Sunday 15 September 2019

Enda bets on his star's continued rise

Taoiseach Enda Kenny (left) and Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton plant a tree at the IDA Business and Technology Park in Castlebar. Also pictured are Ita Lynn (left), IDA Acting Regional Business Development Manager for the West, and the IDA’s Property Portfolio Manager Sarah O’Connell
Taoiseach Enda Kenny (left) and Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton plant a tree at the IDA Business and Technology Park in Castlebar. Also pictured are Ita Lynn (left), IDA Acting Regional Business Development Manager for the West, and the IDA’s Property Portfolio Manager Sarah O’Connell

Mandy Johnston

How on earth did Minister Simon Harris keep a straight face when he told an incredulous Sean O'Rourke this week that his Government are not going back to the bad old ways of boom time spending? Accusations from the Fiscal Advisory Council that spending now echoed the bad old days of Fianna Fáil were brushed off with alacrity and a nonchalant political eye-roll.

Pro-cyclical economics is fiscal policy which pumps money into an economy in an effort to restore it. It's not necessarily a bad policy, but it is a risky one. However, telling people that you are implementing prudent policies and applying fiscal rectitude, while simultaneously pumping €3 billion into an economy is just a lie.

It is the equivalent of this Government pretending they are not celebrating Christmas while there is a massive Christmas tree sitting in their hallway with baubles, twinkling Christmas and a roof bedecked with a flashing neon signs screaming "It's Christmas".

The Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his little elves in Government buildings are very busy at the moment in their big pre-Christmas spree of glad tidings and good news. In recent weeks, they have excelled in positive news stories and are gleefully taking credit for steadily putting Ireland Inc. back on the map, and Irish people back to work.

At a projected growth rate of 5.8pc, Ireland is set to be the fastest growing economy in Europe this year. We also currently enjoy one of the best jobs growth rates across the EU. With job announcements coming more frequently than the Luas nowadays, our unemployment levels have dropped to 9pc from an unemployment peak of 15pc in 2010.

The announcement of one thousand new jobs by Apple in Cork further boosted our renewed confidence for job creation. Ireland's bounce-back-ability continues to confound experts, as multinational powerhouses like Pfizer line up to inject projected taxes of over €600m per annum into the Irish economy. Our exchequer figures are literally about to burst at the seams. On top of all that, external factors such as the significant fall in the value of the euro vis-a-vis sterling and the dollar is great for our tourism and our exports. All of this means that this Christmas, we can begin to dip our tiny toes into the perilous waters of positivity.

Recently, I have found myself asking the question, what if the Dáil never came back after Christmas and Enda and his little helpers just took to the hills in January. Would anyone suffer politically? On 30pc in the latest opinion polls certainly not Fine Gael.

By avoiding a return to the Dail in the New Year the Government could easily avoid a protracted build up to an election campaign on issues like abortion which cannot be controlled or contained. In doing so, they could also maximise their seat gain on the back of renewed economic prosperity. It would also take away the platform where Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin do best in terms of public profile as opposition parties would have to slug it out in the media for airtime and column inches.

This Dáil session is set to rise on December 17 and with all of the feel good factor about at the moment, surely there must be a temptation never to return.

Opposition parties would do well to steal themselves for an early trip to the electorate. The Taoiseach might determine his own destiny by going to the country in January - rather than being brow beaten by the Tánaiste into waiting until Labour recover in the polls. Delaying the election is actually compounding Labour's problems it seems as they fall further in opinion polls. And a Labour party resurgence is not something war-torn Labour Deputies are likely to find in their Christmas stockings this year!

This government have made it clear that their priority has always been about providing jobs. The joint 'Programme for Government' stated its key objective was to "repair our society over the next five years and get our people back to work". Even from the outset their commitment to social causes seemed less determined. They haven't exactly repaired our society but they are certainly getting people back to work. In that sense, the Government are fulfilling the Fine Gael mandate at least. But the over emphasis on an economy rather than a reconstruction of a society may be why Labour are not rising in opinion polls and Fine Gael are.

This week the Taoiseach Enda Kenny made an announcement to party members that FG will remove the USC levy for everyone over the lifetime of the next Government. This policy puts him and Fine Gael at odds with their coalition partners who believe that higher earners should continue to pay the charge notwithstanding the economic turnaround. More than that, this policy clearly signals that Fine Gael are in the driving seat and moving at an accelerated pace down the motorway toward the general election.

There will come a time when Enda Kenny will need to choose between the capacity of his party to win seats and the working relationship with his coalition partners in Labour. Tipp O'Neill, the former speaker of the US House of Representatives, once said that "all politics is local." A shrewd observer of human nature, his words of wisdom have huge relevance even in today's world.

Ultimately, all of the success delivered at national level will be considered in a local context. Finding the optimum time to exploit all this good news is getting harder - as the clock ticks on, the gamble to stick or twist becomes ever more acute. To quote that prolific songstress of our time Ellie Goulding: Taoiseach "what are you waiting for"?

Irish Independent

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