Wednesday 28 September 2016

Coalition trumpets its success, but the opinion polls still tell a different story

Published 30/10/2015 | 02:30

'Some of the incidents on the serious side would really make you worry'
'Some of the incidents on the serious side would really make you worry'

Now we know. The Taoiseach tells us that he did not get a "specific" briefing to the effect that we might have to send in the Army to protect the banks and the ATMs if the euro currency collapsed.

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It seems that people did say that in his hearing years ago, at a time when some thought of a collapse, with horrific consequences, might indeed occur.

To tell the truth, it sounded to me less like a dramatic warning from the Governor of the Central Bank - who had no role in military affairs - than a top- of-the-head comment from a bigwig chatting with other bigwigs and possibly downing a glass or two.

But it gives us a reminder of Enda Kenny's propensity for verbal and other gaffes. Some have been serious, some merely comical.

On the comical side, people tend to remember the time the Taoiseach tripped over a flower pot outside Leinster House.

One of his staff allegedly claimed that Ursula Halligan pushed him. Ms Halligan, one of our most admired broadcasters and extremely well-mannered, does not go about pushing people.

More recently, we witnessed the 'McNulty Affair', which ended after important Fine Gael people told their own supporters not to give the hitherto unknown John McNulty a seat in the Seanad. They obeyed.

But some of the incidents on the serious side would really make you worry.

The Taoiseach once used the N-word in public.

He meant it as a joke. He was quoting someone else. It didn't sound like much of a joke. Hardly anybody could see the point, if there was one.

Far more damaging was the affair of the women who had suffered in the Magdalene Laundries.

Inexplicably, he refused to make an apology on behalf of the Government.

He changed his mind, and apologised fully and eloquently, when he learnt how much fury he had provoked. Yet this man is surrounded by supposedly brilliant, and certainly highly paid advisors.

We have all heard of their intelligence and political astuteness.

They are paid accordingly, in some cases to the tune of €168,000 a year. You would imagine that they could nip his solo runs in the bud. For myself, I suspect that the gaffes and the proceedings in the most influential and secretive backrooms are interlinked.

From an early stage - all right, from the beginning - our Fine Gael-dominated Government has exhibited many of the faults which we once liked to associate with Fianna Fáil.

Fianna Fáil were arrogant. Fine Gael are not just arrogant but lordly.

They deserve enormous credit for the courage with which they faced the daunting conditions which prevailed at the time they came to office in 2011.

But they have lauded their own successes too loudly. They seem unaware of their egregious mistakes, exemplified in the blunders and controversies that plagued them, particularly last year.

And their disrespect for the voters, in my opinion, caused them to lose their grip on popular feeling.

Their plans to buy the next General Election are blatant.

Of course, almost all governments play games like that.

But they get away with them only if they work.

And for the last year and more they have assuredly not worked.

In fairness, they had a right to vaunt last year's Budget as "the first of the recovery". They deserve some praise for not over-playing their hand.

They gave the voters tiny concessions; they could not afford lavish ones. The opinion polls showed that the voters were not impressed.

Michael Noonan, nothing daunted, decided on the 'Spring Statement' which would seem much more generous. But again, the opinion polls told a dismaying story. Finally came last month's Budget. Let's have a look.

The Finance Minister and the Minister for Public Expenditure had €1.5bn to give away. The eventual figure turned out to be €3bn. It was forgiveable. In the present, bewildering Irish, European and world financial tragic comedy, the difference between €1.5bn and €3bn is negligible.

And for the first time in what feels like a century of hardship, is held out the prospect of some money in our pockets in January.

But yet again the opinion polls showed that it has not brought the increase in popularity for which it was designed.

Late in the process, a dispute arose about the election date.

Clearly the Taoiseach had planned a November election.

Labour, shocked by the polls, thought it wiser to wait until "the spring" - meaning as it would appear, February. Joan Burton pressed the Taoiseach hard. "spring" it is .

But who knows what may happen between now and February?

One thing is certain. We will celebrate Christmas: Joy peace and love. We will spend a lot of money whether we have it or not. In January, we will search our pockets and scrutinise our bank statements, and find little joy there.

Our gaffe-prone Coalition is running out of options. The Taoiseach may find himself reduced to one. It's a very old one, older even than buying elections. It's a rhyme. It goes like this: "Always keep tight hold nurse for fear of getting something worse."

But can it work?

Irish Independent

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