Monday 22 July 2019

Micheál Martin's pious reassurances his party is repentant are an insincere sham

'Micheál Martin’s pious reassurances that his party were repentant and reformed, having learned from their ‘mistakes’, were shown to be a sham, utterly insincere.' Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
'Micheál Martin’s pious reassurances that his party were repentant and reformed, having learned from their ‘mistakes’, were shown to be a sham, utterly insincere.' Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Eddie Molloy

Eddie Molloy

In 1977, my mother's friend - let's call her Mrs Malone - had accumulated the £156 that she would need shortly to pay her annual housing rates.

In her 60s and getting by on a meagre garda widow's pension, she saved up this money every year by depositing every six-penny piece that came her way into a large glass jar.

Then, just as payment was due, Fianna Fáil promised to abolish house rates and car tax as sweeteners aimed at winning the impending general election.

The party was lagging in the polls but this cynical exercise in buying the vote on the day worked beyond their wildest dreams, and they romped home with a 20-seat majority.

On the day of the election, Mrs Malone tearfully confessed to my mother that she had betrayed life-long support for Fine Gael that she shared with her late husband, and voted for Fianna Fáil. She could do with the money.

We now know the catastrophic consequences of this manipulation of people who struggle to cope.

The abolition of house rates narrowed the predictable tax base and was a contributory factor in the collapse of the public finances in 2007-2008.

And who was it that suffered most during the regime of austerity imposed to restore the public finances? The Mrs Malones and all the other little Malones of this world.

The Public Service Decentralisation Programme of 2003, designed to boost the party's vote in the local elections of that year, also exhibited the same irresponsible Fianna Fáil political expediency, and it too worked.

But the consequent cost of this act of economic vandalism has been enormous, arguably running into billions, not to mention the untold damage to our public service, from which it is still recovering.

And now we have their Irish Water ploy.

Spooked by the street protests and Sinn Féin abandoning their original position to hop on the anti-Irish Water bandwagon, they reverted to type.

Micheál Martin's pious reassurances that his party were repentant and reformed, having learned from their "mistakes" which shattered the economy and blighted the lives of many people, were similarly shown to be a sham, utterly insincere.

Briseann an dúchas trí shúile an chait.

Fianna Fáil spokesmen are now seeking to ascribe legitimacy to their latest naked political opportunism on the grounds that the majority of TDs in the Dáil support their position: "We have a mandate to abolish Irish Water and suspend charges."

Indeed, just as they had a mandate when they scrapped rates in 1997, atomised the public service in 2003 and used hugely inflationary budgets to win elections.

This was the context of Leo Varadkar's statement that the Irish Water deal forced upon the Fine Gael minority government is contrary to the public interest.

He was asserting the principle that because politicians have the power to do something, it doesn't make it right, or for the common good.

The bitter irony of Fianna Fáil's opportunism is, once again, that the people who will suffer most will be the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

In "putting power before principle", as Alan Kelly expressed it, the €12m lately filched from a supposedly ring-fenced mental health budget will not be the last raid on funds desperately needed to restore vital public services and build the water and other infrastructure critical to economic progress and quality of life for everyone.

Fianna Fáil spokesmen, adopting the posture of statesmen, solemnly declare that they are "honour- bound to fulfil our electoral promise to the people to abolish Irish Water".

But there was nothing honourable in this promise in the first place. It was low-level populism and nothing more than that.

Populism involves cleverly playing to people's hopes, fears, frustrations and struggles to cope, with emotionally-loaded sound bites - like "water is a human right" - that dupe them into voting for short-term palliatives and promises that are not only unachievable but are actually not in their best interests. Just for example, promising to keep open a local maternity service, like that in Portlaoise, against the clinical advice that a high volume of cases needs to pass through any specialist medical unit to ensure a safe service.

Populist rhetoric is the defining mark of hard left Trotskyites whose aim is to destroy the institutions of the State without regard to the consequences for the very people they purport to be concerned about.

Though less anarchic in intent, the public is now about to pay another very high price for Fianna Fáil's populism.

An anarchic element undoubtedly has entered the body politic in Ireland which, if allowed to flourish, shows all the signs of making the country virtually ungovernable; and flourish it will if our politicians come to believe that statesman-like leadership is for losers and, unnerved by the populism of Paul Murphy and co, that the only path to power is to join the race to the bottom.

Eddie Molloy is a management consultant

Irish Independent

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