Saturday 22 October 2016

Ruairi Quinn: Early election would introduce uncertainty - there's too much for Coalition still to do

Ruairi Quinn

Published 09/10/2015 | 02:30

Illustrated by Scratch
Illustrated by Scratch
Bertie Ahern and John Bruton before the election in 1997
Ruairi Quinn

Labour is ready for the election whenever the starting gun is fired. I know in my own constituency of Dublin Bay South we have been out with Kevin Humphreys knocking on doors and meeting constituents just about every day since early summer.

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Our manifesto is at an advanced stage, plans for the short campaign itself are being finalised, and many of our staff have already moved into election HQ.

But just because we're ready for an immediate election, doesn't necessarily mean that we should have one.

I'm long enough around to remember what can happen if people get it wrong when it comes to the timing of an election.

A case in point is 1997.

Like today, economic growth was gaining momentum and the public finances had been brought under control. We were creating 1,000 jobs a week, we had made progress on the Northern Ireland peace process, and there was a general sense that the Rainbow Coalition had been doing a good job.

The Government could have run until the well into the autumn, but our heads were turned by the positive headlines. We cut and run for a June election, confident that we would be returned to Government. But, of course, we weren't and the rest is history.

That result was disappointing for Labour, but given that it opened the door to 14 years of uninterrupted Fianna Fáil rule, it was disastrous for the country.

And that's why timing is so important.

An early election will mean that a lot of the important measures that we regard as priorities may not be completed.

There are pieces of legislation pending that are simply too important to leave on the long-finger.

I'm thinking of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015, which will be the first dedicated climate change legislation ever introduced in Ireland and which provides a statutory basis for the national objective of transition to a low carbon, climate resilient and environmentally sustainable economy.

I'm thinking of the Garda Síochána (Amendment) Bill to provide for the establishment of an independent policing authority, turning a long-standing Labour policy into a reality.

I'm thinking of the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill, a piece of legislation that I initiated as Education Minister, that will bring about a new parent-friendly, equitable and consistent framework to regulate school admissions policy for all 4,000 primary and post-primary schools.

If enacted, this framework will improve access to schools for all pupils and will ensure there is consistency, fairness and transparency in the admissions policies of all schools.

I'm thinking of the Marriage Equality Bill, which has passed all stages in the Dáil, but which has not yet gone before the Seanad.

This is the legislation that will once and for all give statutory effect to the Marriage Equality Amendment and that all couples, regardless of gender, will be able to have their love recognised by the State through the institution of marriage.

The prospect of this legislation falling at the final fence as a result of a poorly timed election is simply inconceivable.

I would also be concerned that the tremendous work undertaken by chair Ciaran Lynch and all the members of the Banking Inquiry would be all for nought if the Dáil is dissolved. After years of preparations and months of hearings, it would be very regrettable if it came to nothing, yet that is precisely what will happen if an early election is called.

Budget 2016 is almost upon us, and the legislation that gives effect to the provisions announced this week simply cannot be rushed through the Dáil. Both the Finance Bill and the Welfare Bill are very substantial pieces of legislation and the idea of deferring them or truncating them should not be countenanced.

When I'm asking people to vote for Labour, I want to be certain that the measures we propose in the Budget - whether that be an increase in child benefit, or a reduction in USC - are already hard-wired into place with statutory effect. Introducing any uncertainty into the equation would be completely unfair to people who are looking to us for some improvement in their circumstances.

When we came to office in 2011 we said that we would provide political stability by ensuring that this Government would run its full term up to 2016.

We also said that we would sort out the public finances, fix the economy, get people back to work and reform public life. We have made huge progress on all of those areas, but there is more to do. Some of it can wait until after the next election, but some of it is too urgent to put off any longer.

Ruairi Quinn is a Labour TD and former Minister for Education

Irish Independent

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