Playing Politics


The leaders of Irelands four largest political parties

With promises of a ‘new Ireland’ from political parties, Rachel Maher examines our political parties and broken promises

Everybody talks about a new world in the morning,” sings Roger Whittaker in the song ‘New World in the Morning’. If we were to believe our political parties we would hear them promise to create a “New Ireland” in the morning, but does it really make a difference which political parties’ promises we choose to believe or are we simply condemned to live in a country over which we, the citizens, have no real control?

Since the Irish state was formed over 70 years ago, we have seen no real or radical changes in Irish politics. The financial collapse of 2008 and our agreement to the bailout offered by the Troika of the EU, IMF and EMF, has forced the Irish government to work within the Troika’s constraints,  irrespective of which party they belong to.

The current Fine Gael-Labour coalition government, elected in 2011, stormed into the Dáil with promises of political and economic reform. Two years into their five year term, many of their “New Era” pledges remain unfulfilled.

Pre-election, our current Finance minister Michael Noonan described our then-imminent European Union/International Monetary Fund bailout deal as an “obscenity”. Yet, shortly after jointly assuming power, the Tánaiste and Labour party leader Eamon Gilmore stated: “It was never going to be the case that renegotiation of the agreement was something that was going to be done”. This is possibly more of  an admission of his party’s empty promises than the government having little or no control over Ireland’s future as part of a German-led European fiefdom.

This government has introduced the household charge despite the Labour parties’ former view that “the family home should not be taxed”. Another significant pre-election promise made by Fine Gael was that of free GP care and yet the government still fails to indicate when they plan to implement this promise. Fine Gael guaranteed that the number of TDs would be reduced by 20, yet this government’s Electoral Act has only cut six Dáil positions. Fine Gael’s job creation promises show no benefit as the Irish labour market is still in severe crisis, with the latest Live Register figures calculating unemployment to be at 14.7%. On top of this, child benefit was cut significantly in the 2012 budget, with larger families being directly hit by the cutbacks. More pain is indicated by the Education minister Ruairi Quinn, who had previously asserted that university fees would not be reintroduced, but who now refuses to rule out an increase in the Student Contribution Charge or perhaps the introduction of third level fees.

Other Irish political bodies provide little concrete alternatives to the current government’s strategies, instead merely sniping about what the governing party is or isn’t doing, without providing viable alternatives.

Sinn Féin made the most considerable advances in the last election. However, with no real leadership experience, it is difficult to predict how they would undertake the pressures of directing the country. Their policies declare “an end to the over-centralisation of hospitals” and a “crack downs on white collar crime”. The economic section of their proposed policies states the need for a “new, robust regulatory system” and that “tax and social welfare systems should be redistributive”.

Sinn Féin has maintained that should they be elected, they would “save in good times” and spend in bad times. Although we are currently in ‘bad times’ and will be for the foreseeable future, the party’s manifesto does not propose ways to deal with the present financial predicament. While these statements detail issues which need to be addressed by the government, Sinn Féin’s policies provide no concrete action as to how they would tackle these problems if they were to be elected.

The very experienced Fianna Fáil published their most recent policy guide in spring 2012. Similarly to Sinn Féin, they are eager to point out this government’s “broken promises”, with an entire section of their guide devoted to criticising the coalition. This guide also lists achievements made during their 1997-2010 period of power. Fianna Fáil asserts that they would reduce tax expenditure and broaden the tax base should they return to government.

Interestingly, they point out the need for political reform, proclaiming that “breaking the link” between business and politics is an integral part of Fianna Fáil’s vision. With many of the decisions that led to our current economic crisis having been made while Fianna Fáil were in leadership, one must wonder how committed they really are to these policies. Again however, like Sinn Féin, there is no clear blueprint as to how Fianna Fáil would manage the country differently to the Fine Gael/Labour coalition.

The United Left Alliance, although they have a stronger voice than has traditionally been seen from Independent TDs in the Dáil, simply do not have enough members to form a government. It seems that they can do little more than promote certain issues and cause debate.

Roger Whittaker’s song ends with the lyric “I can feel a new tomorrow coming on… Everyone talks about a new world in the morning. New world in the morning takes so long”. This seems to be the problem the Irish citizen is faced with, the new Ireland that is promised by all political parties never seem to materialise quickly enough. Perhaps the public should stop blindly accepting the promises of this new world from political parties. Instead, perhaps  adopting Mr Whittaker’s line in the song when he sings, “I myself don’t talk about a new world in the morning. New world in the morning, that’s today” and from this see that it is our responsibility.