Saturday 7 December 2019

At a stroke, our Government looks more like old Fianna Fail

We just swapped a government led by 'Tweedledum' for one led by 'Tweedledee'
We just swapped a government led by 'Tweedledum' for one led by 'Tweedledee'
John Downing

John Downing

Events of the past week have told us definitively that we did not have "a democratic revolution" at the last general election on February 25, 2011. We just swapped a government led by 'Tweedledum' for one led by 'Tweedledee'.

Yes, we gave an historic kicking to Tweedledum and we heartily endorsed Tweedledee on a scale never seen since democracy came to these shores.

But that does not a revolution make. What follows is not an encouraging story - but it is well to face up to its implications and see what we do next.

In early 2011, we were heartily fed up with Tweedledum - or Fianna Fail as most of us will better know them. But let's recall that we had chosen them in three consecutive general elections over Tweedledee - more usually called Fine Gael. The third time, in the general election of May 2007, we lingered a long time over Tweedledee/Fine Gael but opted, at five to midnight, for the apparently more economically reliable Tweedledum/Fianna Fail.

By February 2011 we found Tweedledum/Fianna Fail had bankrupted the country and left us in a grim place, where our democratically elected Government had to take direction from the accountants of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The current Cabinet came into office on March 9, 2011, with the notorious EU-ECB-IMF troika "correcting their homework". And by December 15, 2013, the Fine Gael-Labour Government had seen off the troika and were able to do their own homework with a deal less over-the-shoulder supervision.

We should note that Fine Gael-Labour had followed, and still in principle continue to follow, the Fianna Fail-Green Party economic recovery strategy - a grim mix of cutbacks and taxes which helped drive both those parties to the verge of extinction.

We should also note that FG-Labour's successes in improving the terrible bailout terms was always a likely prospect whoever was in power, as long as the Irish people swallowed the bilious medicine of taxes, unemployment and emigration.

But overall let us acknowledge that Tweedledee/Fine Gael has done very good work. The international economic winds in the US and Britain have fuelled a nascent Irish economic recovery.

It is all tentative and fragile, but Ireland's economy looks good. We may well be on the cusp of good times again. So, what's our problem - the good times may be about to roll? Well, maybe they are. But let us recall where we have been and some of the reasons why we were in that awful place.

In autumn of 2008, Ireland reaped a bitter harvest which had much to do with strokery and hole-in-corner politics and an almost total absence of proper economic governance. We took it for granted that things were largely run by "the man who knew the man". And we made terms with that system by getting a man who knew the man who knew the other man.

We use the term "man" quite deliberately here because part of the problem with our way of doing politics and administration was that women were not really let in.

The past week's events show that Enda Kenny's Fine Gael has taken us back to the future. A vacant Seanad seat was to be filled at all costs by Fine Gael, with John McNulty of Donegal being the chosen one. A parallel arts board nomination by Arts Minister Heather Humphreys, to enhance Mr McNulty's Seanad credentials, showed Fine Gael using state boards rather like their own political fiefdoms.

In the ensuing week-long controversy, there have been partial and contradictory versions of events given. There have been more questions than answers. You could very easily swap Fianna Fail's Tweedledum for Fine Gael's Tweedledee. On many occasions over the past seven days, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael looked little more than an alphabetical digit apart, making a total mockery of promises in March 2011 of "new politics" and fundamental change. This is not particularly encouraging. But it is how things are.

What do we do next? Well, we must tell this Government that, for all their high-flown talk, they look rather like the last one. We must tell them we expect better, that after what we have gone through as a people for the past eight years, we expect our political leaders to keep their promises.

And, if we do not get that over the coming 18 months, we will have to decide accordingly at the polling booth.

Irish Independent

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