Monday 16 September 2019

Ivan Yates: Only a general election will free this tethered donkey

In his new column, Ivan Yates says it's time now to consign Civil war politics to history

Enda Kenny and inset Ivan Yates
Enda Kenny and inset Ivan Yates
Ivan Yates

Ivan Yates

Monday night, Crucible Theatre, Sheffield - after several shots in the concluding frame, both Mark Selby and John Higgins looked at each other, nodded; the balls had configured so as to yield interminable stalemate; they agreed a re-rack.

One year into this dysfunctional Dáil, it's time to reach the same conclusion. This parliament is fatally paralysed because it has no centre of authority. A Government devoid of Dáil majority simply can't govern. It's futile.

Within a fortnight, Enda Kenny will finally step down as Fine Gael leader. It marks the beginning of an end to incredible inertia in both his Government and party. Senior civil servants hold back serious briefs to Cabinet in anticipation of non-decisions. No Garda reform, even more Garda reviews. Stagnant legislative enactment. Irresponsible cat and mouse chicanery between Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael resulting in 'free' water for every household - despite annual costs of €1bn.

'Whether Mr Kenny was victim or villain of New Politics is a moot point. However, prolonging pain represents selfish indulgence' Photo: Tom Burke
'Whether Mr Kenny was victim or villain of New Politics is a moot point. However, prolonging pain represents selfish indulgence' Photo: Tom Burke

Fine Gael is stalling any preparations for the next general election.

Whether Mr Kenny was victim or villain of New Politics is a moot point. However, prolonging pain represents selfish indulgence. The irony is, when his successor is in situ, it'll become even more apparent Fianna Fáil can't allow this Government to succeed for the blatant reason that it strives to replace it. An autumn general election is the only way to install national leadership.

Two centuries ago, Napoleon Bonaparte characterised the central challenge of leadership as to define reality and then give people hope. Our reality? We've endured the most debilitating recession ever, national insolvency and a Troika bailout. Despite some residual legacy issues, that's over. Some 77pc of us are the most 'upbeat' we've been in 28 years. €1 trillion of ECB money printing and zero interest rates have eventually procured Eurozone growth. Our leprechaun economic statistics indicate we're the EU growth poster boys.

Stall the party. Disbelieve group-think spin. We're at a crucial crossroads. Our choice? The proven path to further sustained prosperity or repeat the mistakes that caused the crash. Unlike the USA's 320 million citizens or Britain's 60 million people, Ireland can't live off its own consumption - we must earn our living by goods and services exported abroad. Do we enhance our economic capacity and cost competitiveness or indulge in another bout of destructive populism?

Irish political populism is uniquely weird. Votes for Brexit and Trump are clear manifestations of resurgent nationalism, through trade protectionism and migration controls to repel downsides of globalisation. Whereas we just want free stuff, demanding expanded public services while not wanting to pay consequent bills. More cake to eat.

Every day we're lectured to throw more money at hospital beds, nurses, social housing, public transport, teachers, restored public sector pay, Garda numbers, technology, elderly provision and disabled care. Meanwhile, revenue returns are at their limits. The water protests taught us we can't widen the tax base. Corporate taxation can't be adjusted because USA and British rates are set to drop competitively for Foreign Direct Investment. The marginal personal income tax take is already most internationally penal here at 51pc beyond the lowest threshold of €33,800.

We need strong, stable govern-ment for a full five years to repel vested interests on every front.

Let's name (and shame) them: public sector unions demanding €1.6bn in extra pay, even before the Lansdowne Road deal expires; professional elites, legal and medical, who respectively resisted troika reforms or revised contract terms; organised localism refusing to contemplate the closure of the smallest sub-post offices or one-teacher schools, despite irreversible inter-generational depopulation; constituency politics that stymies hospital consolidation to optimise the best tertiary treatment in centres of excellence.

Napoleonic leadership embraces long-term challenges. New Politics short-termism has stooped from not thinking beyond the next election to not thinking beyond not losing next Thursday's weekly Dáil vote. The challenges of pension, education and political reforms seem beyond comprehension.

Since 2007, we've identified and calculated the extent of future pension crisis - 65pc of private sector workers have no personal pension provision. Post-recession, defined benefit schemes were replaced with savings plans or abolished entirely. Auto-enrolment schemes (contributions from employer, employee and state) are the go-to global solution. Stop the consultative waffle. Implement.

There's no one in Leinster House with sufficient courage to confront sweeping educational reform of ending compulsory Irish at post-primary level - to ensure adequate technological and foreign language qualifications for enhanced employment opportunity.

