue of the deaf.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

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