Tuesday 22 October 2019

The battle lines are drawn for a long and brutal election scrap

Joan Burton
Joan Burton
John Downing

John Downing

Do not be unduly worried if you missed the detail on this one. You'll have plenty of time between now and polling day in the general election to hear those messages again - and then again.

You can summarise the messages from Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin thus: Voters can have the crowd that wrecked the country, that's Fianna Fáil.

Or you can pick the crowd who will wreck the country, that's Sinn Féin and perhaps some left-leaning groups.

Otherwise, you can look at what happened on this Government's watch. And ask yourself if you want more of the same.

The common theme across the Opposition benches was: All well and good - but what of the people left behind by this much-vaunted recovery? When you Government guys are finished back-slapping one another, you might tell us about them.

On the face of things, it is hard to argue with the numbers thrown out there by Finance Minister Michael Noonan. Unemployment has come down from a high of 15pc in 2012 to just on 10pc. All things being equal it will continue to fall and fall, until we are looking at net immigration and full employment in a few years.

There was also a whole raft of other impressive-sounding figures on the economy, general promises of some tax relief from Mr Noonan, and more public service spending from Mr Howlin.

The total of at least €1.5bn for tax cuts and spending increases is not enough to meet all the demands. But it may not be such a bad start.

We can also rely upon the Government to enhance that package even if the economy does not continue with a series of pleasant surprises.

Can the Opposition's rival messages compare with the hard cash available to buy votes with voters' own money? It is a brutal way of framing the question - but it is the realpolitik of the battle for Government Buildings next time out.

There is doubtless a constituency for those who feel they are left behind. The greater Dublin area and the east coast has got the bulk of development up to now.

Provincial Ireland is not so upbeat, nor will it be so receptive to loudly proclaimed Government messages that recession is over. Spreading the positive gospel, with hard evidence of economic resurgence to such places, will be a tough task from Messrs Kenny, Bruton and company.

Many people, even if their material circumstances have improved, retain considerable residual anger which was compounded by extravagant and unrealistic promises by Fine Gael and Labour before the February 2011 general election.

Opposition arguments about Government self-congratulation will resonate with such people. But two other question marks also remain for this Government. First is their capacity for self-harm, which was on show throughout 2014.

We were reminded of it again, despite three good months in 2015, by the failure to deal promptly and efficiently with the questions about the Siteserv controversy over the past eight days. There is more than enough time for them to muck things up again.

The other factor is the unexpected, which is the daily stuff of politics. Another large global economic shock could throw the best-laid plans off track.

We expect an election at some time between late autumn and next spring.

Any way you look at things, a long and tough election battle looms slowly into view.

Irish Independent

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