News Politics

Wednesday 17 September 2014

U-turns, lies and election scrapes: life with Fine Gael

Broken promises and policy reversals are playing into the 
opposition's hands, 
writes Philip Ryan

Published 10/08/2014 | 02:30

  • Share
Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Frank McGrath
Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Frank McGrath
Joanne O'Riordan: celebrating Leaving Cert success
Former Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn
Former Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn

ENDA Kenny and his Government have lied to the people who elected them over and over again for three years. At first, we were outraged by the hypocrisy of the Coalition's broken promises but now, it is almost routine.

  • Share
  • Go To

Today, we barely pay any notice when the Government U-turns on a policy which was supposedly a cornerstone of its vision for the future just a few months earlier.

From day one up until last week, Government ministers have laughed off the naive suggestion they should actually be taken at their word. Promises, as sacked Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte told us, are just something you make during election campaigns.

Mr Rabbitte's Labour Party has been especially flippant in its approach to promises and undoubtedly suffered the most for its disregard for public trust. The party's now infamous pastiche of a Tesco advert pledging not to cut child welfare or increase wine prices has haunted Labour since it entered the Coalition.

Fine Gael may not have suffered as badly at the polls but the party has been just as cynical in its attitude to publicly stated commitments.

Mr Kenny's pre-election promises to cap special adviser salaries and stamp out cronyism were broken within weeks of his appointment in March 2011.

Various other commitments made before the election and in the programme for government have also been tossed aside. One of those promises was made on March 15 when Mr Kenny proudly told the Dail "nobody will be left behind" as he announced his plans to introduce universal health insurance (UHI).

He claimed our current two-tier health system would be abolished and replaced by "equal access to care for all". But this week, newly appointed Health Minister Leo Varadkar told us his predecessor Dr James Reilly's plans to introduce UHI by 2019 was slightly ambitious.

The latest healthcare U-turn comes hot on the heels of the medical card fiasco which led to Labour's annihilation in the local election and Fine Gael didn't fair much better.

The public was aghast at the treatment of the most vulnerable people in society and the Government was
embarrassed into calling off the HSE's review of medical cards. As a by-product, Sinn Fein's support surged and Fianna Fail bounced back from the hammering it took in the 2009 local election.

Fianna Fail have claimed victory on behalf of the thousands of sick and disabled people who had their medical cards stripped from them. It also chalked down the garda whistleblower and penalty points controversies as defeats for the Coalition.

Mr Kenny is continually allowing Fianna Fail - the party that brought us the economic downturn and the bank bailout - to rebrand itself as the party of the disenfranchised people of Ireland.

Sinn Fein, meanwhile, are being considered a legitimate choice by certain sections of the electorate despite its links to the heinous crimes of the Troubles.

Former Labour leader Eamon Gilmore paid the ultimate price for losing the public's trust and Mr Kenny's blatant disregard for sticking to his word will ultimately lead to his own downfall.

Enda's broken promises: From Universal Health Insurance to Cronyism

UNIVERSAL HEALTH INSURANCE

Universal Health Insurance was supposed to pave the way to a more equal healthcare system. Former GP James Reilly, right, as Health Minister said he would abolish the two-tier healthcare system which saw public and private patients compete for treatment. Taoiseach Enda Kenny proclaimed in his Programme for Government speech there would be "equal access for all" once the new system was rolled out. Dr Reilly ran into difficulties when his Coalition colleagues began asking questions about how much this new system might cost. This led to angry exchanges between ministers and civil servants with some suggesting the average annual cost of a policy under the scheme could be in the region of €1,600. Newly appointed Health Minister Leo Varadkar kicked UHI so far down the road last week we won't hear about it again for at least five years.

MEDICAL CARDS

Former Health Minister Reilly introduced an audit of discretionary medical cards soon after taking office.

The HSE was instructed to weed out social welfare fraudsters wrongly claiming benefits despite being fit and able. The audit, however, was far from discretionary and saw people with severe disabilities and terminal illnesses forced to justify their need for a medical card. The HSE reportedly asked people with Down syndrome if they still had the condition while sufferers of motor neuron disease were asked if they had improved.

There was a crescendo of public outrage before the recent elections and before people went to the polls the Government announced it would review the number of cards taken from sick people. Thousands of cards have since been returned but Labour and Fine Gael were sent a clear message by the electorate for showing such little compassion for the sick and elderly.

DISABILITY CUTS

Disability campaigner Joanne O'Riordan who was born without limbs, forced Taoiseach Enda Kenny into an embarrassing U-turn on cuts to payments to young people with disabilities in 2011.

The then-15-year-old Cork girl released a video of the Taoiseach personally promising her not to cut disability benefits before he was elected. Within days, Mr Kenny announced he would reverse budget cuts to disability payments.

The following year, Dr Reilly climbed down on a decision to slash €10m from payments to personal assistants for people with disabilities. People with severe disabilities vowed to hold a vigil outside the Dail until the cut was reversed. The Government was once again embarrassed by the human impact of the cut and reversed the decision overnight.

SPECIAL NEEDS ASSISTANTS and 
DISADVANTAGED SCHOOLS

Former Education Minister Ruairi Quinn put his hands up and said: "I admit that we got it wrong", after he was forced to row back on cuts to disadvantaged schools. The Government planned to cut funding for hundreds of teachers in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) scheme in Budget 2012. After weeks of pressure from teachers and parents, Mr Quinn halved the number of teaching posts he planned to axe. Mr Quinn was also forced into a U-turn on cuts to Special Needs Assistants (SNA) in schools. A planned 10pc budget cut was announced in Budget 2013 which would have vastly reduced the number of SNAs.

The Government again bowed to public pressure, reversed the decision and introduced 500 new SNA teaching posts.

SPECIAL ADVISOR SALARY CAP

Enda Kenny promised a new leaner Government when he eventually toppled Fianna Fail to become leader of the country. The public was led to believe the days of excessive spending were gone and the Government was focused on reining in finances.

One of the first promises he made on taking office was to cap the salaries of special advisers hired by ministers. Unfortunately, not long after he made this commitment, it emerged he had personally intervened so his long-time friend and former adviser could have his salary increased by €35,000. It later emerged the Government breached its own pay ceiling more than a dozen times to hire advisers and spin doctors.

CRONYISM

The Government also pledged to end the cronyism culture which had become synonymous with Fianna Fail governments. Plum posts for party activists or failed election candidates was supposed to end under the Fine Gael and Labour Coalition. Unfortunately, that has not been the case and there are numerous examples of members of both parties being appointed to State boards or Semi-State boards. Members of the judiciary have also benefited through their association with the two parties.

Sunday Independent

Read More

Editors Choice

Also in this section