Labour report card is not as rosy as it would have us believe

Political Correspondent Juno McEnroe looks at Labour’s priorities and its performance in addressing them.

Tánaiste Joan Burton went to great pains yesterday to emphasise that, without Labour, there would have been a lot less done by the Coalition over its five-year term.

As the Government gave itself another glowing five-star report on its final years in office, the Labour leader focused on why her party should keep Fine Gael in check for another term.

We’ve been here before though. Is this not what the junior Coalition partner in government promised they would do before entering power in 2011?

The Coalition’s end-of-year report makes grand back-slapping references to progress made in housing, the public finances and the economy, among other areas. It looks at what the Coalition achieved since its statement of priorities was launched in 2014, after Ms Burton took over the Labour leadership from Eamon Gilmore.

One priority had been the homelessness crisis. Despite new beds being made available, campaigners say this is an emergency and high rents and a lack of housing are leaving people on the streets.

Another problem left hanging over Ms Burton’s tenure has been the issue of rent controls. There were promises made last year about reining in unscrupulous landlords and aligning rents with inflation.

But the promise of ‘rent certainty’ collapsed, with Environment Minister Alan Kelly introducing just a two-year freeze on rents. This will just prolong problems for tenants, particularly in Dublin, and see sky-high rates applied in two years.

Labour report card is not as rosy as it would have us believe

On the issue of mortgage arrears, while it was never going to be easy addressing the legal difficulties around contracts between banks and borrowers, and new legislation on the back of court cases, Labour did manage to introduce long-awaited bankruptcy changes.

Reducing the period of bankruptcy from three to one will force banks to do deals with borrowers, who otherwise would leave their debt behind.

The changes, spearheaded by Labour TD Willie Penrose, will go down as one of Ms Burton’s key successes. However, there are still an estimated 38,000 owner- occupied mortgage accounts in arrears of two years or more. Don’t expect this issue to go away anytime soon.

One of Labour’s priorities over the years has been social housing, which ground to a halt during the recession. Worthy as it sounds, Ms Burton has tied herself to a coalition promise to provide an extra 35,000 social housing units by 2020.

Labour report card is not as rosy as it would have us believe

Bricks and mortar take time though. It will be a while yet before the foundations on this promise come into view. Moreover, without more social housing, rents will remain high and private housing will also remain in short supply.

Jobs, jobs, jobs. This was the big item on all parties’ to-do lists. The Coalition’s 66-page progress report outlines how unemployment has fallen to 8%, the lowest in seven years. Job creation will be the trump card played by Labour and Fine Gael, ahead of the election.

But there are complaints of an urban-rural divide in the recovery. Unemployment may be down, but many of those who left these shores have still to return. Ireland has also now become more reliant than ever on foreign companies employing people.

Why, then, with all this supposed prosperity, is support for Labour on the floor, with just 8% in recent polls?

Ms Burton stood by the party’s decision to enter coalition — despite the party facing huge losses in the election: “Working with Fine Gael has delivered, not everything we would have desired, but a great deal.”

Significant obstacles await Labour if they are returned. Water charges are a thorny issue. Third-level fees is also expected to come back on the agenda. Public sector workers will also demand more from recovery.

Maybe it is a bit early for government parties to be giving themselves A grades on solving the country’s problems.

More on this topic

Water charges 'will be collected'; Joan Burton expected to step down as Labour leaderWater charges 'will be collected'; Joan Burton expected to step down as Labour leader

Independent Alliance say FG will have to agree to 'radical proposals' for a govt by ThursdayIndependent Alliance say FG will have to agree to 'radical proposals' for a govt by Thursday

Talks with Independent Alliance could delay govt formation; SF says FF have 'lost credibility'Talks with Independent Alliance could delay govt formation; SF says FF have 'lost credibility'

Leo Varadkar's govt formation comments 'misleading and self-serving', says Michael McGrathLeo Varadkar's govt formation comments 'misleading and self-serving', says Michael McGrath


Lifestyle

After years of saying no, Patrick Stewart tells Georgia Humphreys why he finally agreed to reprise his role as Jean-Luc PicardPatrick Stewart on boldly returning for Star Trek Picard

Cork teenager Jessie Griffin is launching a new comic-book series about her own life. She tells Donal O’Keeffe about her work as a comic artist, living with Asperger’s, and her life-changing time with the Cork Life CentrePicture perfect way of sharing Jessie’s story

Sorting out Cork people for agesAsk Audrey: The only way to improve air quality in Douglas is to move it upwind from Passage West

The Lighthouse is being hailed as one of the best — and strangest — films of the year. Its director tells Esther McCarthy about casting Robert Pattinson, and why he used 100-year-old lensesGoing against the grain: Robert Eggers talks about making his latest film The Lighthouse

More From The Irish Examiner