By Red Hugh
I watched some of the coverage of the Fine Gael Convention over the weekend and came away with the impression it was a thinly disguised fest of self congratulation.
They weren’t half pleased with themselves – minister after minister telling us all in non too subtle ways… ‘Didn’t we do great?’ ‘We have a great story to tell’, ‘You are lucky it was us that took over’… and the rest.
Every so often there was the tiniest bit of po-faced humility – because they know that sort of arrogance doesn’t play well with an Irish public badly hit by seven years of austerity – but you could see they really think we should handsomely reward them at the forthcoming election for the ‘miracle’ they have performed.
My problem is I don’t buy the hype; I’m still of the opinion this government is taking all of the credit for a ‘recovery’ in which it was, at best, a bit part player.
And the facts are there: the euro dropped like a stone giving us dirt cheap exports and a huge economic boost just when it was needed most; oil prices are the lowest in history giving us a massive drop in expenditure, and interest rates have remained low for the entire years they have been in government resulting in cheap money.
These are three of the main planks on which much of our recovery is based. And the government had nothing to do with any of these external factors, zilch.
And the ‘recovery’ is, as has been well flagged up by various commentators, a very mixed bag. Drive along the west coast from Donegal to Kerry and you’ll see abandoned houses, deserted villages, shops shuttered and closed, and emigration sucking the very life blood of rural communities. Some recovery!
Domestically, where they do have direct control of policy, we have seen huge increases in homelessness, a botched up health service and policies that have seen the well off looked after much better than the poorer sections of society.
The one area they can legitimately take credit for is job creation – though rural Ireland is hardly jumping for joy in this regard – where probably the most competent minister of them all, Richard Bruton, is doing a good job particularly for the big urban centres.
There are growing tensions too within the coalition. On Sunday morning the Fine Gaelers were in angry mood when it was brought to their attention Public Expenditure Minister, Labour’s Brendan Howlin, had issued a warning in an interview with the Sunday Business Post that if FG got into power on its own it would lurch even further to the right.
Howlin used the Tory party’s victory in Britain to make his analogy, pointing out since its victory at the last election and the dropping of the coalition with the Lib Dems it had introduced serious anti trade union legislation and tax hikes that hit working people and the less well off. You need us, suggested Howlin, to keep the Thatcherite policies off the table.
The clear message of the weekend is with the election now only weeks away the hard sell is well and truly on.
They are sticking to the message of ‘recovery’ and ‘stability’ as if they, and only they, are capable of delivering our economic salvation. The big question for the electorate is whether any of the opposition parties would do any better or be any more competent.
Could another government adopt a different ideological approach, a much more radical one where big business and the better off share a heavier part of the burden?
It’s hard to say. It might well be the case when it comes to voting a lot of the less radical folk will follow the old diktat…better the devil you know.
We Irish like to believe we are, politically, dangerous rebels but our history tells us we are really very conservative.