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Caution: this column may be full of election promises

Lorraine Courtney


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'Sadly, one of the key tropes of this election has been the behaviour of many of the candidates.' (stock photo)

'Sadly, one of the key tropes of this election has been the behaviour of many of the candidates.' (stock photo)

'Sadly, one of the key tropes of this election has been the behaviour of many of the candidates.' (stock photo)

We haven't voted in a new government yet and I can already hear the excuses coming from Leinster House: "We'd heard we had €11bn to throw around but you should see the state the last crowd left the country in." Comedian Rick Mercer says there are two reasons why politicians break their promises: you already voted for them and you already voted for them.

One Cork farmer has had enough with the promises of politicians during the General Election campaign and is showing his cynicism with a sign that's circulating on social media. The sign on the back of his slurry tank reads: "Caution: this tank may be full of election promises".

With a week to go, the election promises are coming thick and fast - on lower taxes, lower retirement ages, childcare, housing, climate change and things we never even knew we wanted. Skate parks, anyone? You can hardly tell the players and the pledges without a manifesto in your hand, and even then, it's all very confusing and, well, too good to be true.

Fianna Fáil will reduce the Universal Social Charge (USC) and increase the standard rate income tax band. It'll help first-time buyers and tackle hospital waiting times as well as scrapping prescription charges and parking fees at hospitals. Fine Gael's promises include increasing the point at which a single person pays the higher rate of tax to €50,000 and upping the State pension by €25.

Sinn Féin will abolish the USC on the first €30,000 earned, build 100,000 council homes over five years, at a cost of €6.5bn, and bring back the eligibility age for the State pension to 65 - a measure which will cost €368m a year. Oh, and it'll also give you two free GP visits - whether you need them or not.

Labour's promising us a rent freeze and two new public holidays, the Social Democrats will make drama a Leaving Cert subject and the Greens are promising to change "the entire transport system, the entire food system, the entire energy system". They'll be doing away with homework too. People Before Profit is promising free wifi in city centres. And I'm sure somebody mentioned something about free back massages on Saturdays.

A 2009 survey of election promise studies across Europe and the United States found that political parties kept, on average, 67pc of their election commitments. The inherent problems of measuring political promises aside, 67pc is surprisingly high. But how do us voters react to broken promises?

Bryan Caplan, author of 'The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies', says it's because voters tolerate dishonesty and don't rationally punish them by not voting for them. But elections aren't a good way of disciplining politicians. They're only held every few years. And that's a long time to wait to enforce a contract. Yes, we can weigh up the honesty of candidates, but honesty is never the only factor that determines an election. Often, it's better to re-elect a liar than risk voting in an unknown and besides, we've been voting for broken promises all our lives.

Little wonder that, judging from the opinion polls, most of us would prefer having an extra few euro in our pockets this time than trust any government to use our tax to sort out the housing crisis or the health service. But, with 10,000 homeless in Ireland, young people priced out of home owning and starting a family, and Irish hospitals critically unwell, I'd like to be hearing more prudence and common sense at this stage of the campaign instead of the pie in the sky pledges that are emanating from every single party.

Sadly, one of the key tropes of this election has been the behaviour of many of the candidates - either ducking interview questions, hawking half-truths, throwing dubious numbers around or just generally failing to be straight with the people they actually work for. That's us, by the way, and we go to the polls next Saturday.

Irish Independent