Negativity has a place in election campaigns - but not pretence
Published 14/01/2016 | 02:30
Let us call a spade a spade. Negative campaigning has its place in any election battle.
You cannot expect to win with a mix of: "Here are my ideas - and God bless the 'other crowd' - they have some good ideas too."
Fianna Fáil has chosen to put its emphasis on fairness and better quality of public services. Fine Gael decided to run a campaign mainly based on putting more money in people's pockets.
So, let's hear it hashed out, loud and clear, and let the voters decide.
There are good arguments for Michéal Martin and co taking the Taoiseach's statement before Christmas, that he would not renew his promise to end the mass use of trolleys in hospitals, and linking it to his party's promise to cut taxes for higher earners.
But it would be better by far for Mr Martin to just be upfront and say: "Yep. That's a bit of negative campaigning. Everyone is over 21 here and Fine Gael has never been behind the door at dishing it out." Insisting that this is "a political debate" is hardly credible.
The billboard which materialised at the back gate of Leinster House yesterday morning also risks being too clever.
It could end up just pushing Fine Gael's brand for people in a hurry. And what if big earners prefer a few quid extra to helping end suffering on trolleys? Irony is a dangerous device.
The slogan next to a smiling Kenny image reads: "I won't end the scandal of patients on trolleys. Tax cuts for the wealthiest come first."
One of the outcomes from yesterday's jolly jape was images of Mr Martin overlooked by a large image of the Taoiseach. You could spend some time debating which party gets most out of it.
Health is also always a tricky topic for Michéal Martin, as he was Health Minister from January 2000 until September 2004, a time of plenty in Ireland. It was also a time of continuing difficulties in health.
During the May 2002 General Election he pledged to end hospital queues forever within two years. Then in May 2003 he admitted that was a bit over-ambitious and that was the end of that.
The Taoiseach himself referred to that very issue yesterday - after his own high-sounding pledge to avoid negative campaigning. Mr Kenny read a quote from "a very famous person" on the subject.
"You can figure out who he was. He happened to be the Minister for Health back in 2002," Mr Kenny said.
So, the Taoiseach was not being negative because he did not use Mr Martin's name!
Let them all drop the pretence and get on with it.