Tuesday 23 December 2014

Now we need proof of the long-promised end to our suffering

Published 30/12/2013 | 02:30

Michael Noonan with Enda Kenny: FG needs to minimise expected election losses
Michael Noonan with Enda Kenny: FG needs to minimise expected election losses

WHAT are the questions to these four answers: two-and-three-quarters; light blue; don't know; none of the above'?

Life is much simpler writing the questions based on first knowing the answers. Working backwards has huge advantages. In my next life I want to come back as a full-time, professional pub quizmaster.

So, today's answer is 'proof'. And the question, I happily cooked up in advance, is: what is the word that best sums up the forthcoming political year of 2014?

Let's slow down a moment and summarise why Irish politics in 2014 will be all about 'proof'. First off, the Irish people have suffered as they have done much more with a lot less for the past five years.

We have been told through 2013 that we are on the road to economic recovery and we have seen tentative half-signs that little green shoots have appeared.

But we need proof. We need to see more jobs in 2014, building on the acknowledged good work of the past 12 months. We are down from an unemployment rate of over 14pc at its worst -- but one in eight workers is still signing on the dole.

People outside the greater Dublin area especially need proof of an economic pick-up in 2014. I was in Limerick city last Saturday afternoon and more than happy to see the shops buzzing with sales customers.

"But that's the post-Christmas sales. You will be able to play football in O'Connell Street in Limerick in the middle of the day in January into February," an old and trusted friend summed up later.

You can replicate that all across the country in the big population centres. Shopkeepers, cafe owners, taxi drivers, publicans and tradespeople of all kinds need to see evidence of sustainable commerce in their local areas.

People without work need jobs so they can spend; people with work and savings need the confidence to feel they can live a little and spend a little more.

Dublin property prices rising almost 14pc in 2013 might be a good thing. The national average property price increase comes out at 5.6pc. But the overall national average to the end of November 2013 is a decrease of 0.6pc, once you take out greater Dublin.

Recovery has to start somewhere. And if the capital, which accounts for a third of our population, is not kicking off then economic recovery is unlikely to happen at all.

But we do not need 'an Ireland of Dublin versus the rest'. People living in and around Dublin need proof of a continued economic pick-up. People beyond 'The Pale' are in more urgent need of proof about a recovery that they have yet to see.

'Proof' of economic recovery will make more urgent calls on our politicians in 2014. Next May, the main parties face a huge political test in local council and European Parliament elections.

Those who study politics in the universities call these 'secondary elections'.

But these elections -- about 20 weeks away -- will set the framework for the next general election in spring 2016.

Fine Gael has never won two general elections back-to-back and it badly needs to minimise expected losses in the council elections especially and keep the four Euro seats it currently holds. More than any other party, as government leader, it needs to deliver 'proof' of economic recovery in early 2014.

THE exact same can be said of Labour, which struggled through 2013 but ended on a high note. It will get a kicking in May but the question is how much it can minimise it -- and the answer is cadging association with delivering proof of recovery.

On the other side, Fianna Fail needs to show a different kind of proof.

It needs to show it is on the road back by winning an abundance of council seats, especially in Dublin, where it is currently an endangered political species.

Sinn Fein's need of political proof is equally urgent, as it needs to show it is spreading into every constituency in the country.

It got 10pc of the vote and 14 Dail seats in February 2011. Some surveys in 2013 have put it on double that.

It needs council seats as proof that the long-promised break-through is really about to happen.

Finally, any reader who soldiered thus far is entitled to questions for our four answers at the start.

These are: what is twice the half of one-and-three-quarters? What colour is the crock of a car I drive? Is there life on Mars? Is there sense to be made of any of the above answers?

Happy New Year! But watch out for those political proofs in 2014.

Irish Independent

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