THE weeks leading up to Christmas might be described as the Anything-in-Wonderland period.
We daydream, wilfully deluding ourselves, imagining that Auntie Elsie might finally pass on the keys of the Carcassonne gite, even if we know that is never going to happen. We dream that the diamonds might be real and that the credit card bill might be tolerable. We dream to console ourselves, hoping that something might be different to the entirely predictable Stilton-and-socks reality waiting to unfold on Christmas morning.
We are at that point in the political cycle. We are, again, almost prepared to believe that, as the election race is under starter’s orders, that almost anything is possible, that even the most radical promises have a chance of becoming active, society-changing policy. We are, despite our own best interests, happy to be seduced by political parties’ promises, though there is more than enough evidence to convict even a banker that most of them are bunkum. We are prepared to believe election assurances, despite Pat Rabbitte’s cynical, but honest, mid-term reality check, when, challenged on broken promises, he admitted: “Isn’t that what you tend to do during an election?”
The incumbent Government is no different to its predecessors and, tragically, it is unlikely that the next Government, no matter how it will be constituted, will be any different. Today, we report that junior health minister, Kathleen Lynch, accuses Fine Gael of delaying free GP care to the under-sixes and over-70s by three years, even though it was a central plank of their election programme. The subtext is that this delay was influenced by a powerful medical lobby, with which Fine Gael enjoys a comfortable affinity.
That accusation seems valid, too, in the context of the emasculated Legal Services Bill, despite a request from the Troika designed to make this “one of the best little countries in the world to do business in” by making legal services more competitive and affordable. Despite the Government’s unprecedented reform mandate, this profession remains a self-regulating cabal, powerful enough to set terms of business for all legal practitioners in the State, irrespective of where consumers’ interests lie. The status quo prevailed again.
Promises on climate change were trampled in the same way. Former environment minister and cabinet bruiser, Phil Hogan, watered down the Climate Change Bill dramatically. Taoiseach Enda Kenny continued along that path in Paris, when he gave contradictory messages to international and domestic audiences. Former education minister, Ruairí Quinn, did an embarrassing U-turn on college fees.
There are many more examples of this behaviour, many more examples of how realpolitik can stymie the best intentions. How very different it might be if politicians were more honest and realistic about what can or cannot be done. How much more engaging, trustworthy and successful they might be. They could start by admitting, as we all know, that we will never be able to tame the Shannon and save everyone from its ravages. That kind of honesty, that kind of warts-and-all election campaigning, would be a positive game-changer.
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