Our electoral system produces world-class parish pump politicians, rewarding the most attentive public representatives to personal problems of potholes, planning permissions and funerals. Clientelism has reached epic proportions of full-time constituency offices in high streets of every county town. The time spent oiling this squeaky wheel means minimal time in dull Oireachtas rooms.

Colourful clientelist TDs delivered nothing to government formation in this Dáil. The Healy Raes and Mattie McGrath may add to national gaiety, but aren't a substantive answer to the lack of nationwide spatial planning which may mean over the next 20 years our entire population increase of 600,000 people will reside in the greater Dublin area.

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Mattie McGrath Photo: Arthur Carron

The strategic development of counter city hubs in Cork/Limerick is dodged because of ministerial fiefdoms. Meanwhile, Nama and the Department of Finance escape culpability for destroying our house building capacity and construction economic models.

A lack of clear thinking on what a secular state looks like beyond 2020 meant the political class was completely behind the curve on state ownership of the National Maternity Hospital. Floundering amidst Twitterati, ministers were asleep at the wheel while 76-year-old nuns outsmarted them. Public funds mean public ownership rights. Period.

New Politics' favourite and default ploy is outsourcing thorny decisions to Commission or Citizens Assembly. The 32nd Dáil's response to Eighth Amendment reform has been to look away. A concrete constitutional text is the most rigid, inappropriate framework to deal with complex, changing fertility and abortifacient innovation. The prevailing democratic will of any generation is best enshrined by leaving future decision-making up to each Dáil - with free conscience TD votes. Repeal is a preferable legacy to future generations than Replace.

Opponents of a rapid return to the electorate in a general election cite the likelihood of similar results, given current opinion polls, and claim a revised Dáil arithmetic will yield further inconclusive deadlock. This is usually propagated by self-serving TDs and senators delighted to loiter in the current comfort zone of pay and perks, while governance languishes.

My present punditry? Fianna Fáil could gain up to dozen seats (44 to mid-50s), Fine Gael to drop several seats (50 to 40 plus), Sinn Féin some gains, with Independent losses.

The likelihood again of the only viable government, with a working majority of 80-plus seats, would be the combination of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

That's the core issue in Irish politics. How and when will these two tribal blocks decide to share power? An election must coerce them into adult conversations about the nation's needs, rather than garnering marginal market share.

For more than 20 years, I toed the party line as a loyal Fine Gael TD. I espoused mantras: Fianna Fáil was ethically inferior to Fine Gael; Fianna Fáil was congenitally incapable of putting national interest before party interests; Fianna Fáil was imbued with a culture of cronyism; Fianna Fáil republicanism was as sectarian as Sinn Féin; Fianna Fáil was fettered to de Valera's Catholic ethos.

These are characteristics that may have been attributable in the 1980s. Since I left politics, I observe both of these parties which have more in common than they each have with Labour, Sinn Féin, Greens and the left. People of talent and decency reside in both parties.

About 500,000 voters oscillate between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in consecutive elections. The electorate susses their mutual compatibility. The biggest stumbling blocks to Realpolitik are careerism amongst the frontbenches of both parties and diehard traditionalist members' resistance to change. Their refusal consigns the public as prisoner to Civil War history.

Having tried New Politics' variation of public administration through Dáil consensus, we understand a minority government is worse than a lame duck - it's a tethered donkey. All the trappings of office on one side - all survival responsibility on other side. It spawns mutual distrust, with both fixated on Sinn Féin opportunism. It elevates rag-bag Independents to bogus power brokers.

In the post-Enda era, we should strive for a five-year secure coalition to meet unprecedented challenges of Brexit, Ireland Inc prosperity, social modernisation and closer consensual incremental integration with Northern Ireland. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael can jump their separate ways thereafter. Is there Napoleonic leadership brave enough to write new history?

Ivan's Flutter: Churchill to rule?

The first Saturday in May means 2000 Guineas classic day at Newmarket. Today is a long-awaited moment of destiny for a potential equine superstar - Churchill. Ever since he won the Chesham at Royal Ascot last June, this Galileo colt has been whispered as "the special one" in the heart of Tipperary.

On my USA travels, I met top trainer Aidan O'Brien at the Santa Anita Breeders Cup last November. His enthusiasm and ambition for Churchill was infectious.

A lot can go wrong today. Previous best three-year-old milers like Dubawi, Kingman and Hawk Wing were defeated on the Rowley mile.

Fingers crossed, if Ryan Moore gets the run of the race, he should win - based on his group 1 victories in the National and Dewhurst races - despite impressive trial winners Al Wakir, Eminent and Barney Roy.

As always, I'll be on the prayer mat… hoping for deliverance.

Irish Independent

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