ALISON O'CONNOR: Does electorate need ‘convincing’ of how to vote in next election?

WE WILL start with an admission: I rather enjoyed the extravaganza that was the Spring Statement. I am in a minority, I know, and it does feel like a guilty pleasure.

Sure it was a backslapping orgy, the like of which we have rarely seen in politics, certainly not in recent times.

You did wonder, as you watched, how Ministers Noonan and Howlin kept straight faces as they delivered unto themselves such unrelenting praise and drew the curtains on the era of austerity budgets.

You didn’t need to be a body language expert to know they were enjoying this outing in the Dáil Chamber.

I was home alone when it came on — sat on the sofa with a pen in one hand, and the other patting the dog. What struck me initially was the lack of dread I felt as I waited for things to kick off.

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We do seem to have forgotten already, many of us, how stomach churningly awful it was to sit and listen to the late Brian Lenihan as he delivered those hammer blows of austerity, followed up annually by the two previously mentioned Fine Gael and Labour ministers.

We didn’t know which end was up. We didn’t know would it ever end. It felt like we were being forced to swallow asbestos and we simply did not have a choice in the matter.

We didn’t really know why we weren’t out on the streets protesting , but we just weren’t. We endured.

I’m sure that those days were probably fairly middling in weather terms but in my minds eye they were all dark, stormy and full of foreboding.

So wind forward to last Tuesday with the sun shining in the window, and our two heroes telling us the good news and how we would be modestly rewarded for our efforts with some €1.5billion available for distribution in tax cuts and spending hikes in October’s budget.

The underlying message was, of course, that if you wanted to hang on to these improvements the only people qualified to do so are Fine Gael and Labour.

I, for one, readily admit that there were more times than I care to remember during the past few years when I wondered if they might ever manage to get things back on track.

But matters had hardly reached a conclusion when there was an outpouring of bile and sneering at this self congratulations, and disgust that there was such a lack of detail on what precisely the Government intends to do in the October.

But we knew in advance there wouldn’t be anything unexpectedly nasty or any efforts to raise any additional taxes or charges.

We were told that property tax and water charges are here to stay but the unpleasantness was kept to a bare minimum. This was big picture positivity.

There are caveats all over the place from the possibility of a Grexit, to the UK leaving the European Union . But I wanted to savour this moment. I found myself, as Michael Noonan might put it, basking in a light filled “fiscal space”.

Given the nature of what this Spring Statement was, and was never going to be, as in a statement that contained actual detail, it was inevitable that it get shot down, not just by the opposition parties but also the media.

But after almost a year, last year, of taking the Government to task over it’s inepitude, and wishing that it would get its act together, it seemed on Tuesday like that message had been taken on board.

I am further comforted by the idea that with a general election approaching the Government will have its worst instincts curbed by EU legislation. Taoiseach Enda Kenny says regularly now that we will never return to the politics of boom and bust.

Serendipituously this commitment to avoid that type of governing with excess is “supported” by the fiscal rules that are applicable to Ireland and indeed all other EU Member.

Over the last number of years we’ve managed to bring our deficit below three per cent of GDP. Now we’ve reached that target, from next year on a different set of rules will apply that are designed to ensure that budgetary policy will support economic growth.

When I hear this talk about restraint I find myself thinking that whatever their intentions the Government parties, if faced with an electorate that needs further “convincing” of who to vote for in a general election, would not be able to resist throwing money at the problem.

But they felt compelled to remind us again this week of how prudent they are being — sustainable public finances are a pre-requisite for improvements in living standards, said Mr Noonan.

Yet it is also clear they are also planning on spending every cent that they are allowed to do under those EU rules.

This legislation will save our Irish politicians, and indeed the public, who learned at the knee of Fianna Fail, that an upcoming general election automatically meant a bonanza where we partied now and thought about paying later.

This new dimension will make for a more interesting, and arguably more real, general election campaign where the those rules will be the ones that everyone will be playing under and those who get carried away will be quickly told that according to the legislation what they are proposing is simply not possible, or indeed where do they intend getting the money.

It didn’t take long on Tuesday for my gentle state of Spring Statement euphoria to crash back down to earth with Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath reminding us of the 1,000 children who would be sleeping in emergency accommodation in Dublin that night, or the 400,000 people who are waiting for hospital outpatient appointments.

“The budgets of the last four years had proportionately taken much more from those on low and middle incomes than from those on the highest incomes,” he said.

Therein lies the rub. The Government has brought us back to a place where we want to be but did the politicians make the correct decisions along the way, and could people have suffered less?

THERE are plenty of people who believe they were made to suffer far too much and who continue to fare very badly in a recovery which has not reached outside of urban areas.

On any given Saturday the anti water protest marches, which could more accurately and simply be called, anti austerity, can bring tens of thousands of people onto Dublin’s main street.

No matter how much good news the Government feels it has to deliver there are so many of these voters who, no matter what, will refuse to vote for Fine Gael or Labour in the general election.

As far as the Spring Statement is concerned, though, it is difficult to begrudge them their moment in the sun.

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