Tuesday 21 November 2017

Donohoe in strong attack on 'populism' in Ireland

New Finance Minister says to be 'moderate is radical' in staunch defence of political centre

Paschal Donohoe Picture: Tom Burke
Paschal Donohoe Picture: Tom Burke
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe yesterday delivered a strong attack on "Irish populism" and outlined some detail of what Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meant when he said he would lead a Government of the "new European centre".

In an address to Fine Gael think-tank the Collins Institute, Donohoe said: "In Ireland in 2017, to be moderate is to be radical."

He cited research which estimated that populist parties had captured one in every eight seats in recent European elections, with its share of the vote rising from 5pc in the 1960s to more than 13pc now.

There had been a "ballooning of populism of the left" which depicted Ireland as a country where decisions were made only in the interests of "elites" and where a government of the centre was portrayed as incapable of representing "normal" people, where there were no "companies" only "corporations", where there were no "leaders" only "elites", and where it was "not just our competence as centrists that is under attack, but our compassion".

Too often, he said, particularly since the election, those on the fringes of the political spectrum had claimed a "monopoly on authenticity" where the compassion of those in the governing centre was challenged on an daily basis.

Donohoe said: "The Dail's left flank, the absentee legislators who rejected the chance to govern in favour of perpetual protest, competes in an auction of outrage over every single matter, where the loser will be those who can't shout. This matters... because the issues that should be talked about and considered by everyone in politics are not getting the attention they deserve.

"I firmly believe that dozens of Dail deputies on the populist left do not think about things like job creation, competitiveness or economic growth from the start of the week until the end. All of these things are taken for granted.

"Instead of thinking about how to maintain and grow national income, they think only of how to share it out, and use the language of division and perceived injustice to make their point. Any tax reform is seen as Thatcherite. Any spending reform is seen as austerity. The sole message is to spend more and more and more. And if you dare argue against that mantra, you are the elite. You are the enemy."

He said the "disconnect" experienced in other countries was present here. The scale of the economic shock of 2008 and 2009 - and the years of hardship that followed - had a "deeply corrosive" impact on Irish society.

He added: "I believe we need to listen, understand and change. We are living through the post-Great Recession era, where our economy and society are healing but are not yet healed."

He also said: "The old ­adage in politics that 'when you are explaining, you are losing', is, in retrospect, a dangerous and corrosive one. Politics must be about explaining, about arguments, about complexity.

"Do not trust a politician who can give you his or her pitch in the time it takes for the elevator to reach the ground floor. Or in a single tweet."

In reference to Varadkar's Government of the "new European centre", he said this meant investing in housing to get people out of emergency accommodation, fixing the housing market and "delivering social housing"; investing in public transport, education, "the forces of law and order" and in global development.

On top of this investment, he said, the new European centre meant promoting ­rigorous regulation of our financial, legal and data ­systems, a tax code that rewarded effort and an outward-looking foreign policy that welcomed trade, migration and co-operation "in stark contrast to many populist leaders on the right abroad and on the left here in Ireland".

He said: "As European centrists, we believe in the market but we believe in intervening in that market when needed to deliver the outcomes our citizens need and deserve."

Sunday Independent

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