Monday 24 October 2016

Why the coming election is such a vital one for future of Fianna Fáil

Published 30/01/2016 | 02:30

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is congratulated at the party’s ard fheis. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is congratulated at the party’s ard fheis. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography

Soon it will be "show-time" as PJ Mara might have said, as the curtain is raised on the election in coming days. This week, the only show in town was the Banking Inquiry. In the aftermath of a crash, there is always a period of shock, followed by an examination of what might have been done to avoid it. Things are always so much clearer in hindsight. Looking in the rear-view mirror of time, it is easy to say how we could have done things differently.

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Thankfully, today the economy is in a better place. The Government has done some things right. There are positives on employment and growth.

A lot of the work done can be traced back to Fianna Fáil's 2010 recovery plan covering the period 2011-2014. Employment is better - it is still not where it was in 2007, but it is improving. It is good to see more people returning to work, but I would like to see real jobs as opposed to short-term contracts.

And what of the election? On the lamp-posts, I saw posters predicting a political revolution. I don't see that. Perhaps a mini-revolution, but that's as far as it goes. Only time will tell how the formation of the 32nd Dáil ultimately unfolds.

People will ask themselves if they really want the same again. Clearly, Fine Gael wants Labour and nobody else, and vice versa. Should they get their way, then the next election could be in 2020; but should it go any other way, talk of stability and solidity may go out the window. We could be back at the polls again sooner than many might think.

Fianna Fáil will not tango with FG or Sinn Féin. SF appears to be open to all comers, though it evidently doesn't seem to like any of them.

The Social Democrats sound impressive - with Stephen Donnelly, Róisín Shortall and Catherine Murphy, they have a good front team to make their case. The Independence Alliance says it has the potential to offer stability if there is reform on the agenda. There is ample scope for a Government with longevity.

Fianna Fáil has slowly worked its way back in both the local elections, and also with Bobby Aylward's by-election victory. But there is some way to go yet. This is a vital election for the party to make gains, and get a significant seat return in line with its vote share. As things stand, FF does not have sufficient support. It should be aiming to get back to its 2013 level of support of 26pc.

While the mantra and message discipline in the FG war-room is all centred on a story of regeneration, not everyone believes that the recovery is equal. But there are upsides: unemployment is down and welfare has stabilised. The national accounts are also better - though not where they were between '92 and 2007. Hopefully we can get back to the surpluses as we were for the 10 years before the crash.

However, there is one serious downside risk that I would like to see the Government addressing.

It concerns our corporation tax which has been such a dynamo in generating revenue for the economy. Changes in the EU whereby taxes will be owed in each country where multinationals make a profit, and not the country where that product or service originates, could have a profound impact here. If this pans out across Europe, then we could have a serious problem. A lot of people are promising big things, but I would like to see someone promising how we are going to deal with such a serious back-door threat to the intake from the corporation tax. In government we tried not to spend more if it wasn't covered by our taxes. When money we believed was safely in the pocket fell out, we were left exposed. There could be a real danger of a similar risk today through the corporation tax change.

It will not be on the scale of a banking crisis but it is a concern and a challenge which should be met head on.

It is only fair to acknowledge that yes there have been improvements; but there are also extremely pressing issues that have been ignored for too long. The construction sector is still on its knees, and the housing crisis is alarming.

Lack of supply, high rents, homelessness, the problems of loans for first-time buyers, and tracker mortgages are all acute. I noticed Environment Minister Alan Kelly saying that it takes four years to get a housing project going.

At the start of the crash, I also remember saying that this was something that could not be sorted out overnight.

Allowing the construction industry to come to a shuddering stop was a mistake. Young people who are hopefully returning to work will have difficulty finding somewhere to live.

The corporation housing stock needs to be built up, and social housing figures are also well behind what is needed. A supply problem of such proportions requires urgent attention. Health too is a topic that will generate much heat - and hopefully some light - during the campaign.

There have been so many reports and so much debate, yet too many of our oldest and most in need still find themselves left on hospital trolleys. They deserve so much better. Many of the primary care and home care initiatives introduced by Mary Harney and Micheál Martin during their terms as health ministers have been abandoned.

But we are seeing the same backlogs and delays year in, year out. We have to have more beds in the system and we need to develop more community care and support for people in their homes.

As is always the case, after even the sharpest sound-byte has been heard and all the manifestos have been weighed-up, it is the voters who will have the last word. So all those in the field had better be listening carefully.

Irish Independent

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