ALISON O'CONNOR: Government should defuse voters’ anger before the election is called

Kevin Humphreys Labour TD, minister of state at the Department of Social Protection, speaking to residents ofLongboat Quay apartments on Sir John Rogerson's Quay in Dublin.Picture: Fergal Phillips

Those on the ‘inside’ remain protected while the ordinary Joe inevitably picks up the bill, writes Alison O’Connor

 

AS FAR as most Irish people are concerned if a politician states that it is raining outside they feel compelled to check the veracity of that statement. Politicians, they believe, can only be trusted as far as they can be thrown.

This is a sorry state of affairs. It is also what has the Government stuck at a certain level in the opinion polls, despite their economic competence in getting the country back on its feet.

Politicians for their part, are terrified of honesty, unless, of course, you are Leo Varadkar and make a virtue of a certain kind of honesty. But for the rest of them the notion that they would utter in public what really goes on inside their heads would seem like insanity.

But wouldn’t it be nicely refreshing for us to hear some unvarnished truth from the Government as we head into what is likely to be a torrid general election campaign and a massively anticipated budget on Tuesday. How about them taking their political courage into their own hands and attempting to defuse some of the arguments which the opposition will inevitably throw at them, and with considerable justification.

Now as I’ve already said this sort of an approach is generally viewed politically as turkeys voting for Christmas, but Fine Gael and Labour face an unusual re-election situation in that they have many achievements to point towards, and reasons to feel gratitude from the public, but the voters would just as happily give them a good kicking for their trouble.

It seems such a long time ago now but remember at the start of this Government’s tenure back in 2011 and how they promised us a “democratic revolution”. They had such immense political capital at their disposal then. It must have been an overwhelming time. It’s easy to forget but these were not people used to handling the levers of power; that had been Fianna Fáil’s job for so long, and even they wondered if they would ever manage to turn things around for the country.

In fact Fine Gael and Labour did manage to do so, and rather well, as we know from the raft of positive economic news we keep hearing. But in the process they also made a lot of people really mad. They will leave office not just having failed to make changes to the perception of how Irish politics works, but actually with people believing that they are worse than the last lot.

The recently discovered problems at the Longboat Quay apartment complex in Dublin seem to sum up much of what we believe is wrong with Irish society and how our brand of politics perpetuates this sort of situation, rather than prevents it happening.

We got fair warning with Priory Hall of the type of shoddy building practices that went on during what Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin described as the “poisonous period of the Celtic Tiger”. It would have been some consolation to have heard the minister talk of rushed building and bad regulation at the start of the tenure of this Government in 2011, but to hear him offer it as an explanation after almost five years in office is risible. For Howlin to be asking now for a “complete audit of all building” during the boom era is quite incredible.

Not only should something like this have been proposed a few years ago, it should have been proposed in a meaningful manner rather than shoving it back onto local authorities who are unlikely to have the resources to carry out such a major exercise. Where is the incentive for these authorities to involve themselves in an exercise which will inevitably end up costing them lots of money? It’s a big mess, and reinforces the belief of ordinary people that those on the “inside” of Irish society remain protected while the ordinary Joe inevitably picks up the bill.

There were moments of optimism back in 2011, like when Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced his 11 nominees for the Seanad from a cross section of society, and told them that voting would be a matter for them individually and there would be no compulsion to take the party whip.

There was the establishment of the Convention on the Constitution which could really have been the start of something, except the Government chose to make a joke out of it ultimately by choosing the ridiculous presidential age referendum as the one to put before the people. This damage was preceeded by the rejection of the Seanad referendum and the referendum on Oireachtas inquiries.

We also had the controversy involving the appointment of John McNulty to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, ahead of a Fine Gael nomination in the Seanad. After that debacle the Taoiseach said he had “taken the rap”, but in truth it was politics, yet again, which took the hit. People could hardly believe the political croneyism from a Government which had promised to be different.

I wrote last week of the great shambles that was made of universal health insurance, but even that pales in comparison to what went on with Irish Water. This is a project now so toxic that the Government simply do not know how to handle it in the forthcoming general election. Even those of us who were happy to pay for our water, and saw the sense in the proposal, got to a point where it was too embarrassing to admit that because it seemed as if we were siding with a Government that had become ridiculously inept.

In generations to come students of politics will look back at the ludicrous water conservation grant and wonder how experienced politicians could have proposed such a wheeze. They will no doubt recognise how it further contributed to our crumbling respect for our politicians.

This Government is held to a higher standard than Fianna Fáil was; that is because they told us they would be different, in fact they insisted they would do politics in a new way. Hence the anger and the unbridled cynicism we’re left with, despite the economic upturn. Wouldn’t it be wonderfully refreshing to see a little plain speaking?

So, as they are finalising the general election literature and deciding which angle is best for the poster, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste should consider some ways they might best defuse the anger that exists out there for them. In doing so they would in all likelihood accrue electoral benefit for themselves, but also have done something for the common good.

Those on the ‘inside’ remain protected while the ordinary Joe inevitably picks up the bill


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